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What is an email newsletter?

An email newsletter is one of several types of marketing emails businesses may send to people who have joined their email subscription lists. 

Newsletters are distinguished from other marketing emails because they are an ongoing series of communications and usually sent at regular intervals. 

In contrast, a blast email campaign is usually a single mailing or campaign series that has a distinct beginning and ending date. 

Newsletters and blast campaigns have in common that they are sent to all or a large set of subscribers–they are high volume or mass email sends. 

And while you can personalize your email newsletters, they don’t have the same degree of contextualization as autoresponder or triggered emails that aren’t sent on a predetermined schedule. 

Email newsletters are marketing content and subject to anti-spam rules such as the US CAN-SPAM Act and the EU’s GDPR. Brands shouldn’t send newsletters to people who haven’t consented to receiving them. 

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How do newsletters differ from the other types of emails businesses send to their audiences? What content do companies distribute using email newsletters? Why email newsletters?

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How do newsletters differ from the other types of emails businesses send to their audiences?

The broad definition of email newsletters as marketing emails that are sent on an ongoing and regular basis can make it difficult to determine when an email message is a newsletter and when it is something else. 

The following summary of the types of emails businesses send to their customers or subscribers should help. 

The first level of distinction for business to customer (or subscriber) messages is marketing versus non-marketing or transactional emails. Within each category there are many different types of email messages sent by brands and various reasons for businesses to send them. 

Transactional (non-marketing) emails

Transactional emails are non-promotional, necessary or business-related messages that confirm or update transactions, follow-up on requests, request information or provide customer service support. These messages may be triggered by a specific event or sent at a predetermined time. A shipping confirmation is an example of an event-triggered transactional email. An annual privacy notice is an example of a scheduled transactional email. 

Brands are permitted to send transactional emails without gaining explicit consent from customers. Consent is implied through the fact of the transaction and the necessity of the communication. 

Marketing emails

Marketing emails are emails sent for the primary purpose of marketing to a business’s audience. The objectives for these types of messages include building brand awareness, making sales, expanding revenue or building customer loyalty. 

Although some jurisdictions permit brands to send marketing emails without first obtaining express consent, as a best practice, marketers should send these messages only to individuals who have opted in to receive them. 

Among the types of marketing emails commonly sent by businesses are:

  • Triggered emails sent to individuals in response to the occurrence (or non-occurrence) of an event or passage of a milestone. You may know these as drip, cascade waterfall or lifecycle campaigns.
  • Email blasts or blast campaigns that are pre-scheduled by the sender and sent to an entire or large portion of their subscription list. These may be single messages or onetime campaigns.
  • Newsletters sent in bulk to all or part of a subscriber list on an ongoing and regular basis. 
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What content do companies distribute using email newsletters?

Newsletters are a critical medium of communication for companies serving consumer and business audiences. The design and messaging of these effective and affordable marketing vehicles is as varied as the brands that employ them. 

Nonetheless, there are some classic newsletter formats and types that are used widely enough to be a familiar presence in most inboxes. 

Popular types of email newsletters businesses use to engage their customers and subscribers include:

  • News and updates newsletters that share information about a company. These messages are used to keep customers, investors or other stakeholders informed about the status of your organization. As marketing vehicles, they are primarily reputational, supporting your brand’s image and enhancing its credibility. 
  • Newsletters that share updates and news about for-profit or non-profit organizations. These newsletters are like business newsletters and are usually more informational or educational than promotional. An organization’s newsletter can keep donors and community members informed about events and accomplishments, encourage support and maintain accountability.
  • Promotional newsletters that announce sales, promote specific products and are directed at driving sales. These newsletters are the opposite of the business newsletter in purpose–they are conversion-focused pieces that aim to increase revenue. Promotional newsletters often resemble traditional sales flyers with multiple product images. Many brands add user generated content, reviews and social proof to their promotional newsletters. 

Promotional newsletters aren’t used only by B2C or DTC brands. B2B organizations also send promotional newsletters, although they don’t always look like traditional promotional messages. A B2B promotional newsletter may include a catalog of products available for purchase or list upcoming webinars or other events that support the brand’s marketing efforts.  

  • Informational and educational newsletters that share tips, advice, how-to’s or other information that adds value for your subscribers without directly promoting your product. These newsletters may serve a promotional purpose by encouraging subscribers to use your products. However, they also strengthen customer loyalty and build trust. 
  • Blog newsletters that share the sender’s blog or other website content. Similar to informational newsletters, these mass sends are designed to educate and add value. A business’s blog focused newsletter will inform the subscriber about new content and often have an excerpt or summary of articles and links that direct subscribers to the brand’s website for further reading. 
  • Editorial newsletters distribute original content prepared for the publisher’s audience and intended to provide independent value or demonstrate expertise and thought leadership. Non-profit and trade organizations as well as for-profit ventures may use editorial newsletters to share valuable information with subscribers. 

These newsletters don’t have to be serious. Many businesses use email newsletters to send their subscribers humorous or edgy content that reflects the brand’s personality.

  • Curated newsletters are a popular choice for publishers, trade organizations and service businesses that want to share value-adding information from multiple sources. These newsletters enhance the publisher’s reputation as a useful resource, enhance subscribers’ experiences with the brand and are sometimes an independent source of revenue for the publisher. 

Like other non-promotional newsletters, businesses may curate a mix of content that ranges from sensational to staid. 

  • Combination or hybrid newsletters. These newsletters combine features from two or more of the other types. For example, a brand might combine product promotions with curated news. An editorial newsletter may have sections for curated content and event announcements as well.

A clear organizational hierarchy and visual cues to distinguish between types of content in a combination newsletter is critical to maintaining engagement and keeping subscribers scrolling to the end. 

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Why email newsletters?

Email newsletters afford businesses flexible options to reach their audiences at scale. A single business or business unit may create several types of newsletters to meet the needs of its subscribers. They can use these newsletter variations to target different audience segments with varying content and messages or sending cadences. Brands can offer subscribers a choice of newsletters through preference centers and use the resulting input to enhance their audience’s experiences and improve their content and product offerings. 

Sending subscribers familiar, yet engaging, content on a regular basis keeps businesses top of mind and maintains their connection to their subscribers and customers. 

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