Does The Old ‘Email Newsletter’ Still Work In Today’s World? (With Examples)


Ah, email newsletters; my inbox is full of them, and hearing those words invariably sends my imagination hurtling back to the early days of the internet. The era of Geocities, Angelfire, spinning animated headers, and truly eye-destroying color schemes.

Put simply: they feel behind the times. Sure, email hasn’t lost its prominence, but email newsletters? Who actually does those now? No one bothers opening them, surely.

Well, the problem with this kind of impression is that it doesn’t necessarily reflect reality. Perception can be (and often is) wildly mistaken. So let’s examine the matter!

Let’s puzzle through the value of the email newsletter in today’s world — checking out some current-generation examples along the way — and come up with an answer to the titular question that’s a little more conclusive than my aforementioned knee jerk reaction.

(Spoiler alert: we’re about to dramatically defy Betteridge’s law of headlines.)

Point 1 - Email Still Dominates Business

Everyone likes to talk about social media. They say it’s bringing us together in unprecedented ways and allowing for the rapid dissemination of raw information, and they’re right, it is momentous. But on the whole, we don’t arrange formal meetings through Twitter, or provide project updates through LinkedIn. The venerable email inbox is still the lynchpin of the business world: take it out, and everything falls apart.

Indeed, surveys conducted in just the past couple of years have found that 86% of professionals prefer to use email when communicating for business purposes, and about 80% find that email marketing drives both customer acquisition and retention (it picked almost twice the vote of confidence that social media recommendations did).

So email still works in a big way, dominating the middle ground between our regular everyday lives and the action-packed world of commerce and business and activity that lies in wait when we’re ready for it. Social media is too fussy, too involved, to really be a viable replacement. You can ‘switch off’ and still check your emails, acting upon them in your own time.

Point 2 - Fundamental Drives Haven’t Changed

Hop in a conceptual time machine and think back to any age of humanity you care to imagine. It doesn’t matter whether we’re daubing mystical shapes on a cave wall, drawing anime characters on a graphics tablet, or whipping fancy glow sticks around to fend off cutesy combatants in a lung-busting round of VR fencing; we want basically the same things we’ve always wanted. Our nature is fairly static.

We want shiny new products, activities to pursue, media to consume, solutions to our problems, and new methods to attract, fit in with, or rebel against the world around us. As long as email newsletters can reach us with ways in which we can gain those things, they’ll retain a very high efficacy ceiling.

Yes, maybe, and already seen, respectively (source: my Gmail inbox).

Netflix pretty much nails this in the simplest way possible. “Hey you”, it says. “Look. Look at these things we have. You can watch these things.” And whenever I see a Netflix email, I check it out, because it’s information I want. The superlative level of convenience is why I’m unlikely to ever bother unsubscribing, even if I don’t use it all that often!

Point 3 - Automation Is Saving So Much Time

It certainly isn’t difficult to understand why people might think email is no longer an avenue worth pursuing. Every day of every week of every month, ten more companies spring up from the soil with an urgent need for attention, ready to cram yet more entries into inboxes already creaking almost to the point of bursting at the seams.

Yet open rates haven’t dropped the way people think they have; they’ve stayed remarkably consistent. And even if they had, it wouldn’t have suddenly made emails not worth sending: the resources required to produce and distribute emails have gone down drastically, so it would have been perfectly affordable to invest in offsetting any built-up reluctance born of spam, questionable value, and the sheer weight of overall traffic.

There’s so much time to be saved using template systems (shameless RED plug).

It’s all about allocating the resources sensibly and making use of tools or free options whenever appropriate. If you’re not operating in a sales field, you might not benefit much from sophisticated custom images, so you can break up formatting with royalty free images and save some time. If you have a ton of segmentation to do and find the A/B tweaking a grind, you can try automating your subject line optimization.

And of course you can make email design a breeze using the CoffeeCup Responsive Email Designer, but we’ll get back to that later. The key takeaway is that email is just as effective as it’s ever been, but so much easier now. Why wouldn’t you take advantage of that?

Point 4 - There Are More Ways To Get Value

What makes an email newsletter successful? That’s simple: it’s action on the part of the opener. They do something that passes value back to the sender, making the whole endeavor worthwhile. And the good news is that — as a result of there being more platforms, device types and analytics options than ever before — there are a lot of ways to return value.

Let’s run through of them quickly:

  • Register interest in something
  • Place an order
  • Sign up for a trial
  • Attend an event
  • Download an app
  • Provide feedback
  • Fill in a survey
  • Share something through email
  • Share something on social media
  • Like a social media account
  • Comment on a social media account
  • Use a specific hashtag on social media

That’s a pretty solid list, and I’m sure there are more slipping my mind. Having all of these options makes the basic template of an email newsletter so much more flexible and configurable. If you think the recipients won’t buy what you’re selling, you can offer them something else instead, and provide multiple actions in each email to give people more ways to show that they appreciate what you’re sending them.

Social links have vastly expanded value options. (Full email here).

There’s also the branding value that’s somewhat harder to quantify but still a very important part of the process. If someone likes your content, and likes your company, and likes what you do, then there’s every chance that they’ll pass some value back to you eventually. You might not even need a CTA in every email; there’s something to be said for the long-term value of establishing that not every email is about parting them from their money.

Point 5 - Quality Will Always Work

There may well be someone out there in the world who would tell you that email newsletters just don’t work now. “We’ve done everything correctly, but to no avail”, they’d claim. “Even with impeccable content, spectacular visuals, supreme value propositions, and advanced segmentation, no one reads our newsletters. Email is dead!”.

But of course that’s transparently silly and the only reasonable reply is “Evidently you have not done everything correctly”. There aren’t merely a few isolated successes out there, stragglers from a bygone era: there are so, so many thriving email newsletter campaigns keeping people in touch with brands they love (and doing more to push sales than any other form of marketing) that it’s nothing but wishful thinking to claim that email is dead. It’s an excuse made by those unable or unwilling to make their newsletters work.

Don’t say you wouldn’t! (Full email here).

I see an email like the one above, and I want to flip that switch. I want to see those shoes glow! And if I see an email like that in ten years, or twenty years, I’ll still want to see that switch flipped. Good design is robust and stands the test of time.

So first, let’s answer the titular question: yes. Of course it does. If you’ve seen a drop-off in results, it isn’t because email is on the way out — it’s because you haven’t raised your standards to meet raised user expectations and compete in tough markets.

But there’s still time to turn the ship around if you’re heading towards an iceberg, or to get even better if you’re already doing well. And the CoffeeCup RED is just the way to go, offering deliciously-responsive templates and designs to take your email marketing to the next level. So go check it out! Flip the design switch, and watch your results glow.

Victoria Ecommerce

Victoria Greene is an ecommerce marketing expert and freelance writer who’s never entirely sure whether emojis are appropriate. You can read more of her work at her blog Victoria Ecommerce.


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