Back in elementary school, I’d pull a crumpled newsletter from the depths of my backpack and hand it over to my parents. That one double-sided piece of paper was crammed full of notices about field trip permission forms, spirit days, and when to expect report cards — all typed in 10-point Courier font. They were meant to be straightforward and helpful, yet they were anything but. Inevitably, permission slips were late, classmates showed up without hot dog money, and of course, there was always the one kid whose parents forgot about Pyjama Day.
Fast forward 20 years, and here we are as B2B marketers doing exactly the same thing: Trying to fit 10 things into one email newsletter, in the hope that our customers:
- Scroll through and digest it all
- Take action by clicking on something
- Come back to the newsletter and click on that other thing they wanted to check out
It feels a little spray and pray-ish, doesn’t it?
Instead of using your email newsletter as a vehicle to tell the ENTIRE story, what if you used it to introduce a couple chapters. In other words, let it be a launchpad that opens doors to more relevant, scroll-worthy content.
“But how?” So glad you asked! With a little help from a very smart marketing team at Cisco, I’ll show you why this approach works, and reveal 6 tips to spark more (and better) engagement with your email newsletters. But first, a short story…
How Cisco generated a 37% higher click-through rate in their customer newsletters
As part of the customer engagement program for its Smart Net Total Care service, Cisco sends a monthly Smart Tips newsletter. The content-rich newsletter aims to educate and inform customers, and encourage actions such as a product activation, login, or new inventory upload. The Cisco team is measured on 4 actions, including portal logins, portal activation, reports run, and inventory uploaded), so generating content engagement is a vital step toward this goal.
Cisco’s Maureen Robbs, Digital Experience Architect, and Melissa Nerney, Digital Experience Business Analyst, noticed that the Smart Tips newsletter was underperforming and missing KPI targets, so they ran an A/B test to identify and fix the problem.
Version A (the original newsletter) was a longer-form bulletin containing several offers with corresponding calls to action:
Based on the hypothesis that Version A might be too long, and that a shorter, less overwhelming format might create better engagement, they created Version B, an iteration with fewer offers and bolder CTAs:
After running the test for 2 months and achieving a 99.98% confidence level, Maureen and Melissa analyzed the data and found that Version B, the shorter email, achieved a 37% higher click-through rate despite containing fewer links for readers to click.
According to Melissa:
“Across every newsletter deployment in the test, the KPI competion was 2.2X higher for Version B.”
Turns out, when presented with less content in the newsletter, Cisco’s customers clicked more. Not only that, the higher engagement led to the team reaching its ultimate goal: an increase in the 4 KPIs.
Instead of each link in Cisco’s newsletter going to disparate landing pages, essentially creating an engagement dead-end, each link directs the reader to a single destination. Here, readers can access all the content they might be interested in. This means one single conversion in the email newsletter lands readers in a place where they have the freedom to catch up on all the latest news. Maureen adds:
“Using PathFactory to package all our content offers for any given month in one place effectively removes one of the barriers to higher quality newsletter engagement: The need for readers to go back to the original email to reference link to other offers or news.”
The results of this A/B test were all the Cisco team needed to adopt a “less is more” mindset for their email newsletter marketing. Not only are they seeing better engagement and hitting their KPIs, they’re also able to save time and money on translation costs. With access to deep content engagement metrics like average time spent on asset, they can also analyze which content is resonating best with their readers so they can produce more of what works!
How can you make your newsletters more digestible and empower your readers to cut through the clutter? Start with these 6 simple tips:
Tip 1: Focus
Think of your newsletter as the place to generate interest and entice your readers to click. That’s it. One click. After that single click, customers should be free to engage with that content asset plus all the other latest news all in one convenient place.
To trim the fat on your email newsletters and make them digestible and more click-worthy, make a list of everything you could potentially include and ask yourself these 3 questions:
- How valuable is this to my customers?
- Is it timely?
- Will it help my team achieve our goals?
Chances are, not every item you’ve included in your round-up will tick all those boxes and provide the same value to your customers. A new product feature release is likely more valuable than the latest company blog post, for example.
*Bonus Tip: Never fall into the trap of looking for content to fill your newsletter. Filler is… well, just that, and most readers can see right through it. Resist the temptation to stay consistent with past number of offers you’ve included and communicate only what truly matters.
Tip 2: Make a long story short
Remember, you’re communicating with time-crunched professionals. Cutting down on copy makes your newsletters easily scannable and brings readers to the valuable stuff faster, thereby encouraging increased engagement.
Writing an introduction: One of the easiest ways to cut down on your newsletters’ content is by deleting any introductory preamble. If you’re not sure what I mean, I’m talking about newsletters that start like this:
“Now that the busy holiday season is upon us,”
“Summer is here and we have some sizzling hot tips to help you…”
While these blurbs have great intentions to break the ice and connect with the reader, at the end of the day, it sounds like small talk. If your intro doesn’t immediately convey value , it’s likely just filler and should be cut for brevity’s sake.
Writing newsletter offers: Copy specific to your offers should be concise and powerful. Sometimes, you don’t need to write anything at all – often a compelling image and strong CTA will suffice. If you do want to provide extra context, check out this article by Campaign Monitor for great tips on writing better email copy.
Tip 3: Nail your CTAs
According to CrazyEgg, “a CTA is a psychological event.” There’s a science to creating the most clickable call-to-actions that get more people to convert. Here are a few basic tips to get started:
- Keep it short (… are you sensing a theme here?)
- Use different (but complementary) colors so each offer stands out
- If you have a primary action you want readers to take, center this CTA and make it bigger/bolder than the rest
When created thoughtfully, strong CTAs encourage more conversions with less supporting text.
Tip 4: Look beyond the click
Many marketers still use clicks and form fills to gauge the success of emails. These metrics may give an indication of whether the email CTA did its job; however, they don’t tell you how your customers engaged with the content after they clicked.
Deeper metrics like “Average View Time”, “Most Viewed Assets”, and “Most Engaged Visitors” provide insight on whether your content is actually resonating – and with whom. At PathFactory, we call this ‘Engaged Intent’. Engaged Intent is particularly powerful if you can tie content engagement to subsequent actions taken, like Cisco did in assessing their KPI completion.
Visibility into post-click engagement allows you to make smarter decisions about your content, so you can produce even more relevant newsletters for your customers.
Tip 5: Test, test, then test again
Every audience is different, so what gets results for one may not for others. Think about the potential changes you’d like to make and then take a page from Cisco’s book and run an A/B test to see if your adjustments are driving results.
A/B tests may seem simple in nature, but a good one should be pretty scientific (which wonderful guides like this can help achieve). When running your test, if nothing else, remember at least these two things:
- Form a clear, testable hypothesis (i.e., you can measure results against it).
- Only change one thing at a time in your B version. If you change everything in one go, you won’t know which change impacted the results.
A/B testing takes thoughtfulness, patience, and persistence, but the results and trends revealed by a well-run test ultimately leads to better business outcomes!
Tip 6: Keep it fresh
The more personalization you can include in your email newsletter, the better. If a customer feels like the email is meant ‘just for them’, there’s a much higher likelihood they will explore further. Cisco implemented an ‘always-on’ drip series approach to their newsletter, meaning they are constantly personalizing and refreshing the content they deliver to each customer. They call is the SmartSeries approach. Melissa describes it as “a 7-part series that delivers the email newsletter in a timely and relevant manner to each customer based on their adoption journey.”
With this approach, Cisco has removed the need to set up the ‘ol monthly newsletter (as we know it). With the help of PathFactory, they can easily swap fresh assets in or out of the rotation without having to take down an entire campaign and rebuild. So the newsletters are more relevant and up-to-date for the customer, and less work for the marketing team.
Email newsletters that pack the biggest punch aren’t packed with offers. Cramming too much content into a newsletter risks overwhelming customers and watering down the more important messages. Cisco’s story demonstrates the “less is more” approach to email newsletters ultimately leads to deeper engagement with more content.