I never thought I'd write about how much I love email newsletters.
I’ve been in this business for a long time, and so few tools that we use to engage consumers have remained the same. I’m here to say: email is one of them. Though, engaging consumers may mean something different today.
We all know that good storytelling is essential for effective advertising. Those same storytelling principles apply to email marketing as well. Last year proved that to be true on a whole new level. At the start of COVID, people’s brains were in a lot of different places—uncertainty, loneliness, sadness—with everyone isolating at home and craving connection and hope.
Every inbox is a battlefield.
Creative film industries have always thrived when they appeal to a diverse audience, from extreme sports fans to agency veterans, independent filmmakers to production gurus. To speak to a long list of friends, clients, contacts, and collaborators through email marketing is to consider what stories will impact them all. With that in mind, every communication Stept sends delivers on three things: adventure, A+ filmmaking, and strategic insights. COVID helped us realize we needed to focus on what people are thinking, feeling, and attempting to understand. We wanted to engage them as much as we wanted them to engage with us.
Sharing information became an act of industry care.
We dug into our email analytics at the start of lockdown and it didn't take long for us to learn what was working and what wasn't. These are the principles we’re guided by, and that will carry us into 2021 (because email newsletters aren’t going anywhere):
Above: Images from Stept's newsletters
We took inspiration from a few other tried and true inbox winners like Short of the Week’s The Weekly newsletter, where week after week, they serve up the best short films in a beautiful format, and the Friday newsletter Girls Night In, which runs the gamut of topics from self-care to community care to culture news and the occasional link to loungewear. You want to be something that people look forward to finding in their inbox. Entertainment has to be what gets them to click, watch, or wonder, and these newsletters did just that.
Creative film industries have always thrived when they appeal to a diverse audience, from extreme sports fans to agency veterans, independent filmmakers to production gurus.
We dedicated our first newsletter of the COVID era to sharing six inspiring stories of strength to bring some comfort to our readers. We wanted to showcase not only the kinds of films we could help agencies and brands with, but we also wanted to help other humans feel the same inspiration we felt from these amazing subjects. Not only did we have a really high open rate, but we also found that people returned multiple times.
Everyone involved in production sees a project and thinks about how it came together, even more so during a time when restrictive shooting specs became the norm. Providing insight into that process proved hugely appealing to our audience. Email allowed us to not only showcase the finished work that we were proud of, but also show our audience how it came together behind the scenes. At a time when so many people in the production were trying to solve the same problems, sharing that the BTS experience was truly a hive-mind offering to be educational without being self-applauding. Sharing information became an act of industry care.
COVID helped us realize we needed to focus on what people are thinking, feeling, and attempting to understand. We wanted to engage them as much as we wanted them to engage with us.
The appeal of BTS is universal. Take Marcela Valladolid's newsletter Casa Marcela, where she shares recipes that folks can cook while quarantining. Casa Marcela was also a way to learn about the live classes where you could learn a recipe and cook with Marcela and her sister. NPR’s Life Kit newsletters featured “tools that help you get it together” by diving into a variety of otherwise daunting topics with a take-it-apart and do-it-yourself attitude.
Above: Images from Some Good News, Life Kit, and Cafe Marcela
In a year filled to the brim with bad news, there were many organizations that saw the value in emphasizing the good things happening in the world. CNN’s The Good Stuff, the New York Times’ The Week in Good News newsletter, and YouTube’s Some Good News with John Krasinski are all stellar examples of successful ‘no-bad-newsletters’, some even predating 2020. Why? Because regardless of how good, or bad, things are, it’s nice to have something that makes you smile. At Stept we’ve found that our most engaged responses often come from our newsletters that emphasize opportunity, celebration, and recognition. People want to hear good news and be happy for others—in fact, our most common replies included the word “Congratulations!
Although our intention is always to create excitement and interest in Stept, our newsletters are never just about us. Through art we can connect with our community and find pathways to creatively, socially, and politically engage, galvanize, and encourage our fellow humans, helping all of us feel a little less alone.
Everyone involved in production sees a project and thinks about how it came together, even more so during a time when restrictive shooting specs became the norm.
And it’s not just companies who can harness this powerful tool. Creatives of all types should think about their own newsletters - and sharing the work that they do—whether it’s a big brand campaign, an incredible passion project, personal photography, or work from the creatives they admire most. Substack is a new tool for creating and archiving newsletters, creating a blog of sorts. It’s part Medium, part Mailchimp, and includes monetization and byline options. Some great stacks to get you started; We’ll Have to Pass, a newsletter about the articles that didn’t get published; Garbage Day, about memes, pop culture, and viral trends; and Deez Links, a weekly-ish newsletter dedicated to media mentions.
Above: Images from We'll Have to Pass and Deez Links
The barrier to entry is low and the results can be astounding, as long as you:
Make it Meaningful
With the world’s face-to-face interaction at a minimum what you add to someone’s inbox needs to be as meaningful as what you would share in-person.
Entertain and Educate
Since it’s not as easy right now to develop personal relationships, offering your contacts something of value is key.
That long email list of contacts you have? They’re not just contacts—they're people. Seeing them as human beings and not just as email addresses is critical for crafting the communication that goes to them.
People want to hear good news and be happy for others—in fact, our most common replies included the word “Congratulations!
Every inbox is a battlefield. Anyone who woke up this morning and checked their emails knows what I'm talking about. To break through the noise, you must provide entertaining and engaging stories. Bring them deeper into the projects by talking about the process we all care about and work at every day. And spread the good news when you've got the good news, because if we've learned anything this year, it's to let the joy in any time you can find it.