A few years back I was tasked with creating a newsletter strategy for Denník SME in Slovakia. The main goal was to reduce digital subscriber churn. Not only did it help retain subscribers, but it also nicely works as an acquisition funnel.

Early in the process, I had to decide whether we keep the newsletter sender as the news brand (which was the way newsletters have been designed before) or change it into something different.

Many case studies and guides at the time suggested using real people’s names. On the other hand, when looking through the inbox at the time, most newsletters I was getting had it the other way around and they mostly included the brand or the organisation name.

Just look at your inbox, and if you are getting newsletters from big US-based or UK-based organisations like Wired, The Washington Post or New Yorker, you are unlikely to see a name in the sender column. But, if you are getting newsletters from some of the upstarts like Puck.News or Semafor, the sender is always the author of the email. Axios also uses the author’s name.

Of course, to make it a bit more confusing, The New York Times did send some newsletters where the sender was the author like the now closed down Kara Swisher newsletter.

Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that there are some theoretical best practices you will read about when you dive deep into the newsletter guides. And then there is real life where everyone is doing something a little bit different and it almost seems like there is no consensus.

50% increased open rates with a real person as a sender

After looking and not finding a definitive answer, I decided to adopt a version that is used by a minority of newsletters (as far as I can tell), but has both the news brand and the author’s name.

Let me explain. If the editor-in-chief of Denník SME, Beata Balogová, wanted to send an email in the “old days”, the sender would have been the news brand and the subject of the email would probably hint that the email is coming from her.

Nowadays, when she sends out her weekly newsletter, the sender is: SME | Beata Balogová. Here is the structure to make it clear: [news brand] + ” | “ + [author’s name].

If the name of the news outlet was longer, the order or overall structure would have been probably different. 

So, with this structure, you get a unified sender with all newsletters and also get to include the author.

Of course, there are exceptions that have to be made. If the same newsletter has multiple authors changing turns, instead of the author’s name, the newsletter name is displayed to better build a habit. Also, email clients don’t like when the sender’s name keeps changing.

Also, there are some advantages to using the newsletter name in the sender column – it leaves more space for the subject.

Email Client Market Share in July 2022. Source: Litmus

You have to keep in mind that Gmail and Apple Mail are the two most used email clients per Litmus. Here’s the distribution from July 2022:

  • Apple Mail has 57,4%
  • Gmail 29,5%
  • Microsoft Outlook 4,2%

Gmail and Apple Mail will display up to 30 characters in the mobile app, but Gmail will only display 20 characters in the web app.

For the past two years, we have been running an unintentional A/B test at Denník SME. While the newsroom started sending emails with the new sender structure where the authors’ names were displayed, the marketing department kept sending emails with the old structure.

One of the email lists with more than 100,000 recipients has been used by both the newsroom and the marketing department. The emails sent by both were more or less similar, informing of new mobile app updates, new newsletters, changes in the newsroom or subscription offers.

Although we never conducted a true A/B test by sending the exact same email with different sender names, there is enough data from similar emails sent showing a clear pattern: When the sender name includes a real person, like the editor-in-chief, these informational or promotional emails consistently got 50% higher open rates than those using the news brand name in the sender column.

As with any case study, you shouldn’t just take these results and apply them to your audience. Each audience is different and maybe for yours, something else will work.

What I was trying to show here is a small thing you can test and maybe that little change will result in huge gains.

Emojis in newsletters: Yes or no?

Spot the emoji. Source: Author’s inbox

One of the things I was considering at the time was the use of emojis in the email subject. Even though emojis have been mainstream for a while, their use by news organisations in email subjects is less frequent than for example in push notifications from news mobile apps of the same organisations.

The New York Times is regularly using the ☀️ [sun] emoji when sending the regular notification in the mobile app of each new edition of The Morning Briefing newsletter, yet it does not use the emoji in the subject line of the newsletter when sending it by email.

On the other hand, you have outlets like Quartz that uses the same 🌍 [globe showing europe-africa] emoji in each edition of the newsletter or the news upstart Semafor using the 🟡 [yellow circle] emoji in each email newsletter subject.

Using an emoji will for sure make your email stand out, especially when it is not being used by everyone.

The one example that has intrigued me recently has been The Publish Press newsletter about the creator economy that uses the 💬 [speech balloon] emoji in the sender’s name which really makes the newsletter stand out (see image above).

One reason why emojis are not more widespread among news outlets may just be that they are using some legacy software that will not allow or display emojis. At least that has been the case of ours when I was dealing with the newsletter strategy, and making emojis work was more painful than you can imagine.

Anyway, while emojis may be considered not serious by some, the reality is that an emoji in your email subject line will make it stand out. And with all the emails people are getting nowadays, that’s a pretty special superpower.

Source of the cover photo: https://unsplash.com