3 basic rules to grab attention with an email newsletter

A few months ago I started writing a newsletter on Substack. Everything seemed to go well. I thought I would practice writing, build a portfolio, test formats and ideas. And then, after I get some insights in the email newsletter, I go viral and start building a real subscription.

Writing a personal newsletter, I thought, is like writing an article or a blog post. If you write good copies generally, you can write anything. But it seems that I was wrong.

How to catch the attention of the reader in the waterfall of the incoming emails

For any email to grab the attention of the reader means to stand out from the dozens (see hundreds or even more) of the fellow emails already in the inbox. They are often written by professional marketers who use the best practices and hooks accumulated from the years of research and tests in advertising, marketing, and behavioral science.

I looked into the tips for email marketers and copywriters. It is obvious that whatever you write there are some general rules for a good email. The one that any reader will open happily and go through willingly.

Science is rather easy. Email should be:

  • personalized

Similarly, as for the structure, the objectives of the email newsletters are quite resembling. What the Substack newsletter writer what? To build relationships with the reader, to inspire him to take action, or to motivate him to pay for the work. These would sound very familiar to any email marketing campaign.

Treating my writing as a copy that sells — is new for me, so I made some more detailed notes on how to approach it:

Get intimate with your reader

  • Send your newsletter with the real name of the author, not a branded publication name. Statistics show, that people trust individuals more. The marketers well know this trick and since long use the real person’s name when sending promotional emails.
  • Use a more intimate style, don’t try to sound formal. This one is for me. To compensate for my imposter syndrome I try to sound more like an OECD report writer than a real human. However, experts confirm that readers perceive email newsletters as more intimate than blog posts. You come into the private space of someone’s mailbox and should appeal to a human being. Even big publications make their voices sound more personal in the email newsletters.

Simple but recognizable

  • Use clear and simple design with some recognizable brand style (logo, font), but no fancy decoy.

What’s the point?

  • Make it matter to your target audience. This one is for me too. Yes, as I personal newsletter writer you are writing what is important to you, and hope to build a community of readers around your area of interest. However, it can easily become an intimate journal for you and your 10 friends if you don’t make it informative or entertaining for others. Keep the balance between “I” and “You”, or why the story matters to you and what is the value for others?

It seems a bit overwhelming to think about target, call-to-action, and roadmap for my next story on Substack. But I can’t afford to ignore the basic rules of a persuasive email. With the number of personal newsletters appearing daily, the email newsletter market becomes more and more competitive in each (even very specific) niche. Identifying right goals and targets, and drafting an attractive and clear copy are just first foundational steps. But as the ads guru Claude Hopkins says in his book Scientific Advertising: “Advertising without this [strategical research] preparation is like a waterfall going to waste. The power might be there, but it is not made effective”.

And now I’m up to reconstruct my newsletter foundation and adapt the next Social Chain story accordingly.



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