Bridging all-powerful AI tools and the lost art of letter-writing
It’s been two years since we last discussed the importance of newsletters in crisis times, and a lot has changed. But the fundamentals of what good newsletters are seem clearer than ever.
In 2021, the pandemic and urgent health concerns were top of mind. This challenging situation was compounded by a media landscape in flux — which is a nice way of saying that there is not much left to cut from beleaguered Canadian newsrooms, and how this deteriorating media landscape has only served to strengthen the argument for brands to make their own in-house content. The arrival of ChatGPT and other powerful generative AI tools are also fundamentally changing the communications landscape, making content creation easier than ever.
The first step to rejigging your media mix is to acknowledge the fragmentation of media and pivot your brand’s strategy accordingly. There is tremendous value in owning and controlling your own primary channels of engagement (instead of housing them all on social networks, for instance). For many of our clients in the professional services, there is no better primary communications channel than the newsletter.
Maintaining email lists and writing newsletters may seem effortful; building an audience takes time and most subscribers aren’t likely to read all of your words (not even your closest family members!). But a refined comms strategy is a battle of inches, blending carefully-chosen content with captivating ‘thought leadership’ that positions the spokesperson as a trusted source of information in a confusing, chaotic world.
The question is, do you have the patience and perseverance to cultivate your newsletter into something substantial?
Most Newsletters Go Unread. Long Live Newsletters!
No but really, most people aren’t reading your newsletters. And that’s fine!
Audience capture has been a struggle for everyone. Case-in-point: my boss tells me that about one-third of our audience actually opens and reads our own newsletters, and he’s satisfied with that.
MailChimp is among the more robust newsletter platforms and has offered sobering statistics about the challenges of audience engagement. If you are consistent and have something interesting to say, then maybe one-in-five people might make the effort to read your newsletter. Less encouraging: only one-in-100 will actually bother to click a link or take action. Not the greatest odds.
So why bother? Conventional marketing positions the newsletter as a sales tool, and amongst the most effective ways to promote your organization or cause. But this is becoming less true as content overload wreaks havoc on our attention spans. Because of this clutter effect, newsletters are routinely ignored. Instead of harping on a disappointing ROI after each blast, think of newsletter value not in terms of the individual impact but its cumulative impact; being an expert resource that reliably delivers content, on at least a semi-regular basis, to better inform the audience.
For thought leaders in particular, consistency (monthly is fine!) is good marketing strategy as well as a good editorial approach from a neuroscientific standpoint: As we’ve reported previously, for better learning, quality and consistency trumps quantity and clickbait.
Media Decentralization and You
News media have benefited from algorithmic advantages online but those opportunities are drying up for a number of reasons. The result: a proliferation of non-institutional content, made by real people with real things to say. A “crisitunity” moment if ever there was one.
Of course, real people on the internet and news platforms might have the same effect as reality television: cheap to produce, increasingly sensational and free of standards or best practices.
But the defragmented landscape also presents opportunities for credible experts to carefully curate their own audiences, increasingly turning to private channels like closed groups or subscription-based models to find reliable, consistent information.
And yes, your newsletter can now be a legitimate piece of someone’s personal media mix.
While the demand for more high-end content like video webinars or podcasts tends to fluctuate with marketing budgets, newsletters are comparatively simpler and less costly to produce. They act as a media brand’s ‘home base’, building up a collection of email contacts while providing better visibility over time than most other platforms — including social media pages. It’s a gateway to deliver content in virtually any form.
For many businesses, especially in professional services or niche B2B spaces, the newsletter might often be the primary or even only source of marketing; and sometimes might get the job done on its own.
Newsletters Are… Letters with News
In a recent blog titled “What is a Newsletter?”, American journalist and professor Adam Tinworth emphasizes how engagement is the hallmark of an effective newsletter — not the hollow, compulsive clicks of a social media post but more meaningful rapprochement between writer and reader.
“Newsletter readers read 300% more articles on average than your other readers,” according to Tinworth.
Ergo, newsletter readers want to learn, be challenged, reflect on their own beliefs and biases… to use newsletters merely as a vehicle for advertising would be a waste, especially when there are so many other channels and spaces that cater specifically to promotion.
There are obvious exceptions to the rule, from product launches to major company announcements and other items of wide interest to stakeholders — all worthy of inclusion in an email blast. But when the newsletter becomes too much of a formula, you undermine its essence: the long-lost art of letter writing.
Ultimately, a newsletter is an electronic letter. It can contain information, stories, sentiments, even gifts; it shouldn’t make us mutter, “ugh, please go away” at least three-quarters of the time.
Injecting AI mindlessly into the process won’t make newsletters that much more readable. Let’s be candid here: Very few people find value in AI-written copy. They want to hear from you — your thoughts on the latest industry news, your analysis on what the future holds and how that makes you feel.
And your feelings, your read on where your chosen industry is headed, is a great place to start any newsletter; think of one of your most engaged, supportive contacts, and write them a letter. Tell them what’s new, how it impacts you and them, and what you might be talking about in the next letter.
The best way to start any letter to a friend or a newsletter to many friends is to ask yourself, “what’s new?”
Christopher Paré is a Senior Consultant with TNKR Media.