Jase Roberts | March 3While the primary website continues to be the main online focus for most organizations, other venues to engage the audience are constantly evolving. Over the past several years, more and more organizations have followed their users to emerging mediums like RSS, blogs, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.
While the popularity of these various alternatives has fluctuated over time, the humble email newsletter remains the most time-proven supporting technology to highlight timely website content and drive repeat visitor traffic to the site. The quick surge in website traffic that a well-crafted email newsletter produces is a familiar spike on the traffic line chart in the site's analytics software.
The ubiquity of email means that email newsletter authors face ever-increasing competition in their audience's inboxes. Enticing your subscribers to single out your messages as worthy of their limited time is no small feat. As there's a well-understood value of each e-mail subscriber, preventing users from losing interest and clicking the customary "unsubscribe" link is also important. A 2006 study by Jacob Nielsen shows that even once an email is opened, skimming is far more the norm than actual "reading". To quote Nielsen, "participants fully read only 19% of newsletters. The predominant user behavior was scanning. Often, users didn't even scan the entire newsletter: 35% of the time, participants only skimmed a small part of the newsletter or glanced at the content."
There is an incredible amount of advice available on writing effective e-mail newsletters . Jacob Nielsen even offers a report containing 165 guidelines (with a significant price tag attached.) Despite this, it seems that use of humor to produce something that clearly stands out from the competition isn't a commonly-mentioned strategy.
While liberal use of humor may not be appropriate for all newsletter audiences, it can certainly provide a welcome departure from the overly-refined "PR speak" common on both the web and in email newsletters. Several of us here at Propeller are avid readers of client Bolton Valley's weekly email newsletters for exactly this reason.
Within the first paragraph of their most recent newsletter (Presidents Day, Thursday Storm Hinting, and Gravy), you run into the line:
"according to some sort of magical weasel in Pennsylvania, winter won't be rushing out the door anytime soon. Which is good because it owes me money."
Continue reading, and you'll be treated to a number of gems displaying the same quirky sense of humor:
"The grooming has been impressive all season, and I have no idea how they're doing it out there. I assume it involves one of those laser systems like the ones jewel thieves have to break-dance through in heist movies."
"Monday is President's Day, and I'm having a hard time understanding why we set aside a day to honor such a tiny group of people. I'm not going to look it up, so I'll just estimate that there have only been 65-110 people who happened to be President. Many of whom are no longer alive. Unless it's meant to celebrate all presidents, and not just Presidents of the United States. That, I can support. And not just because I'm President of a medium-sized magazine club. It's like a book club, but for people who don't like to read."
"That continues a tradition begun by Lincoln himself, who used to set up lanterns and ski after sunset every year on the night before his birthday. The man skied switch like nobody's business."
Bolton Valley is a ski area catering to what can be assumed to be a fun-loving audience. By giving a staff member who might be at home delivering a stand-up routine free reign to draft their weekly newsletter, they produce something that clearly stands out from the crowd. Rather than being the same old text written by some nameless byte-pusher, the reader is treated to the quirky stream-of-consciousness style of a guy named Justin. Suddenly the newsletter -- and by extension the resort -- projects some real personality, and generates for the reader the vision of a mountain staffed by some pretty fun people.
Is this a textbook example of a well-written email newsletter? Probably not. At over 1500 words, it certainly runs afoul of the accepted wisdom dictating brevity and concise writing. A critical analysis would almost certainly turn up a number of other "rules" being broken. Even so, it's probably the first email newsletter I've read start-to-finish in quite some time.