B2B newsletters are terrible; you know it. As a journalist and editor who fell into brand strategy and never left, I’ve been working with a half dozen clients on newsletter strategies in Q3. I hear a lot of the same justifications for BNB: Bad Newsletter Behavior.
You’re likely doing the same things without even realizing it. Read on and I’ll detail how to turn your newsletter from an ego-driven, company-centric-rambling-no-one-cares-about into a reader-centric hit that impacts your goals.
B2B Newsletters: The Goal
Newsletters are a key component of B2B content strategy. The simple goal: provide relevant, interesting industry content in a way that helps your reader make his or her life easier. B2B newsletters can drive impact across your customer journey, moving readers deeper into industry problems, solutions, and your brand. Read more about other content types per stage in that journey from my colleague Leah, here.
Impact is measured through open and click rates, unsubscribe rate, newsletter audience growth, deeper engagement with other resources, inquiries and comments. Awareness, engagement, consideration, purchase… so many great things can come out of this.
Which is part of the problem.
Readers Owe You Nothing
Bad B2B newsletters are ones that are clearly a running list of only the things that [insert organization name] wants/needs/is screaming at its readers to do for it. Read about our product launch, we worked really hard on it! Use this new feature, it’s awesome (and we worked really hard on it)! Visit our (pre-COVID) booth at the show! RSVP for our webinar, we worked really hard on it. We want readers to do a LOT… for… us. “But I just need my buyer to…” is often the refrain. But readers owe you nothing.
You Owe Readers Effort
Where things get tricky is that if your newsletter doesn’t do all those things mentioned above (drive RSVPs, boost event traffic, drive product usage), you’ll be asked why you’re even doing it. “Don’t put a lot of effort into the newsletter if it’s not going to drive sales,” you’ll hear. “Just push our press releases and case studies. Don’t overthink it.” And that’s absolutely the wrong response. Because if you don’t put effort into crafting something your audience wants to read, why do you expect them to put effort into reading it, let alone engaging with it? Want readers to take action? Write for them, not for you. Run the marathon, not the sprint.
Bad Newsletter Behavior Costs You Everything
Every reader who unsubscribes from B2B newsletters and every prospect who hovers over the ‘Subscribe to Newsletter’ button and ghostily drifts away says one thing very loudly: I don’t trust you to bring me value. It’s a knife to a brand’s heart. It is potential customers walking away from you.
4 Fixes B2B Newsletters Need, Yesterday
Read on for 4 examples of Bad Newsletter Behavior (BNB). Each example starts with a real reader’s perception, some thoughts about why it happens, and suggestion for how to shift the behavior.
BNB #1: Treating the newsletter as an afterthought.
“They’re boring and on auto-pilot. I can tell when companies phone it in.”
There’s never enough time to do all the things on your plate. Which means you’re prioritizing the tactics that either have the most impact on your goals, or that you’re getting the most pressure on. If you find you don’t have a lot of time to work on the newsletter, decide whether it’s really a priority for your strategy.
Tips to Banish Bad Behavior: This one is really easy. Don’t do one. Your time is limited; put it into initiatives that will drive the most value for you. Your audience’s time is limited; if they don’t find value they’ll just leave. So don’t do one until you have time to dedicate to it.
BNB #2: Assuming people want to hear from you.
“I had to fill out a form to get an ebook and ended up subscribed to a random newsletter. I had no idea what it was.”
We’ve all clicked that infamous check box that reads “Filling out this form means you consent to receiving marketing materials.” So while some of your audience may have signed up, some didn’t. Approach it from the POV that you have to prove yourself every single time you land in someone’s inbox.
Tips to Banish Bad Behavior: Include a “welcome edition” of your newsletter that goes to everyone added to your audience before they start getting your monthly content. This helps you set the stage, explain the content they’ll receive, and build trust. Better still: Let people read your newsletter before committing to sign up, like Branded does.
BNB #3: Not taking your gatekeeper role seriously.
Put the reader at the heart of what you’re writing and you’ll never go wrong. But this is the hardest bad behavior to break because your content likely goes through 9,000 people for approvals. What started out as customer-centric may have been edited beyond recognition. Stick to your gut here. Be your reader’s voice at the table. If you think something feels too producty, or you’ve got too many “asks” and not enough “gives,” speak up. If you don’t, your readers will (by unsubscribing).
Because this is the hardest one, we created a simple flowchart. If you get to the green, congratulations. You’re among B2B newslettering royalty.
BNB #4: Talking about yourself All.The.Time.
“I’ve dumped a ton of newsletters lately because it feels like all companies want to do is talk about themselves. What I need doesn’t matter.”
Louder for the people in the back who didn’t hear you and all caps for those people skim reading right now: “BECAUSE IT FEELS LIKE ALL COMPANIES WANT TO DO IS TALK ABOUT THEMSELVES. WHAT I NEED DOESN’T MATTER.” This one can be really hard for B2B newsletter creators to admit. Because you may feel like you are trying really freaking hard to tell people about things that you know matter to them.
Gut check yourself: Read your content and take stock of how many of your subheads and first sentences start with your company rather than your reader’s needs. Check your sender name, subject line, and preheader for the same thing. Read your content and gauge how many of your articles are “asks” of your reader, and how many are “gives.” Lean into the gives.
Tips to banish bad behavior: I’m in love with this free tool that shows you how you show up in inboxes. Another simple fix is to change up how you ask for and plan your content. Rather than sending out this email/slack/bat signal: “Hey! The newsletter goes out in two weeks. What do you need me to hold you space for?” try this one. “Hey! What free resource do you want to offer our readers this month? What have you got that teaches them something new, helps them do their job better, or is just really cool?” Said another way: “If you were our reader, what would you be interested in?
Newsletters, Dating, More
Someone signed up for your newsletter. If they didn’t sign up for it, but did check the box that says “yes, send me marketing materials” you’ve still earned a first and maybe a second date. Don’t mess it up by talking about yourself the whole time. If you want to go on a blind date, shoot a copy of your current newsletter to email@example.com (yes, I’m a real person) and I’ll write you back with 2 things that are awesome, 2 things to optimize, and 1 assumption about your go to market strategy. No pressure, no strings. We don’t even have to split the bill.
Meet Tracy Skochil
A storyteller who fell into marketing and never left, Tracy's 20+ years of experience includes Brand Strategy, Customer Marketing, Demand Generation, Category Creation, and Sales Enablement. Wildly creative and structured (#truestory), Tracy's B2B strategies have brought results across industries ranging from SaaS and higher education to documentary production, travel and tourism, and health & wellness. A collaborative leader who loves making strategy, execution, and optimization play nice, Tracy nerds out on narrative. Because the story—YOUR brand story—is what people remember. A Canadian transplant, Tracy sunburns in the shade. This hasn't stopped her from venturing out into the Arizona landscape to kayak, hike, and golf. A kindness warrior with journalistic roots, Tracy's most recent obsession is any marketing created by Ryan Reynolds.