There are moments when you don’t have to question whether you should do a thing.
The idea comes. You know it’s wonderful. And you just go.
Call me insane.
But when something clicks, it clicks.
And the course topic, which I mentioned last week, was worth nerding out about: Narrative Design.
For all the lit majors and journalists in the crowd, who long to think narratively and flex that muscle we have that aches to create an amazing story—this is the good stuff.
Why? Because we all want to tell the story people remember, right?
We want to be epic.
Not a slightly different version of the same old same old.
Where am I going with this in terms of newsletter advice, though?
Your newsletter is one of thousands, millions even. It has to captivate readers to win subscriptions and opens. It has to battle for its spot in the inbox and be worth consuming. On repeat.
Employing Narrative Design—actually thinking about not only positioning but also how your readers can win whatever game you are helping them play—could be the thing that takes you from “just another newsletter” to “the newsletter I can’t live without.”
For me, a marketer of 8 SaaS tools, it was a dorky, fun way to spend a few hours of my weekend.
Besides, this coming weekend I will be hosting a Cupcake Wars birthday party for 11-year-olds, and that will also be EPIC.
Now, on to this week’s links.
What if, in business, the goal of every single task was to grow customer trust?
Hear me out.
I had a moment the other day when I imagined every department within an organization acting as a modified extension of the customer success team.
I feel like this is applicable even for businesses that don’t have official success teams, because we all have success initiatives (read: customer happiness goals), right?
Whatever you’re doing, dearest newsletter creator, it’s part of some plan you have to make the people who receive and open your emails happy they did.
I know I certainly am. The entire reason this newsletter exists is to help you improve your newsletter. I want you to feel like Opt In Weekly delivers ideas and stories you find so helpful that you use them and achieve success.
And I know I repeat quite regularly that a newsletter is a relationship builder that scales what feels like 1:1 and makes it 1:many.
It’s because I think the depth of that relationship, how well you prove they can trust you, is the most critical key to a newsletter’s success.
Because it’s the most critical key to a company’s success.
Think about enjoyable customer experiences you’ve had.
Do you keep that subscription?
Return to purchase more?
Tell people how amazing that company is?
They’ve earned your trust.
And it’s what we should all strive to do with the words we craft in each issue we send.
P.S. In case you missed last week’s announcement, Newsletter Fest is April 12 - 16 and we’re lining up some amazing speakers and workshops. Subscribe to get updates here and share this link with your fellow newsletter creators.
I am bursting with exciting news, y’all.
I usually open this newsletter with a how-this-thing-in-my-life-teaches-us-a-lesson-about-newsletters narrative.
And you read with skepticism, wondering how I’m going to manage to teach you anything of substance.
Then suddenly, you are surprised by just how brilliant my point is (a girl can hope, right?).
I have news that is too good to bury more than six paragraphs in:
Curated is launching the first ever Newsletter Fest this April… and it’s FREE.
What’s Newsletter Fest?
What began as a Slack chat about what we could do to celebrate Curated founder Dave Verwer’s 500th issue of iOS Dev Weekly morphed into a plan to spread our passion for what he began to the rest of the world with a digital celebration and some newsletter workshops.
After receiving enthusiastic responses from some potential speakers I approached, it feels like one day will not be enough.
So, we’re planning a week-long online conference for newsletter creators.
Don’t worry. You don’t have to commit an entire week on your end. You’ll get to pick and choose which sessions will be most helpful to you.
Mark your calendar for the week of April 12 and subscribe to our Newsletter Fest Newsletter (yes, it’s a newsletter about a newsletter festival being announced in a newsletter about newsletters).
We’ll use subscriptions to gauge interest and send updates to bring you along for the journey as we add speakers and workshops for publishers, independent creators, and marketers.
And we’ll also be taking nominations for a newsletter awards ceremony (you’ll get to vote for your favorites in different categories) and a chance for some of y’all to enter to win free Curated accounts for a year (if you like that sort of thing).
Our goal is to build the BEST newsletter conference out there and we’re eager to hear your thoughts on topics and speakers you’d like us to try and line up.
We’ve also got an event landing page in the works that should be live next week and will serve as a registration page and resource hub.
So… I hope you like this exciting news and I’d appreciate your feedback. Just hit reply and let me know.
And read on for your weekly dose of newsletter advice and insights.
You can’t be everyone’s favorite crayon color.
I found something along these lines online a few years back and adapted it to a conversation I had with my oldest daughter when she was in 2nd grade.
She was, at age 8, a bright, kind, child struggling to make friends and had, for the first time, used some self-deprecating statements that punctured my heart.
“I’m not pretty. No one wants to play with me. I’m not popular.”
It stings, right?
To see a child’s confidence crushed by the opinions of others.
So I comforted her and went searching for answers.
I found something close to this expression (which I can’t seem to resurface):
You can’t be everyone’s favorite crayon color.
We had a talk about how she has a favorite color. It’s not that she doesn’t like green. It’s just that she loves yellow.
Then we imagined that she was a crayon herself.
And talked about how there would be some people who saw her for what she is (brilliant, kind, loyal) and would love that.
But there would be others who would not.
And that’s ok, because everyone you meet isn’t your favorite crayon color, either.
And the lesson stuck, because her younger sister (now 8 herself) has recently had her confidence shaken in similar ways. We returned to the crayon analogy, big sister explaining to little sister how she doesn’t need to be everyone’s favorite crayon color.
Here comes the part where I segue to newsletter creation and tell you something important:
Don’t try to be everyone’s favorite crayon color.
The more you understand who really likes the vibrant hue that you are, the more you can write just for that audience.
And, here’s an interesting twist:
You don’t always have to write to please that audience.
Sometimes you want to prompt that audience to THINK.
Sometimes service is in beginning a discussion and continuing to develop your thoughts about that topic in each issue.
I’ve collected some articles in this issue that I hope will serve you in your creation process.
Reply to let me know if you find any particularly helpful or thought-provoking.
Why should you publish your marketing newsletter to your domain and make the archives accessible and searchable?
It was tied into a question about how much information beyond an email address would be good to ask for when people sign up.
And my answer is this: if I could send you my newsletter without asking for anything, including your email address, I would.
Because the purpose of a marketing newsletter is to serve and deepen the brand:consumer relationship.
So I want to make it as easy as possible for you to read what I’ve written.
To binge the archives if you want.
Because my intention is not to get your email address.
Or to learn how many people work in your office.
Because forms with fields like that indicate I’m measuring you up to sell you something. And I’m not.
Instead, I’m showing you what it’s like to be supported by me, customer or not, with the bonus perk that you get to see the software I promote in action.
If you treat your newsletter like other content marketing and make it easy to browse without subscribing, then that subscription is an opt in to be alerted when you’ve posted something new, not a trade for something kept behind a locked gate.
Note: If you’re trying to build an email list to market the launch of an info product to, you may strongly disagree with me because you need those emails to sell your product. And if you sell sponsorships to your newsletter, you may disagree because you want a large list to tout to advertisers.
But I’d still challenge you to consider that the less mysterious and more available your content is, the more those subscriptions mean and the more engaged they’ll be because they’re indicating they don’t want to miss what you publish. This obviously does not apply to private or paid subscription newsletters.
Little bonus here:
I made this quick Before You Send Checklist for the people in that audience (yes, marketers, but anyone sending a newsletter can benefit from using it), and I want to share it with you:
Before you send, ask: Does this newsletter...
...deepen your relationship with your readers?
...service as a quality touchpoint with your audience? (Would YOU read it and smile?)
...remind the reader that you (or your company) cares about their success?
...provide resources that support that success?
...feel like it was sent by a human?
...deliver quality content that earns you the right to be promotional?
Please let me know if you feel like Opt In Weekly is achieving these goals, and, if not, how I could improve.
You can find this checklist on the Notion page I built for the Industrial Marketing Live talk I gave here.
Also, if you’re interested, I’ll be chatting with Dennis Shiao from The Content Corner during his Bay Area Content Marketing Meetup next Thursday, February 4, at 3 p.m. EST. Bay Area citizenship not required.
Let’s think through the concept of the king cake baby.
It’s a Mardis Gras thing.
Every year, the Feast of Epiphany (King’s Day, as in the 3 Kings of the Christian Christmas story) kicks off Mardis Gras season.
Also known as party hard until you can’t party (Lent).
Fat Tuesday (Mardis Gras) is the last hurrah before Ash Wednesday, when you give up vices until Easter.
And there’s cake.
Think cinnamon coffee cake with icing and symbolic sprinkles (need an image?).
And a plastic baby hidden inside.
Which someone will find (hopefully without choking) and announce, “I got the baby!”
They’ll also have to buy the next king cake (and host the next king cake party).
It’s like a relay of passing the buck to the next host for a month or so.
Beyond the Christian undertones of this revealed messiah embedded in deliciousness, there’s the idea that even though it will mean incurring a fee and buying the next cake, you really want that baby.
My husband brought one home from his recent trip to Louisiana and we spent three days slicing a tasty king cake without finding the baby until one last, unclaimed slice remained.
“What are the odds?” we thought.
And we questioned whether the bakery might have forgotten to include it.
Our youngest was determined. She could eat one more slice to put the matter to rest.
And she was rewarded.
“I got the baby!”
Pure joy over discovering a thing she knew should be there.
Over the bakery delivering what it promised.
Icing across her face and a plastic baby in her fingers, she giggled, reassured that the king cake's intended destiny (that baby finding experience) had been fulfilled.
And so, I ask you this:
Is your newsletter based on a promise that you deliver in each issue?
Is the content in it, and its discovery, creating king cake baby moments?
And doing it so well that your reader opens each next issue expecting to be delighted?
Today’s issue has what I hope you consider multiple deliveries.
I’ve rounded up some inspiration I hope you can put to use in your newsletter strategy.
Also, I encourage you to reply and let me know which, if any, hit the mark and inspire your next confection.
I’ve been contemplating the voices in my head.
You have them, too.
The ones that can guide you as you write, revise, and publish.
Are they asking the right questions?
Here’s a good test for building a truly recognizable brand identity and voice in your newsletter:
When you draft the content, ask:
“Is this unique to my newsletter?
Could just anyone say it this way?”
If you want to stand out, don’t blend in.
So cliché, I know.
But there’s value in writing something a reader will remember as YOURS.
Think about an artist you’d recognize just by seeing their work.
A television producer—for me, this is Amy Sherman-Palladino. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is Gilmore Girls 3.0.
She has a style that is uniquely hers.
Almost impossible to mimic.
Confession: this is hard.
I don’t always listen.
When I do, I tap into telling a story the way only I can.
With vulnerable details.
And pauses that prompt my reader (you) to think.
I bring a lesson into the process.
And save a little surprise for the end.
Like the fact that my grandmother once heard so many voices that she underwent electric shock therapy, which didn’t work.
So her doctor advised she take up smoking.
I don’t smoke.
I try to listen to the voices. 😉
What do yours tell you?
Today’s issue includes some inspirational newsletter industry voices you’ll want to consider.
Zelda Love Sweets has been a seasonal visitor in our home for six years.
Our Elf on the Shelf, named by my daughters when they were two and four, is not overly creative.
She was a gift from a grandmother.
Another todo to add to our parenting list and bring some extra anxiety to our lives between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
She does not take marshmallow bubble baths or TP the playroom.
That stuff takes effort.
We don’t want her feeling stressed to perform.
It’s enough for her to find a new place to perch every night after making her trip to the North Pole and back.
If you’ve never woken up and realized that poor Zelda did not move an inch, you don’t really know what failure feels like.
The pressure to delight children day after day is pretty intense, but their joy is worth it.
We assume our eldest has the whole thing figured out, but she pretends she does not.
This is the same child who took it upon herself to move an elf around for her third grade classroom.
It was a knock-off elf someone had given our family and did not possess the magic powers Zelda does.
Her teacher had said they didn’t have a class elf, but one appeared and moved during recess each day.
Even the teacher had no clue our daughter was doing this until that last, chaotic week before holiday break, when I found out and made her confess.
Does this rambling have anything to do with your newsletter, you’re wondering?
It’s a nod to the power of consistent delight.
I’m not saying you have to set up the equivalent of an elf-sized snow angel imprint in flour for your audience with every send, but you’d better MOVE YOUR ELF.
Make discovering her next move exciting enough to open, read, and look forward to what’s coming next.
Your readers’ joy is your primary goal.
Note: This is my last issue of 2020. Opt In Weekly will be back Thursday, January 7. I’m switching to Thursdays to better balance my work week, and possibly yours. Please let me know if you’re enjoying this newsletter, and, if you feel like giving me a gift this season, share it with someone you think will like it, too.
Wishing you a heaping spoonful of elf magic this holiday season,
A person’s actions teach you what to expect from them, right?
It’s the same for a company’s content.
Think this through with me.
When we engage with a person over a period of time, we have the chance to determine their credibility and reliability.
Do they follow through, or do they fall short of what they said they’d do?
The moment you realize a person is full of it, or just not getting you and what you care about, you decide not to deepen the relationship.
That takes some time.
A series of evaluations.
Now, imagine that person is a brand’s content.
First, you discover it (word of mouth, SEO, paid media, EMAIL NEWSLETTER).
Then, over a series of interactions, you determine if it’s worth going further with each group of words you consume.
This is why content for the sake of content falls short.
Each and every bit of your messaging should further prove that you actually do what you say you do.
Consider each piece a potential step forward in the relationship with your reader.
When someone consumes it, does it make them want more?
Ask yourself, with every issue you send, “If I read this, would I want more?”
Do you ever feel overwhelmed by all the advice coming at you from… well, all the people who use the internet to get your attention?
Especially when the advice is mediocre.
Or a diluted summary of advice that I could be getting from a more credible source, except the person delivering it is acting as if they thought it up because they heard if they provide informative content they can try to sell me something.
Publishing is so easy these days.
Winning my recognition and loyalty is tough.
Last week, I wrote about being undeletable.
This week—and this could easily be based on the fact that I’m processing all the emails I restrained from opening during the Thanksgiving break—I’m overwhelmed by how many senders use a flawed bait and switch approach.
As I open, swipe, delete (and occasionally unsubscribe) on repeat, I’m reminded that only a handful have EARNED the right to sell me something.
What do I mean?
Only a small segment of people (who use the internet to get my attention) have made so many “undeletable” deposits with me via email that when they launch a sales sequence or squeeze a product plug into their newsletter, it doesn’t sting.
It actually feels like something I might want to invest in.
Or a next step in our relationship.
So I’m going to stick to applying my own standards for newsletters and sales emails (which, when done right don’t even read as sales emails) to my own newsletter and encourage you to do the same.
Earn the right to sell your reader something.
Or show them a sponsored ad.
Or mention your product.
Or charge them for your premium content.
Earn it with content they rely on and really want to read.
In today’s issue, I’ve curated some very solid advice and ponderings from experts to help us strategize and improve our newsletters.
Many of them have extensive experience with figuring out what people really want and how to give it to them.
Newsflash: it’s not always what we want it to be.