TEC Newsletter, What Makes it Worthy?

Do you still read tech/business industry e-mail newsletters? In the early days of the Web, I remember going to a conference talking about the importance of developing an e-mail newsletter to communicate with customers. Now, many people simply mark the newsletters they receive as spam. A lot of e-mail services automatically mark legitimate newsletters as spam too. Are e-mail newsletters no longer useful as communication or news formats?

To publish a successful e-mail newsletter, I think you've got to provide something that people feel is worth subscribing to. Once you've accomplished that, you have to get it to them, which isn't as simple as firing off a message from your e-mail program. Among many technical considerations, it has to get through a gauntlet of spam filtering systems that could incorrectly flag you, the sender, as a spammer.

Today, we launched a new format for the TEC Newsletter. It's our attempt to see if we can make our newsletter more valuable to those reading it. I'd like to mention a few of the changes we made and find out whether people think we're on the right track.

We wanted to improve our newsletter readership, improve the number of people that not only recieve our newsletter and toss it in their trash but actually have an interest in reading it. So we brainstormed why people might not read the newsletter and put a plan into action to improve it.

I think an e-mail newsletter must stand out as a relevant information source, from the rest of the e-mail you receive. I get about 10 to 15 different newsletters and I usually just browse them for points of interest, most of the time they send me more or less the same type of thing and I don't really spend much time considering them before I hit the delete button.

There are however, a few that consistently offer interesting reading and those I not only spend more time to read, but think twice before clicking the delete button. For example, Research Buzz doesn't just send me a bunch of links but includes a voice of commentary. It's not a laundry list of disparate items but some guidance to those items. I look at the letter because there is someone behind it that has built up a level of trust based on the quality of the content provided.

In spite of the very large TEC subscriber-base, we noticed lately that some featured articles, which would have drawn more readers in the past, weren't receiving as many clicks from our subscribers as they used to. What was happening? Had we ceased to be clear about what we wanted to communicate in the newsletter? Here's a screenshot of our old format. Old TEC Newsletter

Over time this format grew to include an ever greater quantity of links, ads, and other elements vying for attention. By the time a reader sees the featured article, we figured, maybe he or she wasn't even sure what the focus of the letter was, was there anything in it worth spending time to read or click? Maybe the article or other links didn't provide enough compelling reason on their own to click. Worse, were people just getting bored of the same boxes in the same place with the same types of information all the time? The number of subscribers didn't seem to be going down, but we weren't receiving the same feedback on articles. So we've brainstormed ideas for new types of content and a new format for presenting it.

We decided that it wasn't good enough to regularly send a newsletter that was a template of standard boxes in which we shoehorned the same sorts of content--essentially telling the reader "here is what we 're sending you today, take it or leave it." Instead we're writing a letter (an actual letter, not a laundry list) to be valuable in its own right, to the person receiving it. We're hoping to say "here's why this news content is important to you."

Our approach is to present a main focus on certain themes of the day, so the reader knows what is in it for him/her and why it's compelling. Here is how our new letter looks. New TEC Newsletter

You can see our designers gave it a much simpler layout so it would be easier to read. It lacks clutter. The key content appears almost immediately after the top heading. All of the text is written so that, we hope, it informs and explains what is worthwhile about following the links we're including. This first issue mostly discusses product lifecycle management (PLM) issues.

Is this truly a better approach? Would you find this style of newsletter more valuable to subscribe to?
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