At CUE Days ’22, Simon Owens, industry expert and host of the podcast “The Business of Content”, covered “The intimacy of the inbox” and how newsletters play a vital role in converting paid subscribers. He also shared his own experiences and practical tips for using newsletters to drive brand loyalty, increase monetization and create strong engagements from customers. We listened in, and here’s the gold:
Today, most newspapers run an automated daily or weekly newsletter, maybe several of them, but are using them mostly to drive traffic to the main website. But the use of newsletters has the potential to drive measurable traffic that can create true monetary value – and one of the first places to start is to learn from the best.
Among the best in this field is Simon Owens, who visited CUE Days ’22 in Aarhus, Denmark to share his insights into creating value with newsletters:
“Email can be a massive traffic and business driver,” Owens said, “but there are a few tricks to it. The main one is to transform your newsletters from a teaser-container to an editorial product in and of itself. In other words, newsletters can be monetized and drive engagement if they deliver real value to the user.”
Why Newsletters Work
Owens listed a series of benefits you can reap as a publisher, if you embrace newsletters in the right way.
- Newsletters give you direct ownership of the audience – in other words, they are a fantastic driver of brand loyalty
- You get first party data of your users’ preferences and behavior
- You will encourage consistent reading habits, as the newsletters can be timed to a fixed cadence – in other words, your reader will begin to anticipate your newsletter arriving at a specific time
- You can monetize your content directly – in fact, in Owens’ experience, newsletters can become the number one driver of paid subscription conversions for your news business when done right!
Owens also emphasized that premium newsletters deliver a highly user-friendly experience, allowing you to push paid content to the user without a login – often, a paid newsletter is paid on a monthly or annual basis and does not require a login procedure to access content. It just pops up in the user’s mailbox. The expectation of getting premium content creates an extra incentive to open – so engagement rates are typically very high.
Find A Niche, Find A Star
The pitfall is seeing your newsletter as a one-size-fits-all vehicle for the content you want to monetize. Don’t, Owens warned.
Instead, use your newsletter to feature your star talent (or a star team) and to create a fan base for them. To do that you must identify your local star writing talent in your newsroom and promote them. But finding a niche is equally important – the more specific a newsletter becomes, the more likely it is to drive engagement way up. For instance, focusing on specific topics like local politics, sports, the arts, and more.
Owens also stressed the importance of finding a healthy balance between curated content and editorial content – do not be afraid to curate content, even if it comes from external sources, he said. It shows that you care and that you honestly want to inform, share, and educate your readers, and in turn, this too drives loyalty from your readers. Owens also stressed that to him, when referring to external content, it is irrelevant if the content is behind a paywall or not. It’s the quality of the content that matters to the reader.
But mostly, what readers want is true, editorial content delivered by a news brand they trust and by a person they enjoy hearing from.
Practical Tips from Simon Owens
- Locate star writing talent in the newsroom and cultivate their talents
- Identify serviceable niches and focus your newsletter(s) on these niches
- Find a healthy mix of curation and editorializing
- Market the newsletter to your audience – explain exactly what they are getting, how often, and what it costs
- Write for perfect length: Columns should be approx. 800 – 1500 words long – this is the sweet spot
- Constantly work on your CTAs – never, ever, get complacent
- Tease paid content and sell native ads (as you have a highly engaged audience, you will get much higher CPM if you avoid generic banners and ads)
- Use social media polls to a/b test subject lines – ask your readers frankly what would work best for them, and do it just before sending out the newsletter
- Ask your readers to evangelize your newsletter: “Can you do me a favor before you close this email?” – this gives so much engagement and feedback
- Launch a referral program – give rewards to people who refer new signups, with clothing, mugs, merchandise and so forth
- Optimize your web version of the content for social sharing and SEO
- Embed polls - you can embed them directly into newsletters and make them short, the CTR is much higher than conventional polls
- Learn from the best such as Bloomberg, Axios, and The Information
About Simon Owens
Simon Owens is a journalist who, through writing, podcasting and newsletters, covers the whole gamut of digital media, from the creator side to the publisher side… from the journalist side to the business side. Check out Simon’s great podcast, The Business of Content.