What makes the email channel unique?

6 minute read

Upland Admin

To some, it might seem strange to use email and unique in the same sentence.

97 percent of all publishers send newsletters, far more than have dedicated podcasts (75 percent) or even apps (61 percent). Digiday reports that more than a third of publishers now have premium newsletters available only to their paying subscribers. The largest publishers offer dozens of newsletters. Odds are, you’ve got one or two or 122 of those newsletters waiting in your inbox right now.

For a communication channel that’s so unique, there’s certainly a. lot. of. it.

Of course, it’s the nature of the inbox that’s so unique, which is what leads to so much email from publishing and media brands in the first place.

Publishers know they can typically rely on their email subscribers to be among their “most engaged readers” and the ones most likely to become paid subscribers. That’s because email gives publishers a unique strategic advantage not afforded them by any other channel.

5 advantages, in fact.

1) Email allows publishers to reach audiences at any time.

A direct link to your audience, email gives you a way to deliver content straight to your subscribers. You don’t have to wait for them to come to you; you can go directly to them, making email an ideal channel for creating engaged audiences.

As Ben Whitelaw, head of audience development at the Times of London, told Digiday, “[Newsletters are] a useful lever to pull to engage and remind people who don’t come back as frequently.”

Just as importantly as reaching audiences any time, email gives publishers the ability to reach audiences at a regular time. Whether monthly or daily, audiences know when they can expect to receive their newsletter, which helps email approximate the habit-forming delivery of print publications. But unlike print, newsletters don’t limit publishers to a single publication.

Publishers shouldn’t limit themselves to a single newsletter either.

The more unique newsletters you can offer visitors, the more potential points of contact you receive. Each additional subscription allows publishers to reach an individual subscriber more frequently, leading to more opens, clicks, and page views.

2) Email lets you control what content your audience sees, free from algorithm influence.

In recent years, publishers have hopped from platform to platform in search of audiences, focusing on particular platforms when they promised a new source of traffic and backing away when traffic from that platform fell out from under them as if it were a disappearing ledge in a video game.

Meanwhile, by building audiences on the platforms, publishers are left at the mercy of The Algorithm. Without a direct way to reach their audience, publishers must post content engineered to beat the algorithm, hoping that audiences serendipitously encounter it in their feed. It’s an unwinnable game, a game that’s led to an untimely end for many digital publishers.

Email puts you in control of what your users see, whether that’s manually curated content or even fully automated newsletters. And without algorithms cutting you off from your audience, the only game you have to win is inbox placement.

3) Email is an effective way to nurture audiences into paying subscribers.

You don’t have to go far to find a marketer willing to attest to the power of email, and publishing is no different. From a September 2018 article in Street Fight:

“To get reader identities, many publishers are investing in great newsletters and other features where email addresses are given voluntarily. Right now, the most effective marketing channel to acquire new subscribers is email marketing to reach newsletter members at the right time.”

Email isn’t just a marketing tool, it’s an effective way to get users to keep coming back to your site, which makes it critical for driving paid subscriptions. Not many people will convert to paid subscribers on their first visit. At a recent ONA18 panel, the Dallas Morning News reported that their average paid subscriber “has to see the subscribe box seven times before they started to pay.”

They also found that the “two metrics with the highest correlation to subscription conversions after analyzing 54,000 [articles]” are returning page views and total engaged minutes. Coincidentally, email is good at both. Not only does email get returning readers back to your site, it gets readers who consume more content. According to PostUp data, visitors referred from email newsletters consume twice as many pages per session than visitors from social.

4) The email address helps publishers unlock important first-party data.

Publishers often turn to complicated technology to learn more about their audience. Sure, they might get a clearer picture of their audience, but they might also get tangled in their tech stack in the process. If you want to collect more first-party data from your audience without collecting more technology platforms, you can use the email address instead.

Your users may switch browsers or change devices from time to time, but they tend to hold onto their email addresses a bit longer. After all, you can’t crack the screen on your email address.

That makes the email address akin to a person’s home on the internet—a home that doesn’t require users to be logged in for you to identify them. Knowing someone’s email address gives you the ability to deliver content directly to users, but it also allows you to link individual users to their onsite behavior.

By linking web content consumption to a specific email address, you can unlock the first-party data already available to you in your analytics instance and make it actionable. When you know exactly what kind of content an individual has consumed, you can use this information to send personalized content, tailored subscription offers, and even more targeted advertising.

5) Email gives you the ability to monetize audiences, even when they don’t visit your site.

Finally, email opens up more monetization opportunities, whether users click your emails or just open them.

Newsletters give you additional space to serve ads, whether programmatic or sold directly. Even better, these in-email ads are far less likely to fall prey to ad blockers, which pose an increasing threat to digital revenue as ad blockers become more popular.

With a direct way to reach your audience, you can also send dedicated promotional emails independent of your regular newsletter sends. These promotional emails can command high CPMs, particularly if you make use of your first-party data to send them to the most relevant audiences. Ultimately, every member of your audience is unique, and the email channel is uniquely suited to engage and monetize them in the way most relevant to them.

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