This past February, I spoke at an email marketing event in Denmark.
The event was in Hans Christian Andersen’s hometown of Odense, a 90-minute train ride from Copenhagen. (Side note: I was bad at the train. Never could find my assigned seat.)
The host hotel was around the corner from Hans’s childhood home: You could follow the writer’s size 13 footprints (size 47, in Euro sizing) straight up to the door of the house where he was born in 1805. That’s it above ☝️.
Even if you don’t know Hans Christian Andersen, you know his work. He wrote The Princess and the Pea, Thumbelina, The Little Mermaid, The Emperor’s New Clothes, The Ugly Duckling, and The Snow Queen… which 171 years later would be adapted by Disney into Frozen and Frozen 2 and (someday, I expect) Frozen 47.
The point is: If “Let It Go” has ever played on loop in your minivan, you have Hans Christian Andersen to thank.
In Odense I heard about another fairytale Hans wrote.
One of his earliest. And under the radar. It’s called The Tallow Candle. And it’s about a candle that did not feel appreciated.
How perfect is that? I’m in Denmark to talk about something else that’s also underappreciated: The email newsletter.
(…and which also has the ability to illuminate. To light things up. To burn a lasting and long-term slow burn… but now that entire metaphor is just being overwritten isn’t it?)
In Denmark I shared three important things your email newsletter needs. But I had only a little more than an hour. So I needed to nip and tuck my comments a bit.
Here’s what I would’ve shared, had I had 80 hours instead of 80 minutes:
What your email newsletter needs:
- A clear niche: Specific bests sweeping.
- A clear POV within that niche. In the age of content abundance, your niche is already covered. No problem: Add your spin/angle/point of view that others can’t replicate in quite the same way.
- Mostly insights; some promotion. Never flip that script. You need numbers? Fine: 90/10. No: 95/5. (You should flip that script for straight-up email marketing. But we’re talking newsletters here.)
- A non-neutral voice. You’re writing a letter, not reporting a five-car pileup on the freeway. Have an opinion. Tell me why I should care.
- Expectations with a Subscribe page: Who you are. What you’ll mail. When you’ll mail. How often.
- A signal of belonging with the Welcome email: “We get you. You belong here.” 57.7% of brands send Welcome emails. Don’t be that guy.
- Encouraged conversation with easy-to-answer questions in your Welcome email: Why did you subscribe? How can I help? Answering should feel like a layup for your subscribers. (Related: You can see my Welcome and easy-to-answer questions here.)
- A pillow over the face of anything with a whiff of “Dear Valued Customers.” Replace it with “Dear You.” You’re writing to one person in one inbox—not a roomful of people.
- Lots of yous. Count the number of yous in an email newsletter. If you run out of fingers… you’re doing great.
- Context for curation: “Here’s why I’m sharing this useful thing with you; here’s why I believe it’s important.”
- Questions: “What do you think?” Constant audience feedback allows you to grow/adjust your focus.
- ALWAYS WRITE BACK. This isn’t a thing to include. Just do it. Figure out a process for handling that.
- Writing momentum inside each issue. Lively writing. Story. Open loops in the copy that keep the reader curious and engaged: an open loop in writing is a teaser. It’s the start of a story that the reader will scroll to satisfy. So in email, you might ask a question at the start, and answer it toward the bottom.
- Graphics momentum inside each issue. Clear copy hierarchy through white space, bullet points, images. (Related: Take Your Writing from So-So to Stellar)
- Momentum outside each issue: Your newsletter is not a tower; it’s a bridge to your other Marketing. Your social media especially. Do you have a LinkedIn or Facebook group? Highlight questions or discussions in the newsletter. Have an Instagram? Share its images in the newsletter. This goes both ways, of course: Let social show your newsletter some love, too.
- A stupid-obvious way for people to Unsubscribe. Do not send them a confirmation email that they have, in fact, unsubscribed. That one just irks me.
- Relax. Have fun. Loosen up your fingers; open your heart. If your newsletter feels like you’re writing with a taser aimed at your sensitive nibs… you’re doing it wrong.
And, by the way, if you find yourself in Odense, walk the streets in Hans’s shoes. You and I might never fill them, probably.
But it’s fun to try them on.
This is an expanded version of a piece that ran in my own email newsletter. Get on the list for exclusive offers and ideas not shared anywhere else: AnnHandley.com/newsletter