Note from Jeanne: Happy Throwback Thursday! I wrote this article back in February 2015 and it was published by ClickZ. A lot has happened since then but email newsletter remain as hot as ever. Read on for an in-depth look at theSkimm, with lot of ideas and tips that would easily be applied to your own email newsletter to boost performance. Enjoy!
Email newsletter are big news lately. In case you’ve missed it:
- Nearly a year ago Quartz Insights’ Global Executives Summary found that 60% of executives read an email newsletter as one of their first three daily news sources
- In June 2014 The New York Times reported on “a radical publishing technology that is catching on in news media companies big and small” – which turned out to be email newsletters [Note: As I’m writing this I just got news that David Carr, the NYT Media columnist who wrote this article, has died. RIP; my thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends. I will miss his articles on the publishing industry, which I grew up in.)
- In December of last year a start-up called theSkimm, whose only current offering is a daily email newsletter, raised $6.25 million in funding
On a personal note, I spoke to a business communications class at the University of Maryland last September – my topic was email newsletters. Not only did my session get rave reviews from the students, but I’ve been asked to present again this semester.
So if you’re not currently doing an email newsletter to support your business goals, now’s the time to start. Implementing some best practices will help you be successful – so here’s a quick and dirty review of a recent email newsletter from theSkimm to get you started.
theSkimm is published every day. Every morning, to be exact – it arrives around 6:30 AM ET, which is before my alarm usually goes off. Which leads me to the first best practice in email newsletter marketing: don’t bite off more than you can chew, with regard to quality.
I always find theSkimm to be a quality publication; but from my work with clients I know what goes into a daily email newsletter. You are, quite literally, always on deadline. You need to have a person or, more likely, a team dedicated to getting it out every day. So if your primary business isn’t publishing, I’d shy away from daily. For my clients I recommend monthly at a minimum; weekly is even better if you have enough content – and staff resources – to pull it off.
That said, theSkimm would be much less valuable if it wasn’t delivered daily – that’s kind of the point of it – and so kudos to them for getting it done. But think about what frequency would best benefit your content – and confirm that you have the staff to make it happen in a quality way at that frequency. If not, pare back.
I’ve attached a screenshot of a recent theSkimm newsletter below. It’s a bit long, so feel free to click on it to see a recent issue of theSkimm full size (and actually be able to read it). And scroll past the image for more of my thoughts.
From and Subject Line
theSkimm uses its brand as its from line – this is a best practice. Note that they don’t use a person’s name here. While this was shown, years ago, to improve open rates there are downsides. You are building equity in whatever from line you use and if that person leaves your organization the equity goes with them. Some people have created pseudonyms that they use in their email from lines to get around this – but I’m not a fan of misleading your audience.
theSkimm changes their subject line with every issue to keep them relevant, which is a best practice. Recently I’ve recognized a number of them to be lyrics or titles of songs. For instance:
- Stuck in the middle with you (Stealers Wheel; you may know it from the Reservoir Dogs Soundtrack)
- Stay with me (Sam Smith)
- You can dance if you want to (Men at Work)
This is a good strategy – the subject line is relevant to the content in the email but at the same time it may evoke an emotional response if people recognize it.
Preview Pane Content
The Skimm usually opens with a newsworthy quote (and a link to the source) – and then they say something snarky about it. Which not only sets the stage for the rest of the content, but reminds me of one of my college friends (Misshula, I’m talking about you) who always had a quick, witty response to any situation. Don’t you love friends like that? If so, you’ll love this newsletter.
Can every brand be this snarky? No. But every brand can find something interesting – a quote or something else – to engage readers and pull them in the newsletter.
After the opening quote we get to the real news. While the headlines tend to remain a little bit snarky, the content is sound. They tackle difficult issues in a way that lay people can quickly understand. It’s like when USAToday launched as a way to deliver news to the masses in a ‘fast food’ format; but here it appears in a more ‘fast casual’ format.
I’m short on space but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the social element of the Skimm email. They provide readers an easy way to share either the entire newsletter or individual articles via Facebook or Twitter.
But then they go a step further. They actually recognize readers who are having birthdays.
As someone who works with enterprise-sized organizations, my first thought is: is this scalable? I assume not. At some point, when the list gets very large, this will be too long to be included in the newsletter. But until then it’s a great feature.
Until next time,