Email newsletters are booming. Some folks are calling it the Substack effect. Even The New York Times has doubled down on their newsletter offerings with subscriber-only editions.
Just last year, Liveintent found that 87% of publishers and marketers were actively investing in email and 94% were prioritizing scaling their email programs.
Truth is, publishers have been deploying email newsletters as audience generation tools for their O&O properties for eons. So email is not some brand new shiny thing, but it has mostly played a value-added background role in publishers’ revenue strategies.
This recent surge can be attributed to all sorts of things from the cookie crackdown to looming privacy regulations to publishers needing to diversify their revenue. I spoke with Rachel Rubin, Vice President, Customer Success, Liveintent to dive deeper into these topics and especially focus on how email newsletters can come out of the shadows to play a leading role in a publisher’s direct-sold program.
You can watch or listen to the full conversation, or just check out this edited version below.
Email Newsletters Are the New Homepage
Lynne d Johnson: Interest in newsletters is surging. It’s been said that email newsletters are the new homepage for digital publishers, and quite a few large-scale pubs seem to be doubling down on the channel. Is this more than just a trend?
Rachel Rubin: Publishers and marketers have been using newsletters to engage with their readers and their customers for well over a decade now.
With that said, the focus on newsletters definitely surged over the pandemic. Over the last two years, we’ve seen that email marketing engagement rose by 200%. And the best part is that new readers who started reading newsletters at the beginning of the pandemic are staying in the inbox.
This spike helped more companies see the value of newsletters as a trusted channel for building and engaging with their audience. Users are opting in, raising their hands, and saying, “Yes, I want content from this publisher — from this marketer.” It’s a really engaged audience.
Another main driver is email’s growing role as a means of collecting first-party data, which is so important right now. But for the email environment to remain a viable solution, publishers and brands need to continue to provide value to their newsletter readers and be transparent about the value exchange. Email is here to stay. And it’s really exciting to see that everyone is understanding the value now.
Direct-Sold Makes a Comeback
LdJ: We’ve also heard that direct sales are back in style, and PMPs and PGs are trending. What is LiveIntent’s thinking on this?
RR: With the death of the third-party cookie, the future of targeting is kind of in limbo and direct sales are gaining serious momentum regardless of what pipes the execution is coming from.
LiveIntent is integrated with all the external DSPs — DV 360, The Trade Desk, you name it. We also have a managed service for executing direct deals. And we see priority PMPs coming up more in the environment. We don’t yet have the capabilities for PGs, because, unlike the web which is constant, email has ebbs and flows
At the end of the day, advertisers want to reach their relevant audience, and publishers who engage with readers on a daily basis know these audiences better than anyone. Publishers who can articulate what makes their audiences and content unique — they’ve really branded and conquested that market.
Email is a unique snowflake because we don’t rely on cookies, we rely on email hashes. That makes it easier for advertisers or publishers to target their own first-party data.
Increasing Yield With Native Ads in Email
LdJ: In the past, pubs didn’t focus on email because they felt it was too much work. But with your product Native Ad Blueprints, they can build a scalable premium ad experience with little effort and increase the yield of their direct-sold program. Is that correct?
RR: LiveIntent has made newsletters easy. Historically, if you wanted to do native in newsletters, that took a lot of time and bandwidth because you needed someone coding HTML every single time you wanted to switch out your ads.
We’re making that easier without the operational drag of hard coding every single campaign. Publishers can add native ads to their media kit and increase their yield by directly selling native.
And since native ads are designed to look and feel like newsletter content — they drive higher engagement, helping advertisers build brand equity. So they’re a win-win all around. Advertisers get higher CTRs and more performance, and publishers can justify more premium CPMs.
We’ve also recently brought Native Curated Packages to market. This is our version of native demand for publishers. We want to give publishers the control to pick and choose which advertisers run natively in their email newsletters.
Creating New Products and Bringing on New Advertisers
LdJ: In the future, it looks like there won’t be just one thing to replace third-party cookies. Besides being able to collect and activate first-party data, what are some of the other benefits for pubs?
RR: Pubs can use their newsletter content and ad engagement data to build audiences to segment out audiences by interests — like sports fans, health and wellness enthusiasts, or finance enthusiasts, for example.
Newsletter content and ad engagement data can also lend insight into reader behavior. By examining metrics, you can glean which readers are taking action and then segment those users. You can also create first-party data right in the email environment.
Tying this all back to your direct-sold and direct-deal question from earlier; this approach helps publishers bring on new advertisers. And they’re able to do that by showcasing their unique offering — captivating content and highly engaged audiences.
Leveraging CRM Data to Increase Reach
LdJ: What about the convergence of martech and adtech — taking first-party data out of silos? How can pubs leverage their CRM data to increase their reach with email newsletters?
RR: Publishers can utilize CRM data in the email newsletter to target new subscribers, suppress subscribers, target content clickers, or utilize it for marketing campaigns right across the email channel. This is not just within their owned and operated email, but extending their CRM data to target the exchange of emails we have.
Also, leveraging CRM data is not all about targeting. It’s also about suppression. When you are targeting users, it does limit your reach. With suppression, it’s the opposite. You know, who you don’t want to target.
MPP Isn’t Really Hurting Revenue
LdJ: What about Apple’s privacy changes in the inbox. Is this scary for publishers?
RR: This is something else that requires education. Before MPP launched, we researched and became really educated about it so that we could educate our publishers and ensure they understand what it means for their email newsletters and especially for their metrics.
We’re not seeing revenue decline, we’re just seeing that the metrics we once loved and held on to are not so accurate anymore. So now we’re in a period of transition and working hard to come up with adjusted metrics so that our publishers and our advertisers can still understand their newsletter performance outside of just the revenue metric.
Top 3 Takeaways: Direct-Sold in Email Newsletters
LdJ: We’ve touched on so many fascinating topics here. What are your top three takeaways that you want publishers to know about direct-sold in email newsletters?
RR: One, it’s a really easy channel to utilize your first-party data. Two, it’s a really easy channel to create first-party data and create the proper segments to use within your email environment, but also extend it to all of your other channels. And then third, leaning into native can only help increase your yield from both a programmatic and direct-sold standpoint.