Get Personal to Do Email Right

If there is one theme that has bubbled to the surface this year, it’s this: Email marketing is where it’s at. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’re selling, email is the owned channel that works hard, gets things done, and isn’t—generally—subject to the whims of algorithms. And that’s why my inbox is always filled with pitches, columns, and press releases about how everyone—publishers, consumer brands, and B2B marketers—is turning back to email as their channel of choice.

Not convinced? Here are some stats from HubSpot that might change your mind:

  • 99% of consumers check their email every day.
  • 80% of business professionals believe that email marketing increases customer retention.
  • 93% of B2B marketers use email to distribute content.
  • Marketers who use segmented campaigns report seeing as much as a 760% increase in revenue.

I could list more numbers to try and convince you that email is the workhorse you need to put your resources into, but according to the stats, there’s an 80% chance you already believe in the power of email. The benefits should be obvious. What’s better than directly contacting your potential customers with personalized content and offers, without the hassle of intermediaries such as Facebook and Google?

But let’s be real for a minute. We all have email—and we all let it pile up. I have folders devoted to newsletters I want to read but haven’t. When Gmail introduced tabs, I embraced them readily—happy to have ads filtered into one tab and social notifications filtered into another, freeing up my main inbox for important communications. But even with those tabs in place, it still seemed overwhelming. I signed up for, a service that combs through your inbox and helps automate the unsubscribe process. It also rolls up the emails you decide you still want to see into one digestible email.

For all its benefits, email isn’t perfect. And if you don’t get your strategy right, your emails might end up in the Trash folder (or buried deep in one of those tabs I mentioned, unloved and ignored). I think this is a particularly important lesson for publishers.

Publishers are in an especially precarious position when it comes to channels they don’t own. If Facebook changes its newsfeed algorithms and you rely heavily on that platform, you may find your traffic takes a nosedive. Same goes for when Google decides to switch up its SEO algorithms. Brands can change their ad strategies with relatively little effort—put more money into paid ads and different channels—but the same rules don’t always apply to publishers. However, if you’ve built a solid following via email and you know how to use it—and, more importantly, not abuse it—then you’ve got a way to connect directly with your readers and deliver them what they want.   

This should be easy, right? In theory, you’re only sending emails to people who have signed up for them. Therefore, you’re sending them exactly what they want. But there’s still the overstuffed inbox to contend with. I may want those recipes, but they’re getting buried under that newsletter I signed up for, the bill payment reminders, and chain letters from my aunt.

That’s why personalization is more important than ever—and I’m not just talking about subject lines. HubSpot found that people were more likely to open emails that pertained to their hobbies. That’s not surprising. Wouldn’t you be more likely to open an email about tennis or knitting than one for work or filled with depressing news? Well, as publishers we need to be able to cater to those needs.

If you’re a publication about all things outdoors, you should let people opt to receive a curated newsletter each month that’s just about running or rock climbing or whatever activity a reader is interested in. Don’t make me wade through the articles about sport fishing if I’m into mountaineering. (And don’t forget to let those same people enable push notifications about new stories they might be interested in.)

It’s no surprise that curating content for specific niches has the ability to garner loyalty. In some ways, it’s what content marketing was founded on—just look at John Deere’s The Furrow magazine. If you can curate your content to each and every reader, he or she might be more inclined to open that email.   


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