A couple of years ago I inherited a daily newsletter. For some reason the update had a level of institutional backing (i.e. someone important thought something kind of like it should exist) and it was handed to me.
It had been started as a passion project and consisted of a collection of links vaguely related to the things that some of the people who received it were working on. It was sent out via a distribution link, with no way of telling anything about its performance. Those links were all pulled from the RSS feeds of hundreds of sites, and put in an html mailer.
Starting with rough materials
I wanted to do a good job and make sure that something I was to make every day was of value to the people who received it. It seemed important to be able to track the performance of the newsletter to be able to see how it was doing over time. And I only wanted to send it to people who wanted to receive it.
What I needed was a way to turn an unstructured, topically nebulous link bomb into a purpose built, value focused part of the audience’s day. To do that I needed three things:
Three key ingredients in a consistently valuable newsletter
Ingredient 1: Who is it for?
Based on the combination of distribution lists and ever growing emails on the cc, I was able to do some quick “back of envelope” audience research. There were product marketers, product managers, engineering directors, and the odd vice president. What they seemed to have in common was they made or influenced portfolio decisions at least in part in response to market information. Starting with a core audience of some specific people in mind makes it easier to understand the type of information they find valuable.
Ingredient 2: What will they do with it?
One of the first things I did when I took the publication over was survey the subscribers to find out what they liked about what they were getting, how they used it, where they would get the same type of information of the publication ceased. It turned out what they wanted was an easy way to keep up with tech industry topics and trend that impact our company strategy. taking a page out of the Pragmatic Marketing Framework, I used this and subsequent customer (i.e. audience) interactions to shape the newsletter.
Ingredient 3: A mental model for what goes into it
Thankfully the way our company strategy is formulated lent itself well to structuring a newsletter. With the company strategy as the mental model through which I was both filtering content (often over 1k articles a day) and structuring the newsletter (one section for each pillar in the strategy with 3 stories in each section), I have been able to consistently produce something that meets the needs of the audience (who I’d switched to an opt-in, subscriber base). I’m confident because we’ve had a consistently solid open rate and consistent subscriber growth over time.
What’s your secret ingredient?
If you’re a newsletter person, I’d love to hear your approach to producing something consistent and valuable to your audience. If you’re struggling to do the same, hit me up in the twitter DMs.