Behind The Scenes Of India’s Most Loved Email Newsletters

Promotional email that’s welcome and much-read. Utopian dream or reality?

None of us like being cold-called. Or shown ads we can’t skip. Or accosted outside supermarkets and dentist’s offices to be handed flyers. Most promotional email is no different. It’s intrusive, annoying, and rarely offers anything of value. So when we started the Urban Ladder newsletter back in 2013, we set ourselves a lofty goal. To create email that people actually look forward to.

Today, our reader base is one million strong and our unsubscribe rate less than half of the industry average. And we are possibly one of the few brands in India whose email newsletters are widely read, loved, and Tweeted about regularly.

We are often approached by other organizations who want to know the ‘secret sauce’ behind our emails. Frankly, there is none. There is, however, an entire team of analysts, writers, and designers who work behind the scenes to learn more about our readers every day, create useful and interesting content for them, and keep the engine fueled and running.

During a recent lunchtime discussion, this question cropped up again and the entire team weighed in with their views of what makes our newsletters tick. There were many specifics, but at the core of it all, we recognized two things - a concerted effort to understand our readers more and more deeply, and an unwavering commitment to do right by them no matter what

So, for the first time ever, we are putting down on paper the guiding principles behind our newsletters (and as we write these, we realize that they apply to practically all our communication, online and offline) in the hope that they help other brands and content strategists.

Rule #1: We recognize our readers for who they are.

We don’t see our readers as nameless, faceless entities that ‘consume content’. To us, they are who they are--real people who lead real lives. Who have good days and bad days. Who dread Mondays and tiresome commutes and long meetings. Who love TV shows, follow the IPL, love the scent of new books, and look forward to a cup of adraki chai when it’s raining outside.

So when we sit down to write our stories, we speak to them directly, using words and examples that resonate with them, be it familiar everyday experiences, pop culture references, or new age lingo.

We also recognize that while we do design good looking furniture, it is our customers that take these and create gorgeous spaces around them. Which is why we make a conscious effort to shining the spotlight away from us and onto our customers’ lives and spaces. Celebrating their moments and their creativity is our way of showing them just how big a role they play in our scheme of things.

Rule #2: We try to be helpful. Or interesting. Often, both.

So you’re trying to sell something. (Who isn’t, these days!) But can you do that in a way that does not annoy the reader? This is a question we ask ourselves every time we set out to create a newsletter.

Say, for instance, we are trying to sell seating. We could slap on its price and a big CTA button that says ‘Buy Now’. But we could also do this.

Or this.

By turning to humour and weaving stories around our products, we elicit chuckles and find a place in our readers’ minds. The next time we email them, they will still open our newsletter even if they don’t want to buy furniture, just to see what story we are spinning today. They, in turn, have become willing brand ambassadors, spreading the word about us and sharing the content we put out for the sheer joy of it.

Rule #3: We are honest and transparent.

We remind ourselves every day that our readers choose to remain engaged with us and that we must never take this for granted. Which is why when we make mistakes, we apologize openly and make amends, be it publishing an incorrect price or a quip that causes offense. If we know our prices are increasing, we give our subscribers an early heads up, to help them proceed with planned purchases. When we mention terms and conditions, we put them upfront, in easy-to-understand language, so that they never have to squint to read the fine print or squirm to understand it. All of this works together to build trust.

There are no magic pills--but the right decisions can work magic.

While designing communication strategies, be it for email or for something else, the tendency of most brand and communication professionals is to look outside for insights. It’s great to research email marketing best practices and subject lines that work, but all of these come later. The place is to start is actually inside. Inside the heart of your brand and your promise to your customers. Keep experimenting, spend time and effort in understanding your audience, and above all, treat your readers with respect.  Because while there's no perfect email marketing strategy, there is one that is perfect for your brand.

(The Author is Gowri N. Kishore is the Creative Lead at Urban Ladder. She has been with the company since 2015, creating innovative content and campaigns for the brand. Gowri has nearly a decade of experience in social media and content creation.)



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