Roles Newsletters Play: Who Are You To Your Subscribers?

Subscribers bond with newsletters because they choose to subscribe. Newsletters arrive in our inbox like expected and welcome friends. Our friends have distinctive personalities and play different roles in our life. So do newsletters. Give your newsletter a personality and have it play a role your subscribers find useful to reinforce the bond with your subscribers.

What role will your newsletter play? In this article, we’re featuring five newsletter roles: industry insider, efficient assistant, experienced consultant, storyteller, and subscriber stand-in. We’ve described each role, discussed the kinds of content that enable your newsletter to play that role, and linked to an example of a newsletter that illustrates each role.

1. Industry Insider
Insider is a natural role for your newsletter. The insider always spots the trend—and cashes in on it—before everyone else even knows it is a trend. iVillage’s Home plays the industry insider role for consumers who want to be in the know about home and hearth. In the May 10, 2005 issue of Home, subscribers get the low-down on furniture:

“What furniture trends are hot this spring? We recently traveled to the International Home Furnishings Show in High Point, North Carolina, to find out. After pounding the pavement, snooping through the showrooms and hobnobbing with designers and furniture bigwigs, we came back armed with an insider’s perspective. Want the scoop?”

2. Efficient Assistant
It’s no secret that we are inundated with information. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have an efficient assistant who arrives at the office before dawn; sifts through a mountain of newspapers, reports, press releases, newsletters, and professional journals; extracts the essentials; then prepares a briefing that’s waiting with your morning coffee?

eWeek’s eNews & Views plays that role for enterprise technology executives. Each week it sifts through a mountain of information and picks out a handful of must-know stories and one or two opinion pieces. What’s more, by providing content in a variety of sizes—headline, short summary, full article—it has prepared briefing materials so busy executives can, in a few seconds, focus on the content that’s important to them. Here’s an example from the May 6, 2005 issue of eNews & Views:

  • A message headline that distills the story’s essence: “News: Google App Speeds Up Web Surfing”
  • A short summary of the story: “Now that it’s mastered loading search results in fractions of a second, Google has opened up its massive computing power to the masses with one goal in mind: to speed up Web surfing.”
  • A link to the full article: “Learn how its Web Accelerator does just that”3. Experienced Consultant
    Your newsletter can take on the role of consultant. In this role, the consultant offers wisdom gained from long experience with the industry or with clients similar to you. This newsletter offers valuable information or advice, without the hefty price-tag you’d pay a consultant. This type of newsletter—written in the first person—is the most obvious way to establish a bond with subscribers because the consultant talks directly to them.

    Business coach and motivator Robert Middleton’s newsletter, More Clients, is a good example of a newsletter that offers up a consultant’s expertise. It is personal, conversational, informative, and practical. In the May 10, 2005 issue of More Clients, Middleton weaves anecdotes and experience to show subscribers how to get winning testimonials from clients. He writes “Remember the paving contractor I mentioned a few issues ago?” then goes on to share the advice he gave the contractor for getting testimonials. Middleton then explains how to apply his advice to your business.

    4. Storyteller
    Everyone likes a good story, and newsletters that tell good stories create powerful bonds with subscribers. What kind of stories do your subscribers want? Very likely they want the “back story” of a company’s success. How did Widgets Unlimited double widget sales? Like a good fable, the story ends with a moral—lessons learned. (The Tortoise and the Hare: “Slow but steady wins the race.” Widgets Unlimited: “Offer a life-time warranty.”)

    Case studies are a key component of many of Marketing Sherpa’s newsletters, including their business-to-business and business-to-consumer newsletters. Their case studies tell marketing success stories gleaned from interviews with high-level marketing executives. The case study defines the marketing problem, gives the back story—what was tried and what worked—and presents the lesson learned.

    In “How AFLAC Raised Its Consumer Brand Awareness From Almost Zero to 92%,” Sherpa tells the story of how a company with an obscure and meaningless name became a brand almost universally recognized.

  • The back story: think laterally, not literally. Identify a “thread-gatherer,” a person who recognizes a great idea: AFLAC pronounced with a nasal inflection sounds like a duck quacking!
  • The lessons learned: “The most illogical route is usually the most successful.”5. Subscriber Stand-In
    An obvious role for a newsletter is stand-in for the subscriber. The publisher contacts the experts and asks the questions subscribers would ask if they had the opportunity and the access. In each issue of’s CustomerThink Advisor newsletter, founder Bob Thompson “sits down with” and “picks the brains” of one or more thought leaders in the CRM sales and marketing arena. The tone is conversational and informal—the way you would talk if you were meeting over a beer.

    In the April 5, 2005 issue of CustomerThink Advisor, Thompson moderates a teleconference with three Call Center experts. The topic: Can a Call Center also be a profit center? In his role as subscriber stand-in, Thompson asks the questions on his subscribers’ minds: Is it really feasible? Is it really happening? He elicits frank responses: Companies are struggling with the concept, but those who have revamped have seen remarkable success.

    So, can your newsletter take on more than one role? Of course. But be careful not to play too many roles or your subscribers won’t be able to figure out who you are or establish a bond. Perhaps e-newsletter publishers should take the advice John Wayne (who really had only one role) gave to other actors: “Talk low, talk slow, and don’t talk too much.”

    (c) E-WRITE, 2004.

    Marilynne Rudick and Leslie O’Flahavan are partners in E-WRITE, a training and consulting company that specializes in writing for online readers. Rudick and O’Flahavan are authors of Clear, Correct, Concise E-Mail: A Writing Workbook for Customer Service Agents.