Your email newsletter is NOT direct email marketing

same but different - Pantone blues

Same but different

Is all email marketing the same? Do the same rules apply for every piece of email content you send?

Your email newsletter is part of your marketing mix – so it’s email marketing. Right? Well, yes and no. They’re the same but different, and they require a different tone. Here’s why it’s important to separate email campaigns from your regular email newsletter.

Only one call to action?

We’re working with one of our clients on a new email newsletter. Our clients are savvy and switched on, and they always do their marketing homework, so they’ve pushed back on our chatty, content rich first draft with the words ‘we only want one link, and one repeated call to action.’ (We’d drafted something rich and useful with several links back to the various blogs and reports on the new website, plus a link to a survey tool – and that felt wrong to them.)

What they’ve picked up is a rule governing good direct response copywriting – only one, single call to action, repeated. But is your email newsletter direct email marketing? I don’t see it that way.

Learning from the digital master

To help explain the distinction I was making to our client I went back to see how one of the masters of digital communication handles email.

If you read Chris Brogan’s newsletter, you’ll see that it feels like a conversation with links that fly all over the place – not even just back to his own content. This week for example he takes you off to art galleries and coffee shops and other people’s content.

Chris Brogan email newsletter copy

I get this newsletter every Sunday, and I always read it because I find what he has to say really helpful and I like him. That’s the kind of loyalty you want to build with your newsletter.

I compared that to a piece of email marketing he sent me yesterday. This email obeys all the rules that our clients wanted us to follow. Chris was promoting a webinar, and it was clear what he wanted me to do. There was one call to action, and it was repeated often – ‘sign up here’ ‘reserve your place’ ‘join me’.

Chris Brogan email marketing copy

I read both emails from start to finish. However I was more receptive to reading the marketing email (and acting upon it) because I get such good value from the newsletter. If everything Chris sent me was focused hard on selling, than that wouldn’t be the case.

“I was more receptive to reading the marketing email because I get such good value from the newsletter.”

There’s a balance to be struck.

Aim for a mix of both email styles

You need a mix of both email styles – conversational AND promotional – but they are two different things and each requires a different tone.

Use your newsletter to build a community, and don’t sell too hard here. Make yourself useful, share good stuff. Think of this as a conversation, not a sales pitch.

“Think of your email newsletter as a conversation, not a sales pitch.”

When you’ve got the loyalty, people will be more receptive to your sales messages. That’s the time to employ your smart direct response marketing tactics. Add in the occasional promotional email to the mix. Make it clear what the one thing you want people to do is, and make it really easy for them to do it, and make them want to do it NOW!!!

Just recognise that your email newsletter is not direct email marketing.

Paying in to the bank of trust

For information on striking the right balance with your email marketing check out copywriting supremo Andy Maslen’s ‘bank of trust’ analogy in his excellent guest post on this blog – Content Marketing and the Bank of Trust. As Andy so rightly suggests, they key is to: ‘build up enough credit before you make a withdrawal’.

What do you think? Should your email newsletter follow the rules of direct response marketing? Or is it an all together different beast?

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  1. Andy Maslen

    Great article Sharon, and thanks for the link to my guest post!

    I agree 100% with your point. Leaving aside the fact that ’email marketing’ is a broad term that encompasses both newsletters AND promotions, companies have to realise that a newsletter is NOT a sales piece.

    I am sure that if I started applying the rules of direct marketing to my newsletter, our subscriber base would quickly shrink to zero.

    Incidentally, I don’t believe this distinction is anything new. Old-skool printed newsletters were just that – ‘news’ letters, sent to customers. Mailshots, ads and sales calls happened alongside.

    It all comes down to the promises we make to our subscribers. If I say ‘join my newsletter and I will share my passion for copywriting with you’ the customer has a right to expect that that’s what I will do.

    I have found that I can include links to course pages on our site from my newsletter alongside others for more info, graphics, pics of my dog etc., but our best *sales* response comes from solus email ‘blasts’ to my list.

    The tie that binds us to our subscribers is gossamer-thin and one click on an unsubscribe link can sever it permanently. But every piece of valuable content, such as a newsletter packed with interesting info, advice AND links, adds another thread. Build a rope out of spider silk and you have something stronger than steel – certainly strong enough to withstand an occasional promotion.

  2. Sharon Tanton

    Thanks Andy.

    Love your spider silk analogy! Perfect. The link we have to our subscribers is so fragile, and we need to keep adding more of the right threads. Your newsletter is the place to make links, not to sell.

  3. Martin Greaney

    You raise an interesting point is not appreciated. I often see my blog posts as a chance to demonstrate my knowledge in order to attract business. Therefore I already file it under Marketing. Perhaps I should try to separate the posts into ones lacking calls to action, and ones focussing on it. Or are the rules a little different for blog posts (potentially a number if landing pages) compared to emails (where you have an opt in captive audience who read everything)?

  4. Sonja Jefferson

    Hi Martin.

    Your raise an interesting point too. Demonstrating your knowledge in order to attract business is just the right approach I reckon when it comes to your blog.

    If I read a blog and every post ends with a blatant ‘and if you want this then call us NOW’ I find it pretty off putting.

    There are softer yet powerful calls to action you can use alongside your blogs, inviting the reader to dig deeper into the subject – sign up to our newsletter, learn more in this webinar. Done well these build trust and develop the reader’s connection with your business, a continual drip feed of value with the occasional offer thrown in, but no strong arm tactics.

    Landing pages are different again. The point is conversion – from call to action to…action. Different animal all together – the rules of direct response certainly apply here.

    Hope that helps. Good luck with your blog.




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