Putting the ‘Letter’ Back in ‘Newsletter’: Ann Handley Talks Writing on Marketing Smarts [Podcast]

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Everybody writes, but no one does it quite like Ann Handley, chief content officer here at MarketingProfs. Ann wrote the Wall Street Journal best-seller Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content, and co-wrote Content Rules: How to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, Ebooks, Webinars (and More) That Engage Customers and Ignite Your Business(with C.C. Chapman).

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She speaks all around the world about content marketing, writing, and storytelling, and she writes a regular advice column on LinkedIn called “Asking for a Friend.” She’s also a “procrastibaker” and a collector of vintage typewriters!

Earlier in her career, Ann co-founded ClickZ and worked as a reporter for various publications, including The Boston Globe.

I asked Ann to return to Marketing Smarts so we could talk about her fortnightly email newsletter, a fun yet substantive email she sends to subscribers every other week. It’s part personal and part business, with advice and insights on content, marketing, and writing.

We discuss what creating the newsletter has taught her about writing effective emails, how to strike the right tone when addressing your audience, why fortnightly is the right frequency for her, and more.

Here are just a few highlights from our conversation:

Don’t shy away from writing a long email newsletter (but do make it scannable) (03:02): “I design [the newsletter] to be story-driven, so that it feels like you read the first line and then it leads you to the second, third, fourth line. I spend a lot of time crafting a story to really open up the newsletter. And then, below that, are things that I’m thinking about or things I think are worth sharing that week. Each one of them is designed to be scannable. If you’re into it, great; if you’re not, no problem—move on to the next one. I’ve actually timed this: It takes literally four minutes from top to bottom to experience it.”

To make your email newsletter more universally appealing, write it with just one person in mind (07:17): “If this is a letter that goes directly to one person and it’s appearing in an inherently personal space (your inbox), the bar is pretty high. Anybody on my list can click once and unsubscribe and I will never darken your doorstep again. Given all of that, I want it to feel like I’m writing to you.

“The reality is, when I put it together, I am writing to one person. I usually have a single person in mind. Sometimes that person might be somebody who I did meet face to face at an event that past week, or a conversation that I had with somebody. Maybe somebody I interacted with on social media. It could be somebody at MarketingProfs. It could be a number of things, but I’m usually thinking about that one person and writing to them, thinking about something that I want to help them solve or some value that I want to offer them that week. It feels like it’s written to you, but that’s the wonderful thing about when you only write to one person.

“This is true in email especially, but it’s also true in any content that you are creating: The irony is that the more specific you get in writing to one person, the more universal it can often feel. Because you are being very specific in the advice you’re giving somebody. You’re giving very specific direction. And your tone of voice feels very loose and conversational. So it feels more broadly accessible even though you’re only writing to one person. That’s why I think about one subscriber every week. I think of one person who I’m writing to.”

Strive to create a unique experience for your email recipients (10:20): “Email is a special place, and it should be a different experience. I think marketers more broadly are challenged now with creating ‘experiences…’ for their customers or prospects. Part of me feels allergic to that word a little bit, because there’s a million ways to interpret it, there’s so many ways it can feel overwhelming and confusing.

“But I think if you really focus on just that—what is the experience that you’re delivering to your customer through any specific channel? Does it feel like a similar but not identical experience that they could get anywhere else? That’s exactly how I think about the email newsletter: as a very special place to create a different kind of experience.”

For more insight into Ann’s approach to writing, pick up a copy of Everybody Writes!

To learn more about Ann, subscribe to her fortnightly newsletter at AnnHandley.com, or follow her on Twitter: @AnnHandley or @MarketingProfs.

Ann and I discussed much more, including how important it is to keep creating content even after you reach the c-suite, and why fortnightly is the perfect email frequency for her, so be sure to listen to the entire show, which you can do above, or download the mp3 and listen at your convenience. Of course, you can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode!

This episode brought to you by GoToWebinar:

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Music credit: Noam Weinstein.


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