Email for publishers – Inspiring stories of email marketing from the publishing industry

When it comes to email marketing, those in the publishing industry have one distinct advantage – they’re natural storytellers.

Their attention-grabbing subject lines, gripping content and carefully managed viral campaigns keep us hooked.

They’ve become masters. But then they had to – the advent of free online content and then ebooks presented the publishing industry with their biggest threat ever. Email marketing became an important tool in their fight against dwindling readership, revenue and subscribers.

And this is fact – not fiction. Publishing heavyweight HarperCollins have estimated that email marketing drove 90% revenue and sign-ups for conferences, awards and subscriptions (Publishing Perspectives, 2015).

Here we take a look at a few strategies from publishing giants and look at what you can learn from them – regardless of what industry you work in.

Get creative with your customers

When it comes to getting new email subscribers the advice is often to make it quick and simple. Don’t put off potential subscribers by asking reams of questions or making them jump through hoops when they sign-up.

Getting the balance between making it easy and finding out enough about your subscriber to offer relevant content can be tricky.

Penguin overcame this in a uniquely creative way. Instead of bombarding subscribers with lots of questions at sign-up they just asked them to select a bookshelf (representing a unique selection of books) that inspired them. This simple visual representation made the question engaging and fun.

The answers enabled Penguin to profile the reader so that they could personalise future emails. And rather than segmenting people into rigid literary interests such as biographies, history, nonfiction or travel, they profiled their customer’s personalities based on what bookshelf they chose.

By looking closely at their customers they came up with the following buyer profiles – chart shoppers, heat seekers, connectors, connoisseurs, pioneers and thinkers. These profiles reflected the eclectic nature of people’s interests, allowed Penguin to cross-sell multiple categories and gave them a greater choice of things to talk about in their forthcoming emails. And because the reader chose the bookshelf themselves, Penguin knew the information was more reliable and predictive of future choices than simply profiling them based on past behaviour.

Penguin books

Don’t shy away from teasing content

The likes of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are often seen as far more exciting than email to the marketer as a tool for engagement. But the truth is they still don’t convert into sales as effectively as emailing your customers directly. In fact email conversion is 40 times higher than that of Facebook or Twitter (McKinsey, 2014).

Publishers got savvy to this a long time ago. But instead of abandoning social media, they instead used it as a recruitment tool for the email marketing channel. This enabled them to quickly connect, inspire and interact with a diverse and often younger audience whilst benefiting from the conversion rates of email marketing.

Conde Naste are particularly good at this. Instead of shying away from publishing their content online, for free, they distribute it via their social channels to tempt readers to click-through, engage and sign-up for more. ‘7 Beauty Secrets of the Parisian Woman’, ‘The Best Places to Drink Beer’, ‘The Clearest Waters in the World’ – these articles are often promoted within newsfeeds to tempt readers to click-through and sign-up to receive their emails. They simply tease their content to encourage email sign-ups.

Conde nast facebook

Offer a targeted digest

Marketers are often hesitant of increasing frequency when it comes to email marketing. But it’s not frequency that you need to worry about – it’s making sure you have enough interesting and relevant content to offer frequently.

Buzzfeed is one of the most popular emails that lands in our inboxes today. This viral publisher has no fear of offering daily or weekly round-ups. They keep it short, amusing and light – scannable snippets to share and make you smile.

They tease us with random facts, strange news stories and seemingly unbelievable headlines – often distracting us for far longer than we intended reading for.

They heavily segment their readership offering them a variety of publications all under one brand – ‘Buzzfeed Parent’, ‘Buzzfeed News’, ‘Buzzfeed Animals’ and even Buzzfeed’s ‘A Dude a Day’. They round-up the seemingly bizarre, irreverent and insane and deliver it to us directly in one bitesize email offering.

And it’s not just about pictures of cats. Buzzfeed is now a serious player in the world of publishing and in recent years attracted $50 million dollars of investment (The Guardian, 2014). They achieve 7 billion content views a month – something most publishers could only dream about. This enables them to profit from advertising and sponsorship deals that support their business (AdWeek) .


And that’s just a few email strategies used by publishing industry. There’s no reason you can’t use their creative ways to profile your audience, use social media to capture data or increase frequency with some clever segmentation. And by employing these tactics you can start authoring successful stories of your own.

The Pure360 Guide to Creating Irresistible Emails