We all subscribe to newsletters, right?
I mean, you’re subscribed to a newsletter about newsletters, so I have to assume it’s not the only one that hits your inbox.
And while the metrics we all focus on are the ever important open and click rates, I find myself wishing there was a way to measure deletion rates.
There are some emails I get that I open, scan, determine they serve no purpose for me, and delete.
There are some that contain links I deem worth clicking and open new tabs, either to read right away or “save for later.”
I then typically satisfy some bit of my brain that does a happy dance when I delete the email.
“There. I’ve processed this. I can move on.”
As if it’s a pesky task I just conquered.
But there are some I know I’m not done with yet.
Some that either contain or link to such good information that I cannot bear to destroy them.
“What if I accidentally close that open tab?”
“What if I forget how the sender made a topic that never made sense before suddenly so clear? Or just wrote so well I wish I could add it to my bookshelf?”
Those are rare.
They get saved, flagged, added to swipe files.
I know those words warrant revisiting.
They’re too good to delete.
Is your newsletter undeletable?
Do your readers feel like they found a secret goldmine that gets delivered right to their inbox?
Here’s the kicker: This issue of Opt In might be one you delete. It’s Thanksgiving week and I’m trying to take a little break from work and count my blessings.
So I’m reducing the usual content overload down to an appetizer and will hit you with a feast next Tuesday.
There are less links and less commentary than usual. If this is your first issue, hang in there.
Or go check out the archives. Every issue is available on the publication site and you can search by topic if that’s your thing.
It’s been 10—wait, 11—amazing weeks.
And we’re just getting started.
Happy Thanksgiving, all.
Have you spent much time thinking about free content vs paid content?
If you’re sending a newsletter it must have at least crossed your mind.
As a trained-journalist-turned-content-marketer I can get a little paralyzed considering what should be free and what should be paid.
A decade or two ago, being a quality writer meant your income was supported by sponsorships and paying subscribers (often both).
And then, as it became easier for brands to reach audiences via social media and search engines, more and more content became free to achieve traffic. I started getting paid to assign, edit, and write that free content.
Paid and free content battle for our attention.
While one company’s business goal may be to generate free educational content to build credibility as an industry thought leader and attract clients, another might be charging for the same type of content as part of a membership model business.
At the same time, a business publication may be paying writers to produce similar content for their sponsored subscription publication while another may be charging readers $10/mo and offering ad-free content.
This is not The Mandalorian. There is not one WAY.
Sometimes free content is a gateway to purchase a product, service, or solution.
Sometimes access to paid content is worth it to get straight to high-quality information and cut through the noise.
As newsletter creators, we choose which model(s) will help us achieve our individual goals.
We’re not all selling the same thing.
But we are all hoping for opens, clicks, and trust.
So make the things you’re selling worth paying for, and let your free content (whether that’s newsletter issues, blogs, social posts) deepen the reader/creator relationship so that a purchase is a next natural step.
This week’s issue includes advice from people who have faced the free or paid (or combo) dilemma, as well as other common newsletter creator decisions.
Let’s study THEIR WAYS.
Let’s talk about feeling nudged vs feeling nagged.
Maybe these should be the 2 Ns of email newsletters?
It’s basic psychology (I hope—I have zero formal psych education, but I’ve been writing with a reader’s reaction in mind since my first book, published in 4th grade).
People like to own their decisions.
They do not like to be badgered into making them.
They prefer to opt in, not to be pushed into providing their email address.
You wouldn’t go on a dating platform, connect with someone, and propose before the first date. Again, no experience with this but the 4th grader in me thinks this approach would be ridiculous.
So, why, oh why, if I visit your website for the VERY FIRST TIME are you asking me to give you something as precious as my email address before I’ve consumed at least a few scrolls worth of content?
Today’s issue includes some topics we newsletter creators should consider:
It’s a mix of advice from people who know a thing or two about nudging vs nagging.
My hope is that these curated tidbits will help you stay in the nudge zone (but not the friend zone).
Oh, and you should know my daughters recently read that story I wrote in 4th grade and they think the ending is lousy because everything they thought would happen happened.
Maybe I’ve improved since then...
I asked my CEO a simple question on a 1:1 call.
I got, “Well, let me answer this the JD Graffam way.”
He set a scene.
Developed an arc.
Helped me understand his vision.
Brought me into it.
I’m more invested in my part of the outcome now that I’ve heard that story.
He content marketed me into understanding and caring, and it was authentic (and probably strategic).
Never underestimate the value of a good story.
Your newsletter is telling one to your reader.
Make it worth reading.
This week’s edition of Opt In Weekly is loaded with inspiring stories and tips you can use to do just that.
Note: This Prologue is an adaptation of a post I made on LinkedIn that had solid engagement and grew my connections list. See more about LinkedIn content strategies in Ready to Improve Your LinkedIn Marketing Game? below.
Let’s think about bingeable content.
What makes something so good you can’t resist coming back for more?
It’s the allure of the unfinished story, of course.
Strategic writers know the psychological power of holding something back.
They also know we’ll be more committed to returning if we’re emotionally invested in the outcome of the main character, the hero.
So they develop that character, help us really understand her challenges, inner conflicts, and what triggers her actions.
That way, when the current chapter, episode, or season abruptly closes with a new challenge looming in the future, we’ll decide to come along for the ride.
Shouldn’t your newsletter be that way?
Whether it’s a paid newsletter delivering business advice, a free subscription you use as a brand marketing tactic, or something in between, the goal should be to engage your reader in a way that keeps him coming back for more.
Your target audience members are the heroes in the overarching story your newsletter tells.
Write it in a way that develops them the same way a dramatic series writer does. Know what they want, what they’re conflicted about, and what will help.
Then provide some resolution.
Consistently give them information that furthers their journey, but do it in a way that keeps them asking, “What’s next?” and trusting you’ll provide the answer.
This approach is a synthesis of an article I’ve included below (Can Content Marketing Hook People the Way Netflix Does?) and Donald Miller’s StoryBrand methodology.
Let’s apply it to our newsletters and NEVER FINISH THE STORY.
I’ve got a problem.
It’s the same one we all have.
I want your attention.
Not the kind you give something when you’re scrolling social media and you pause for a minute to respond and engage.
That kind is nice.
But I’ve got bigger plans for us.
I want the kind you give, say, a book you really like. Or a television show you’re hooked on.
I want the attention you reserve for when you know what I send is worth your time, maybe even your money.
I want to be the refreshing email inbox delivery you prioritize reading. Every week.
I know you’re tired of the constant flood of mediocre information out there.
So I’m committed to bringing you the best. That’s what a curated newsletter should do. On repeat.
I want to provide you with ideas you can use, strategies you can employ, and a challenge or two to make you better at sending newsletters worth reading—so that you can go earn and keep someone’s attention, too.
Let’s play hard to forget.
The entire process starts with setting goals.
What specific goals are you trying to achieve with your email newsletter?
In my very first issue of Opt In Weekly, I shared an amazing resource. Readership has almost tripled since then so I think it’s worth mentioning again for all the new subscribers.
Make a copy of the Google Doc for yourself and use it to set goals, track key metrics, define your primary audience, and more.
Dr. Pepper is my favorite kind of Coke.
Where I grew up, a soft drink is a Coke.
For instance, if I was at the ballpark and a friend was going to make a run to the concession stand and asked me if I wanted a Coke, I’d say, “Yes. Please.”
Then she’d say, “What kind?” And I’d say, “Dr. Pepper.”
I could turn this into a lesson about the importance of building a brand that is synonymous with the product being sold: Velcro, Bandaid, etc.
But that’s nearly impossible, right?
It’s fantastic for you, your brand, your newsletter, or whatever you’re selling if you have that position in the market.
But don’t despair if you don’t. Just realize you have to create enough demand to be a portion of the market’s favorite offering.
People need to know you exist and what in your chemical makeup is different than other flavors playing in the same space.
For Dr. Pepper, it’s probably the ridiculous amount of sugar and caffeine that earned it my loyalty. A Mr. Pibb will do in a pinch.
It doesn’t matter that I call it a Coke. It matters that I chose it.
What are you doing to make sure your offering is different enough to make it someone’s favorite way of experiencing that type of product?
Ready for the kicker?
I’ve had maybe two or three Cokes (sodas, soft drinks, pop, whatever) in over 10 years.
The first time I went scuba diving, aka the first time I submersed in less than four feet of water to discover what breathing compressed air felt like, I totally panicked.
I could see my husband’s magnified goggle-clad eyes processing my fear.
Everyone in our circle of five looked totally chill, calmly breathing underwater.
But I was terrified when I least expected it.
Because I hadn’t anticipated a nonstop stream of air. While I tried to breathe slowly, my regulator was emitting a constant stream of disorienting bubbles. I couldn’t seem to slow them down.
I could try to endure it; say nothing and power through the reef tour we were about to take.
Or I could stand up.
I stood up. Above water my husband asked what was wrong.
“I didn’t expect so many bub—”
He grabbed my regulator and fiddled with it. The valve was stuck open, sending air I couldn’t continuously inhale. He fixed it on the spot.
I tried again and, bam, I was scuba diving—no excess airstream flooding my lungs. It was amazing.
So, what? Where am I going with this?
I have a question for you.
Who are you writing your newsletter to?
When those words flow out of your fingers, imagine an individual—someone you want to really connect with, not overwhelm.
You’re sending that person an email.
Even if it’s coming from a company and not an individual, it’s still being opened by a single person. The more you treat that person like a friend or coworker you want to send a good idea to—and the less you treat them like me on the other end of that faulty regulator (think, nonstop transactional content)—the better the relationship will be.
Stop with the unnecessary air supply.
Edit and curate down to just the best stuff.
Then just let them breathe you in.
Let’s talk about love and email newsletters, y’all.
It’s a thing.
Unless you’re being totally sloppy about who you give your email address to, your inbox probably has at least one newsletter subscription you enjoy.
Maybe it’s about a topic you’re really into.
Or provides educational information that helps you with your job.
Or the writer just seems to get you.
Whatever the reason, it’s not too far a stretch to say you love that newsletter. And if you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you want to deliver a lovable newsletter, too.
In Lovability, Brian de Haaf, Co-Founder and CEO of Aha!, writes about the importance of the complete product experience (CPE). The premise of Lovability is that businesses should put their customers’ experiences first and make sure they’re actually lovable.
Brian explains that lovability shows itself in three ways:
Hugs: When customers “express feelings of affection for your product and want to get closer to it, your employees, and your company.” (p. 73)
Love Notes: When customers “send your company expressions of their delight with your people, products, and CPE.” (p.74)
Megaphones: “Customers who love your CPE will tell friends and colleagues how wonderful you are, becoming your most powerful and effective marketers and advertisements.” (p.74)
I’d like to share an experience we had with lovability in the weeks leading up to the launch of Opt In Weekly and the days that followed.
Calvin, our product manager at Curated, shared a customer message with the team in July. I quickly requested we get it on the homepage of the website:
“I’ve been using your service for over 6 months now to curate my Software Testing Newsletter, and even though I was tempted by other trendy services such as Substack and Revue, honestly, you’re still the king for this kind of format. Loving all the features that allow me to quickly add links and compose the newsletter so easily each week!”– Dawid Dylowicz, Software Testing Weekly
This message accompanied Dawid’s request for a feature release that we now have in the product roadmap.
I then connected with Dawid on LinkedIn and engaged with his posts, letting him know I was new at Curated and that we really appreciated his feedback. He has a great strategy for announcing his newsletters on social media that includes tagging the authors of the content in the newest issue. Genius.
If I see his posts on LinkedIn, I like and share them. It’s a great newsletter for people interested in software testing and he’s doing a really nice job showcasing what can be done with Curated. No brainer.
Here’s the really good part, though.
After the first issue of Opt In Weekly, Dawid took time to send me a personal email with this lovely response:
That’s great stuff!
I’ve been following you on LinkedIn since you invited me to connect and I must say I feel more bond with the Curated brand now.
I mean, now I can see who’s behind it and it gains my trust. Plus I feel reassured I chose the platform well.
That’s purely thanks to your constant online presence that brings great value every time.
And now, this newsletter makes it even better.
Your boss is a lucky guy to have such a talented old friend.
Just my two cents.
PS. I was about to recommend Twitter to you as your LinkedIn post format would perfectly fit on this social media but I can see you’ve already created an account. Can’t wait to see your content there!”
So many hugs, love notes, and megaphones, right?
Aside from the fact that Dawid is delightful proof of the value in pulling back the curtain and making sure to connect with customers, his encouragement about Opt In Weekly is part of what inspires me to keep it lovable by staying reader-centric and authentic to what I want to achieve: loading you up with really good resources for making your newsletter amazing.
This issue delivers, I hope.
I’m in the middle of a dilemma.
There’s a good chance you are, too.
Social media has made it incredibly easy to connect with people, but it’s also addictive and persuasive.
We’ve all known this, on some level, for years, but the Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma presents the unsavory side of social in a way that has me questioning my online behavior.
It features interviews with former employees of the platforms that we all seem to love/hate. They’re warning us: we’re caught in a dangerous trap.
Did you click through to the website yet?
When you do you’ll notice a notification at the top of the site. I dare you not to click it.
Actually, you should. You’ll learn something about the persuasive power of notifications.
This concept is further explained in the documentary, along with how weak our minds are against software built to keep us logged on for as long as possible. Our attention is being sold while we’re fed an augmented reality that risks destabilizing trust in, well, anything.
While I’m still sorting through my own reliance on—and enjoyment of—social media, I’m increasingly aware that we need to demand better. We need to regulate the platforms that allow fake news to spread at six times the rate of actual truth.
I think this is why I’ve always been more fond of email newsletters. I feel like I have more control over what I’m exposed to in an inbox I curate. I intentionally subscribe to information from a range of sources with differing viewpoints.
If a publication, brand, or individual earns my trust, I open and consume their content.
If they’ve lost it, I unsubscribe.
Also, when I send mine to you, I know you’ll get it and can decide if you want to read it. That feels more comforting than hoping an algorithm shows you what I post.
That doesn’t mean I’m off social. But I’m more acutely aware of the give and take of my attention. I’m determined to teach my daughters to recognize what social addiction is and equip them to battle it before they’re allowed that privilege.
Lately, I’ve enjoyed LinkedIn because there’s less political content and useful professional posts seem to be appropriately rewarded. We’ll see if it can hold out.
For now, let’s focus on how to create emails that build trust in the midst of our dilemma.
Thanks for inviting me into your inbox,