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PHOTO: Jon Tyson

For over two years, I’ve managed the Content Corner email newsletter. It’s sent out every other Friday with love and care, assembled 100% by yours truly. I curate content about marketing and add in some splashes of original commentary.

Origin Story: A Promotional Vehicle for Meetups

I run the Bay Area Content Marketing Meetup. Our upcoming events are promoted on the Meetup website, as well as emails I send (via the Meetup platform) to our members. The original premise of my personal newsletter was to have an "owned channel" for me to separately promote Meetups.

Since the start of the newsletter, it’s grown to be much more. The newsletter allows me to foster deeper relationships with subscribers and it helps grow my personal brand. It’s also helped inform my work on email newsletter projects with clients.

In a prior article I wrote titled “How to Put the Trust Back Into Email Marketing,” I suggested B2B brands could apply principles of personal newsletters to their email marketing. In this piece, I’ll share additional things I learned from managing Content Corner and recommend how B2B brands can take advantage of them.

Related Article: Elements of an Effective Marketing Newsletter

Shift to a Content Marketing Mindset

Here’s a dirty little secret with B2B email marketing: its focus is mainly on direct response. To complement organic social, paid social, organic search and paid search, email is another tool in a marketer’s arsenal to drive website views, blog post visits and webinar sign-ups.

They’re focused entirely on the B2B brand’s perspective and objective. Send 20,000 emails and hope to get 20 leads. Those 20 leads make up for the fact that 100 others unsubscribed. Hey, it’s the cost of doing email.

But what if you shifted to put your audience (i.e., subscriber) first? Share a point of view that only your brand can provide. Give subscribers "behind the scenes" access they can’t find anywhere else. Ask yourself, “What can I share to provide value to my reader?”

I take a content marketing approach to Content Corner. I’m here to serve my audience and I’m not here to sell. When the next issue is ready to go out, I put together a tweet to promote it. Here’s an example:

I rarely see a B2B brand that takes pride in its email newsletter. As such, I see few examples of brands encouraging people to subscribe. Here’s a good test to validate that you’ve made the right mindset shift: have you become so proud of your B2B newsletter that you’ll ask the world to subscribe?

Related Article: Content Marketing Strategy, Done Right

Use a Real Person’s Name in the From Line

When people subscribe to my newsletter, the emails come from me, including my real email address. While everyone knows the email is automated, they also know that sending a reply goes straight to my inbox.

B2B brands could do the same. Put a real person’s name in the From line. This not only makes it more personal, it encourages readers to reply. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never replied to an email newsletter sent from a brand.

A good example is “Subscribed Weekly Newsletter” from Zuora, which is sent from the company’s CEO, Tien Tzuo. Each issue includes a fairly long message from Tzuo — content that’s exclusive to the newsletter.

For this to work, you must clearly associate the person with the newsletter when new subscribers opt in. Zuora makes it clear on the landing page: "Zuora CEO Tien Tzuo, the foremost expert on the Subscription Economy, weighs in on the week’s most important business news."

By making it clear, users seeing an email from "Tien Tzuo" will recognize it as the newsletter they recently subscribed to. If subscribers don’t recognize the name in your From line, then your newsletter is unlikely to be opened. It may even be marked as spam.

A bonus? Once subscribers recognize the name in the From line, they’re more likely to open the email, so long as you continue to provide them with value.

Related Article: B2B Emails: Newsletters Beat Promotional Marketing

Experiment, Experiment, Experiment

There’s more flexibility and less risk with a personal email, but that shouldn’t stop B2B brands from experimenting.

'Sherm' Shiao, fan of 'The Daily' podcast
I like to try different ideas and see if they stick. Recently, I learned my dad is a regular listener to “The Daily” podcast from The New York Times. It happens to be my favorite podcast.

So I wondered, “If I could connect things to Marketing, maybe subscribers would want to know why Dad listens to this podcast.” I emailed Dad and asked if he’d answer a few questions for my newsletter (he said “yes”). I included the interview at the top of the newsletter and readers loved it!

I received a lot of replies from readers, with each person indicating how interesting they found the interview. My friend Cathy took to Twitter and sent me this compliment:

For B2B brands, consider using your email newsletter to connect company thought leaders with your audience: text-based interviews, features, videos, etc.

Alternatively, think of your newsletter as a distribution vehicle for emerging or not-yet-finalized campaign concepts. If your team is finalizing details for next quarter’s big campaign, take one of the concepts and test it in the newsletter first.

Final Tip: Consider the Calendar 

Consider the calendar. My highest-ever open rate (65.4%!) was on December 6, 2019. The Subject line was “My attitude on gratitude 🙌” — the rhyming and wordplay may have helped, but consider the timing. It was the first Friday after Thanksgiving (in the United States), so the topic of “gratitude” was fresh in people’s minds.