How to write a newsletter, or my adventures in wine

By Cory-Ann Joseph | 1 Comment

It’s not often that alcohol and social media combine with good results. But one evening a few months ago, while I was sipping a glass* of red,

this tweet:

Led to this:

You can view the whole conversation online (including a Withnail and I related hashtag) via @aaronsw’s Twitter Viewer.

The UX unicorn…

So once I realised this had gone from light-hearted online banter to an actual newsletter that I had to write, I panicked slightly: I didn’t actually know anything about wine – apart from that I like it a lot.

On the other hand:

  • I’m a regular customer of The Corkscrew – not just wine but I’ve also been to their events
  • I’m a newsletter subscriber, and I do read it frequently
  • I’ve previously made purchases based on the newsletter – and have done so within the past month.

This was a rare opportunity as a customer to directly feed into, well, my own customer experience. I was interested to know if the result would end up hitting the magical ‘sweet spot’, often referred to in diagrams with overlapping circles:

So, where to start?

One of the main concerns I had was not wanting to completely overtake the newsletter – it still had to be consistent with their brand and previous communications.

The business analysis

Based on all my previous interactions with them, these were my 2 main observations:

  1. Brilliant customer service: Every time I go in store and look for a recommendation it’s a great experience – they’re all a great bunch of guys and I’ve never bought a dud wine.
  2. Openness to trying new things: In pretty recent times they’ve jumped into online retail and launched a mobile site – both really well (a rarity for small businesses) and let a customer write their newsletter!

The tone

So to guide the tone I did a quick “this, not that” exercise:

  • Knowledgable, not patronising
  • Passionate, not pushy
  • Approachable, not aloof
  • Progressive, not stodgy

Or, as Colm so succinctly put it when I went into the store, “Wine without the bullshit.”

What makes their audience tick?

Next was looking at The Corkscrew’s audience – which involved a little introspection, as well as trying to recall imbibed conversations from last year’s Catena Malbec dinner.

Types of people who might subscribe to The Corkscrew:

  • Love wine – but aren’t pretentious about it
  • Probably foodies too
  • Don’t mind spending a little more for quality
  • Happy to treat themselves once in a while (or more!)
  • Probably a little adventurous – take a chance on a new wine once in a while
  • Like supporting independent Irish business

I also had a look at what worked in previous newsletters – based around the 2 main actions we wanted readers to take:

  1. Open the email: Personalised subject lines or subjects that create intrigue
  2. Click a link: Inline links perform better than buttons

Newsletter context

The guys sent me a draft of the newsletter and asked me what I thought. Have a look (click to see full size):

Holy wine content Batman!

The draft clocked in at around 1,350 words – definitely not light reading. The main problem with this is one of context – let me explain.

Situations in which I might leisurely read 1,350 words online:

  • First thing in the morning
  • At my desk during the afternoon slump/post-lunch food coma
  • First thing when I get home

I’m not sure if it’s the same for you – but email would never make this list.

The challenge – Click me!

What we’re primarily trying to do is to get people from a pressurised reading environment where lots of things are competing for attention (inbox) to a more relaxed context where a purchase can be made (the site).

So let’s break down some possible reasons that might make someone click a link in our newsletter, and what related content we need to provide:

Reason for clicking What content we need
Like the offer/sale Explain discounts (both price and percentage),
Like or know the winery/region/grape Wine name in full for most popular wines on sale.For less well-known wines – say more popular wines/varietals they are similar to.
Third-party validations Robert Parker rating, reviews from magazines/blogs
Event-based need i.e. party or dinner Suggest food pairings, highlight which wines are drinking well right now.

The outcome

So this was my version of the newsletter (click for full size):

What I did:

  • Edited it down (a lot – although on reflection it could be even shorter still) – I wanted to get readers onto the site asap, not to read
  • Different call to action on the button – Buy now felt a little abrupt, especially considering that you have to go to the site, click add to cart and then checkout before purchase
  • Made the links look like links – previously they weren’t underlined
  • Added some contextual information about the wines (similar to, food pairings)
  • Added a non-wine image to the introduction
  • Added a discount stamp to the wine bottle

So, did it work?

I compared the performance of my email with the previous two emails and the following two emails – I only selected the ones that related to products/sales, as they also do newsletters around events and courses.

Here are the results – cue the fail horns:

 Newsletter date Open rate Clickthrough Purchase Average order
Feb 22 28.71% 23.27% 1.96% €169.97
Mar 2 19.70% 15.88% 4.80% €156.66
Mar 28 (my one) 21.43% 13.06% 2.70% €78.80
Apr 3* 23.42% 14.82% 0% €0.00
Apr 17 23.13% 19.50% 1.68% €163.77

Compared to the others it’s pretty woeful, but at least it covered the cost of sending the newsletter out!

Sadly we didn’t A/B test my version with the original, so we can’t tell whether my copy was the sole culprit. There was another email sent just 2 days before about an event which may have had an effect, and the same sale wines had also been promoted previously in the March 2 email (which had a higher than normal percentage of purchases).

Lessons learned

1. Great content takes time (duh)

Even though a good part of my current role involves copywriting – I still underestimated the time it took to produce thoughtful, informed content on a subject I wasn’t familiar with. Between all the different tasks, research and drafts it probably took the guts of two working days to complete the final version.

If you’re baulking a little, consider that from the data we’ve aggregated over our projects it normally takes half a day to produce copy for a single web page.

If you’re still baulking, here’s a quick recap of all the considerations that went into the email copy:

  • Company brand values
  • Tone and style of previous communications
  • Who the audience is and what makes them tick
  • Things worked in previous emails
  • The user journey (where people have come from and where are they going)
  • Business goals

If you want good content and good results – you can’t rush it.

2. Make everything clickable (even if it doesn’t look it)

Even though I’ve worked with email content before, I’ve never really had an opportunity to get into the reports and analysis. One of the things I found surprising was where and what people clicked – here’s part of the link overlay from my email:

As per the previous email, the first text link got the majority of clicks, however the images and first heading also got their fair share.

Again it’s a little difficult to tell without A/B testing if it’s significant (i.e. if you don’t make images/headings clickable do they just click on another link) but if you can make something a link and it doesn’t affect the design, I’d say go for it.

3. Measuring true ROI means more than just looking at online

So the results part of this isn’t actually as depressing as it looked, because people don’t just buy from The Corkscrew online. We didn’t track the number of people who emailed back or phoned to reserve wines, or people who came into the store – which is what I did (writing about them for 2 days straight had quite the impact!).

This obviously makes tracking the actual ROI of an email campaign a little awkward. And if you’re a company who is running multiple campaigns across multiple channels – then you’ve got a real measurement challenge on your hands.

Back in 2008 Analytics guru Avinash Kaushnik pondered how to track offline conversions from online campaigns. In a nutshell it’s very difficult to do without somehow impacting the customer experience – making them call a different number, print or remember a voucher code, or sign up to a loyalty program which you can tie to their online account.

I need some wine . . .


One response to “How to write a newsletter, or my adventures in wine

  1. Such a useful article! Nothing beats going through the process with you, and seeing what you learned. Those fail horns weren’t so bad. I’m going to be subscribing to your blog thanks to this helpful intro. You deserve the vino – cheers!

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