Newsletters Build Influence: Generate Engagement and Sales

newsletters build influence

Why Isn’t Your Firm Using a Newsletter? With all the attention on social media, SEO, and SMS marketing, there’s a tendency to forget tried and true marketing strategies — like newsletters. Newsletters have been around for a very long time in a physical format. That’s because newsletters build influence that translates into sales.

newsletters build influence
Image courtesy of Forbes

When I started my career in direct marketing, which later evolved into digital marketing since many of the same principles applied, we used snail mail as a means to reach customers and prospects to encourage them to make a purchase. A project I did for AT&T in the early days of mobile technology, produced a 30% return every time we touched our subscriber list. As the world embraced digital, the power of email marketing to generate profits expanded due to the low costs associated with using this platform versus paying for postage, paper, and time to collate mailings. Today, experts report email marketing has the highest ROI of any digital marketing tactic, with an average of ROI (return on investment) of 4400% or for every spent. According to research from McKinsey, email marketing is nearly 40 times more successful in customer acquisition than social media marketing.

Before we jump into the topic of how to employ email marketing successfully, let’s talk about why email marketing works so well.

Newsletters build influence

Part of the reason email marketing works is because newsletters build influence over subscribers that impacts their purchase decisions.

According to Cialdini, a psychologist best known for his book entitled, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, there are seven principles of influence that help you get to “yes”. These principles are:

  1. scarcity
  2. reciprocity
  3. authority
  4. consistency
  5. liking
  6. social proof
  7. unity

A newsletter builds influence in many effective ways by employing these principles. Obviously, there are other tools in the marketer’s toolbox to use influence to get to yes but the control afforded through the ability to repeatedly share communication with a group of consumers who already indicated their interest in your products by subscribing is unmatched by any other marketing tool. By sending messages directly to a subscriber’s inbox, you bypass vagaries caused by social media algorithms that keep you from reaching your entire online community and don’t have to wait for consumers to feel the need to visit your website. SMS marketing is the only platform that affords the same level of control.

A newsletter reinforces the principle of scarcity by sharing information about products with a limited-time offer for subscribers.

When a company provides value through the information shared in its newsletter or special offers, it creates a bond of reciprocity with subscribers. To discharge their obligation, subscribers feel a need to act in the interests of the company, such as by buying products, sharing the newsletter, or following the brand on social media.

Companies that expend efforts to share their expertise with subscribers, gain authority as an expert on the topics. As a recognized authority, subscribers feel that their purchases are appropriate and are likely to make more of them.

Consistency is a key element of email marketing, as well as most other efforts at content marketing. By sending newsletters of a regular basis, it creates the impression of stability and concern for subscribers.

Crafting newsletters that show the company as approachable and share backstage information makes the company more likable to subscribers.

Social proof refers to demonstrations that other customers find the company and its products are worthwhile. For example, sharing customer reviews validates the appropriateness of the company’s products to solve customer problems (customers buy solutions, not products). We know these reviews are an important factor in consumer decision-making, as shown below. In fact, this image shows how many of Cialdini’s influence factors impact purchase decisions.

digital influence on purchase decisions
Image courtesy of Digital Marketing Community

Unity is a concept recently added to Cialdini’s original 6 factors. The persuasive factor of unity comes from another psychologist, Maslow, developed in his hierarchy of needs. Based on this concept, belonging is a major need expressed by humans in every context. Constructing a newsletter that makes subscribers feel they’re part of a group of like-minded individuals helps newsletters build influence.

How to create an email marketing campaign

Email marketing is effectively a two-step strategy due to privacy laws in the US and EU. Because most email marketing transcends national borders, most companies follow these guidelines to avoid massive fines assessed when a company behaves in violation of the rules. The first step in the process involves gaining subscribers to your email list. The second step in constructing newsletters to maintain contact with subscribers and act as a means to nurture leads. Let’s take these steps one at a time.

Gaining subscribers

You can’t do any email marketing without a list of subscribers. In the old days of direct mail, we purchased lists from vendors containing contact information, including mailing addresses. The trick was buying the right list based on your target market and list prices varied with the scarcity of alternatives to reach list members. For instance, mailing information for high-income individuals costs a lot more than other lists. As mentioned, privacy laws now make this illegal with stiff penalties for violations.

That said, you still have some good options for collecting subscriber emails. We often classify these as lead-generation programs using a lead magnet to entice users to subscribe. You can offer a free ebook, host a webinar, provide access to another piece of content like a video, allow a free trial or limited version of your product, or discount products or tracking information for users who subscribe by creating an account. On my site, I offer a free ebook that steps you through the process of creating your own website with easy-to-follow instructions and images that don’t require any coding to create an attractive and functional website. You could create a simple website following these instructions in an afternoon or a more complex one in a few days.

DIY website design
Collecting subscriber information is implemented using a form tied to the company handling your email marketing, such as MailChimp (free for a small number of subscribers), Constant Contact, Hubspot (a more full-service digital marketing platform), or another company. All you need to do is set up your form, copy the necessary code, and insert it wherever you want on your website, connect it to your social media platforms, and/ or include it as a QR code on printed materials. Webinar registrations are uploaded directly to the email platform.

Don’t fall for the trap of collecting a bunch of unnecessary information on your subscription form. Collect the minimum amount of information necessary to identify subscribers. You can collect additional information in follow-up email messages but trying to collect a bunch of information on your subscription form results in lower subscription rates.

Crafting email messages

Email marketing involves two general types of messaging. First, you have messages sent to subscribers based on their actions, such as welcome emails, cart abandonment emails, and reminders to subscribers who haven’t purchased. As you can see below, these types of messages offer the highest conversion rates, especially when companies use dee personalization (goes beyond using the subscriber’s name to reflect their unique interests and behaviors).

types of messaging
Image courtesy of Clerk

The other type of email is a broadcast email sent to all subscribers or a subscriber segment on a regular basis. These messages might include discount offers, information about new products, behind-the-scenes information, or insights that create value for subscribers, like my weekly missives containing links to recently added content to my blog. We generally group these into a category called newsletters (or e-newsletters). This is the focus of the next pieces of advice, although much of the advice also applies to other types of email campaigns.

Optimizing the performance of your email marketing campaigns takes a little trial and error as no two lists perform in exactly the same way. That said, here’s some general advice based on a survey of brands using email marketing conducted by AWeber, an email marketing company.

Timing is a critical factor for success. Timing refers to both the frequency of sending email messages as well as deciding what time of day and day of the week you should send your message. The results of AWeber’s survey show that 40% send a message weekly but less than daily, 30% send a message monthly but less than weekly, and 12% send daily missives or less frequently than once a month. If you see too few subscribers open your email, try sending it at a different time or on a different day. If you see too many members unsubscribe, try sending email messages less frequently (or amping up the value of the messages).

List size is another factor to consider. Obviously, having a larger subscriber list offers more opportunities, all things being equal. It also generally results in a higher cost as most companies charge based on your list size. Having a lot of subscribers does your company no good, however, if subscribers don’t open or click on your email campaigns. That’s why cleaning your list is a good idea. Email providers track the performance of individual subscribers so you can clean the list periodically to remove the dead weight. There’s little risk in cleaning your list as these subscribers don’t appear interested in what you have to offer.

Subject lines are a big factor in open rates. Choosing emotionally charged words in your subject line and including the subscriber’s name help improve open rates. You can do A/B testing on subject lines automatically with the software provided by most email marketing companies. Emojis can also improve open rates.

Identify a real person as the sender. This also increases open rates.

Short messages work best. Don’t create massive email messages. Keep it short and sweet. Include images and headlines to draw readers down the page to read more. Remember Cialdini’s influence type and include one or more of them in your messages so your newsletters build influence. Try different influence strategies to see which ones work best but don’t overuse the same strategy or your messages get too predictable. The same goes for the way your format your newsletters. Try to mix things up rather than using the same template all the time.

Design attractive email messages. Use attractive images and a conversational tone when creating email messages to encourage users to read your message. Share behind-the-scenes images of your staff or customers and include reviews.


Email marketing is a valuable tool in your marketing strategy, featuring high rates of return and offering a great way to build a relationship with your subscribers. Newsletters build influence when you craft messages building on Cialdini’s principles of persuasion.

Good Luck.  Ideas?  Share how you’re using newsletters to promote your business.

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