Don’t Make Your Newsletter Look Like an Ad

Anyone who has ever tried to generate revenue by placing AdSense units on their website quickly comes to realize that success relies on a fundamental principle: don’t make your newsletter look like ads.

When readers feel that they’re being marketed to, they tend to ignore the message. At best, they give the ad a quick glance, placing greater emphasis on the headline and keywords. At worst, they recognize that they’re being pitched and learn to avoid looking in the areas of the page that carry the ads. It’s a principle that’s made optimizing AdSense units such an important part of website monetization.

For email marketers, the punishment for appearing to pitch a product that a lead doesn’t want is even more severe. When subscribers feel that they’re receiving messages that don’t engage them, they unsubscribe, removing any future possibility of turning them into customers.

One solution is to pay for the reader’s attention by offering discounts and bargains. Even if a subscriber doesn’t want to buy now, they might want to use that discount in the future. When unsubscribing carries a penalty, they keep reading.

This is a Marketing Message from a Friend
Another option though is to blend in. Just as ad units are at their most effective when they look like content, so email marketing can be particularly powerful when it looks as personal and directed as the messages from friends and associates that it sits between in the inbox.
That might mean going easy on graphics. Personal emails tend to be all text with any images added as attachments rather than embedded into the message. The sight of an media-rich email full of color and product pictures always tells a subscriber that this a message from a company, not a friend.

Keep the design simple and you might be able to build a closer relationship with the reader. At the very least, you’ll win a look in the preview frame that lasts a bit longer than a glance-and-delete.

Email Marketing in the Age of Personal Branding
Style is important too. In an age of personal branding, when companies are represented on social media sites by named twitterers and hold discussions with customers on Facebook pages, buyers expect firms to feel like individuals. Even if the company owner didn’t actually write the email — and in small firms, he or she might — the reader should feel that they did.

But those first person pronouns don’t just make the reader feel that they’re being spoken to personally. They also make the message read like all the other messages in their inbox, the emails from friends and colleagues. It might be delivering a marketing message. It might contain a discount and a time-limited offer. But by blending in with those other messages, the email looks as important, as relevant and as engaging as a message from a friend.

Clearly, this isn’t a strategy that will suit every business and every offer. Blended AdSense units might work but they haven’t killed off CPM ads and whack-a-mole banners. But for individual marketers and personal brands, it’s a useful way to stay in the inbox and turn subscribers into customers.