Nicolette Beard

Digital Newsletters as Content Marketing: Pros, Cons, Best Practices and Award Winning Examples

Digital NewslettersIt seems fitting to discuss digital newsletters during the month of October, since the birth of email harkens back 40 years ago this month.

Love it, hate it or tolerate it, without email marketing, digital marketers would have been responsible for the destruction of many, many more trees without it!

Digital newsletters are scheduled, recurring messages from companies to a list of subscribers that usually has a web page counterpart or archive which represents a specific type of content.

In contrast, many Email marketing efforts can include automated messages triggered by an auto-responder, e-blasts to a rented list or a list shared by a complementary business, or as part of a drip campaign run through a marketing automation platform.

Like other smart content marketing tactics, digital newsletters tend to follow a consistent editorial format directed to specific customer segments. Newsletters are often used to build and maintain strong relationships with prospects, customers and clients by providing useful tips, information and company news.

You can find TopRank’s digital newsletter here.

A winning newsletter design incorporates a variety of visuals and smart copywriting, which are important elements that contribute to a company’s overall impression and brand message. TopRank’s experience with marketing automation and cross-channel promotion gives us a unique perspective on how best to utilize both email marketing and digital newsletters, depending on your business goals.

A study by the Nielsen Norman Group suggests that readers become emotionally attached to e-newsletters and look forward to receiving them, provided they are timely and informative.

Many digital newsletters follow a tried and true format for content creation:

  1. News: Relevant business news or even industry news in order to keep your audience up to date
  2. Educational content: Emails that provide your recipients with content that discusses new concepts and helps expand their knowledge on a certain subject
  3. Reviews: Review useful sources that you assume or know your audience can benefit from
  4. Top Tips: Create a series of useful tips about your product or service


  • Timely. Digital communication is hands-down the timelier format for news, updates and announcements.
  • Cost-effective. The savings on printing and postage when compared to the print version are obvious.
  • Searchable and sharable. Because a digital newsletter represents a web document, it’s a searchable piece of content and can be optimized. Although search engines can read PDF documents, it would be even more effective if an HTML page were created, increasing its ‘crawlability’ and ‘shareability.’ (At a minimum, fill in the Document Properties found by right-clicking the PDF.)
  • Cross linking. Linking to other relevant internal pages as well as related informational sites or articles of interest enrich the reader’s experience and regard for your company and its communications. Your digital archive also represents evergreen content, increasing the chance that it will drive online traffic and the possibility of gaining new subscribers.
  • Thought leadership. Think pieces and trend analysis delivered on a regular basis can position your company as an industry expert sharing its know-how (B2B) or establishing your brand as a trend setter (B2C).


  • Volatile communications environment. With the continual blurring of work and personal life, your digital newsletter hits the recipient’s inbox accompanied by a jumble of spam, other commercial email and inter-office exchanges. Even recipients who have opted-in to receiving your newsletter may likely delete it after a brief viewing.
  • Strain on resources. Depending on the quality and ambitions of your digital newsletter, outside costs of researching, writing and designing it may be comparable to a printed piece.
  • Mobile usability. New research finds improved usability metrics for subscribing to newsletters, but problems with reading them on mobile devices.
  • Budget and timeline. Because digital and traditional marketing techniques are merging, it’s increasingly difficult to manage and fund digital newsletters on their own. Getting budget approval to publish a quality digital newsletter may mean poaching another department’s budget or sharing internal resources, slowing down deliverables.

What the Experts Are Saying:

“Content is a key component of email marketing for lead nurturing and providing prospects with information about products, services and news about the company and industry. At the same time, email marketing is an essential part of content marketing in getting that content in front of prospects and customers.” Chris Baggott, Chairman and co-founder, Compendium, MarketingSherpa

“We’ve moved from personalization to individualization. It used to be enough to simply add ‘Dear Joe’ in the body of an email. Now, marketers need to change the message and the offer based on the customer’s needs, brand awareness and email interactions.” Sheryl Pattek, VP-principal analyst, Forrester Research.

Vertical Response

Award Winning Digital Newsletter

Who better than an application service provider to win for Best Email Online Newsletter Campaign judged by the Web Marketing Association? In June 2011, this self-service email solutions provider completely revamped their VR Buzz newsletter strategy.

Getting it Right

  • Invested in a completely redesigned newsletter to reflect their new branding
  • Created compelling content and visual design, ensuring consistency across all channels
  • Produced multiple versions based on where the subscriber was in the marketing life cycle

This effort resulted in a substantial increase in engagement, with open rates in the 40 to 45 percent range and click-through rates in the 3 to 10 percent range.

Dominion Credit Union

Engaging Customers with Digital Newsletter

Winning the award for Electronic Marketing from the Marketing Association of Credit Unions and an award of merit from CUES Golden Mirror Awards™ who honor imaginative marketing efforts from around the credit union world, it just goes to show that generating buzz can come in small packages. This is a true digital newsletter created in PDF format for members to revisit on the website at their convenience.

Getting it Right

  • Newsletter archive link hosted on their website home page, which helps with SEO
  • Included relevant news to its member, featuring their new mobile solutions in the headline
  • Educated members about current market interest rates
  • Featured tips on how to save money during the upcoming holiday season

Digital Newsletters serve an incredibly useful function as a content marketing tactic. Reader segmentation helps newsletter editorial align with the specific interests of subscribers, creating a win, win content marketing experience for brands and readers alike. Whether reader lists are fed by brand social communities and networks or other company online marketing, digital newsletters help instill confidence and trust that guides prospects along the sales cycle from consideration to purchase and beyond through retention and advocacy.

If you liked this post, be sure to read about our full list of content marketing tactics.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

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  1. Avatar Sarah Bauer says

    Great post! Some takeaways from your examples:
    1. Consistent branding for digital newsletters is key. The logo/colours need to be instantly recognizable as the brand, and so should appear above the fold on the newsletter.
    2. Before diving into a topic, it’s important to outline what readers can expect from the newsletter. A simple table of content at the top of the page can suffice.

    Thanks for the read!
    Sarah Bauer
    Navigator Multimedia

    • Avatar Nicolette Beard says

      Hi Sarah,
      Thank you! As you can see from the screenshot, Vertical Response gets this right making the TOC its first copy block. And the quarterly newsletter from Dominion header logo, newsletter name and clear dateline, letting readers know how current the news is to their needs while giving them a sense of place. I appreciate your comment.

  2. Avatar michael bian says

    I’d agree ! “Love it, hate it or tolerate it, without email marketing, digital marketers would have been responsible for the destruction of many, many more trees without it!”

  3. Email marketing will be much more influential as we move forward and a greater part of the population begins to use email to communicate. Don’t forget that the world at large – if that includes your potential market – does not yet have access to email but will, in large numbers join the ranks…
    Even here in a country that benefits from daily use of email, Canada, we can expect gains, specially with such things as announcements by the post office that door to door mail delivery will officially be phased out. At leandro we are counting on it to continue to benefit from the power of email marketing.