Email Newsletters, the Unicorn of Marketing

What matters more? Content or Design?

In my research and observation, I have been taking note of what other businesses do with their newsletters. How they format, what is their messaging strategy and what is it about their subject lines that feel like ‘click bait’ and I just have to open them to read more.

One thing I have noticed are distinct email designs can be categorized into three different camps.

1. Generic san serif with no visual branding. These emails that are tailored to look like you are receiving a regular email like you would get one from a friend. No graphics. Maybe an animated GIF for interest or link to a video or offer. But outside of that, nothing special. This version is all about the copy, the content, the ‘content is king’ you could say. Examples of this type of newsletter seem to be a standard for coaching, and business newsletters, such as Marie TV, Michael Hyatt and more. Each newsletter does provide quality content and always has a call to action. 

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So here is the thing, if you find yourself skimming through  your inbox, unless you are an avid reader and are engaged with the content intentionally, they all LOOK THE SAME! I mean check these two above out! I can't distinguish which email is from what brand. It's all business, which can be a good thing, but I don't really get the 'feels'. I basically don't feel connected or special. I know that this content is sent to a very large audience which is fine, but it does lack a personal touch. In another design opinion, as I have been focused on creating printed books, readability for a lot of copy, does require a serif style font in my mind. It helps me to skim the content and still be able to digest the overall message. With these types of emails I find the text, even when they bold and italicize, it visually looks like boxes of lines - I have to make more of an effort to read.

2. A template designed newsletter with a high amount of visual branding. that includes unique font choices, branded graphics and are framed up all nice and like. Your eyes are visually engaged, you can skim easily through and pick up on what the message is without spending too much of your time reading. The BEST example of the is Janine Vangool’s UPPERCASE weekly newsletter.

It does help that Janine has a plethora of creative visuals to share because of her visually stunning publishing business. Her newsletter is always a treat for the senses. You can cue in on what you want to read, and on top of it all her copy is king. Full of unique and engaging insights into her business and the creative world she has to share from her fingertips. In order to achieve such a feat of email design, a solid understanding of graphic design is important. The ability to create custom graphics that fit the newsletter template specifications as well as ensuring that each image has consistency with the brand. If that really isn't up your alley, I think the next version is a good step.

3. Visual Hybrid. A clean version that is focused on copy, but does incorporate unique font and one or two graphic elements so you can visually recognize who you are reading. An example would be Paul Jarvis and his Sunday Dispatches.

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I have been subscribed to Paul's newsletter since I heard of him about four years ago and have enjoyed the voice he brings and valuable insight. I will admit, there are some weeks that his content is a miss to me personally, but never a reason to unsubscribe. He has been consistent with his frequency, in fact he even takes a hiatus over the holidays. Like they say, sometimes distance can make the heart grow fonder. So much so I am excited to see his return to my inbox.

What I appreciate about the design Paul has created, he uses a newsletter template that is mobile friendly. The trick to ensure that your copy reads and fills a mobil screen is to avoid adding graphics 'inline' with the text. Each image should be placed as a separate box. The reason is, the width of the copy aligns with the width of the pixel dimensions of your image. If they are in separate boxes, it doesn't matter.

Your choice for the best method for you is going to be determined by a few key factors: Your audience, your frequency, your message and your visual brand elements you have available. As a visual creative, I lean towards options two and three. I am always looking forward to the visual eye candy as well as engaging content. A good newsletter will keep the messaging clear and focused, which the generic version is leaning towards, but misses the mark in my opinion in making a connection with a visual brand.

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As I have been developing my own branded newsletter. I created a welcome email that combined those of the visual template with a cleaner copy based message. The email is branded with an image, each call to action has distinct branded colours for links and I lean towards a serif font that is available on all platforms.