What content strategy and technology will leading brands use in 2024?

The state of digital content 2024

Marketing communication

Rethinking a classic format: How to get more out of your email newsletter

by Kate Lindemann  |  December 4, 2020

7 min. read
Fiver's email newsletter on a phone display.

The email newsletter is a classic way to communicate with customers and build a community around your brand. So classic, in fact, it can be easy to just go through the motions and fall into a rut with your newsletter strategy. Fortunately, a few easy fixes can get you back on track.

In this article, we’ll show you how to create an email newsletter that will unlock your brand’s full potential and keep your customers engaged.

Rethink the format

The first step to sending better email newsletters is to challenge your understanding of what a newsletter looks like. The classic newsletter format – multiple news items combined into a single email – isn’t always the best approach. Instead, consider these strategies to make sure your content doesn’t get buried or lost.

One email, one message

Back when newsletters were printed on paper, it made sense to design them like newspapers, cramming multiple news items onto a single page. But email is a different medium that requires a different approach.

Digital marketers have unlimited space, but they face another restriction: short attention spans. People check their email on the go, during commercial breaks or between meetings. As a result, marketing emails need to be instantly digestible.

Each email you send should have a single, clear message. Got a lot to say? Your content will perform better if you split it into multiple emails.

Single-topic email newsletters from Blinkist and AirBnB.

Don’t bury that great new customer success story in a quarterly newsletter. Let it shine on its own. Think of your mailing list as a news feed, and offer subscribers one bite-sized story at a time.

Pick a headlining story

Sticking with one message per email is best practice. In a pinch, however, you can approximate the same effect by picking one newsletter item to be ‘front page’ news. Make it the focus of your email, and tack less important stories on as a supplement.

This is a strategy newspaper editors have used for decades. A big headline above the fold stands out in a newsstand, enticing customers to buy the paper. Once they do, they’ll eventually read the rest of the news too. You can apply the same approach to an email newsletter.

Front pages of New York Times and Le Monde print editions.


Choose content that builds your brand image

Whatever content you include in an email newsletter, make sure it fits with your overall brand strategy. Decide what message you want to send about who you are, and then think about what types of content will drive that message home.

Need some ideas to get started? Here are a few versatile content types to consider.

Feature a customer, user or brand ambassador

Humans are hardwired for storytelling, so find a protagonist for your brand’s story. Putting customers at the center of email content gives your brand a human face and demonstrates your products’ impact.

To keep the email short and sweet, host long content like interviews and articles on your website and condense the best bits into email form. A photo, short summary and stand-out quote should get the job done nicely.

Email newsletters featuring Mailchimp customer success story and Brooks brand ambassador.

Offer something of value

Email marketing is one of the few types of marketing people actively seek out. Customers won’t want to give up space in their inboxes unless there’s something in it for them. Think about what your subscribers get out of being on your mailing list, and make sure it’s worth it.

One way to do this is to use your email newsletter to announce sales, or offer discount codes. Customers are less likely to unsubscribe if they know being on your list has value.

Blue apron email newsletter with $30 coupon and Hay email announcing a sale.

Foster a community

Newsletter subscribers are your most engaged customers, so tap into that loyalty to strengthen their connection with your brand. Foster a feeling of behind-the-scenes exclusivity. Maybe newsletter subscribers get first dibs on in-demand tickets, or a sneak peek of your latest product.

Show off your expertise

Build customers’ trust in your brand by highlighting your company’s expertise. That could be anything from a travel agent’s travel tips to a grocer’s wine pairing guide. In B2B marketing, offering industry insights reassures customers that your company knows its stuff.

Make it newsy

When you break your newsletter up into single-story updates, the line between ‘newsletter’ and regular marketing emails can get a little blurred.

To keep the newsletter true to its purpose, don’t forget to include actual news in your content rotation. New product announcements, partnerships and other company updates make excellent stand-alone emails.

Email from United announcing new airport service and email from Subaru announcing new car model.

And remember: News doesn’t always mean breaking news. Journalists always have a few ‘evergreen’ stories ready to publish at any time. The email newsletter equivalent might be a write-up of your company’s sustainability initiatives or an interview with your CEO on their corporate philosophy. Keep a running list of ideas to draw on if a slow news week comes along.

Write descriptive subject lines

You’ve gone through a lot of trouble to write an interesting email newsletter filled with carefully crafted content. Don’t throw all that hard work away with a lackluster subject line.

‘July Newsletter’ doesn’t tell your audience why they should bother opening your email. Instead, take the time to write a subject line that reflects what’s inside.

Informative, descriptive email subject lines.

For more subject line best practices, check out our tips for writing high-performing email subject lines.

Use design strategically

Everyone wants their emails to look good, but email design serves a strategic purpose too. In the short term, careful design guides the reader through the email and encourages them to click. In the long term, customers seeing your brand in their inbox adds up, improving brand recognition.

Use images to capture attention

Humans are naturally drawn to images, and stunning photography and artwork will make customers want to read your email. Graphics and photos are a window to your brand – they convey personality and mood instantly, before the reader even gets to the copy.

Consider how your images fit into your overall design. In the example below, the woman’s gaze directs the eye straight to the copy. Were she facing the other way, the eye wouldn’t know what to do: follow her gaze or read the text.

Email excerpt with photo of woman looking out a window towards email copy.

Use plenty of white space

‘White’ space is the empty space around text, photos and other design elements. Because email is a digital format, you have unlimited space. Give your content room to breathe. It’ll make the email easier to digest.

Have a point of focus

If you’re sending a more classic email newsletter with multiple news items, make your headlining story the visual focal point. Think of email newsletter design like planning a meal: Your main dish is the focus, and the sides play a supporting role.

Stay true to your brand

Every aspect of every email contributes to an overall impression of your brand. That includes design choices. It’s important to follow your company’s brand guidelines, whether you’re working with templates or designing email newsletters from scratch.

Which of the emails below looks like it came from Starbucks? When the design matches the brand, it feels familiar and right. That’s not an accident – it works because every time you encounter the Starbucks brand, the design is consistent.

Starbucks email in off-brand and on-brand colors.

For more performance-boosting design principles, read up on the best practices in our email design guide.

Give yourself a fresh perspective

There’s a common thread in all this advice. Sending great email newsletters is all about understanding the big picture.

It can be easy to get bogged down in details in email marketing, so be sure to make time to take a step back. Take a fresh look at your brand strategy for inspiration and guidance. Chat with colleagues for some fresh ideas. Get some email inspiration from other brands.

By challenging your understanding of what a newsletter can do, you build a more creative newsletter strategy that better serves your marketing goals.