Prep Your Newsletter for a Post-Cookie World

A solid strategy will strengthen first-party relationships when they're needed most

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The future of advertising is in privacy and authentication, with publishers taking control of data by building direct relationships with audiences. A common misperception is that adapting to such a tectonic industry shift requires vast financial or technical resources. In reality, all it takes is transparency—and the right strategy.

One of the most valuable ways publishers and brands can build these first-party relationships with their target audiences is through digital newsletters. Newsletters represent a direct path to an audience; because they require authentication, they are one of the simplest, most effective conduits to a post-cookie world. How many times have you visited a website and been prompted to subscribe to a newsletter to keep up with the brand’s news, product launches, tips, etc.? Let’s revise that question: How many times today?

Newsletters are ubiquitous, and for good reason. By entering your email address to sign up, you’re giving that brand direct access to you and authenticating your data. This digital consent allows the brand or publisher, and the advertisers they work with, to dive deeper into the type of content you like to consume.

Maybe you opted into a monthly newsletter, or an event newsletter, or both. Seemingly minor details collected over time allow brands to better understand you as a consumer and enable them to curate personalized content and advertisements moving forward.

Of course, we all recall the occasional instance in which we signed up for a newsletter without realizing it or ended up on an email list we didn’t wish to remain on. If you don’t recall consenting, that’s a problem—one easily remedied (usually, hopefully) by unsubscribe options at the bottom of the email. Transparency is key; for newsletters to effectively bridge the gap between the publisher and audience, the latter must have a clear understanding of how to opt in or out.

Not only can newsletters be instrumental in building future first-party relationships, they can provide a monetary benefit to publishers more immediately. Consider advertising and sponsored content within newsletters. Last year, a study conducted by LiveIntent reported that publishers saw revenue jump as much as 103% via newsletters directly related to email opens and ad viewability.

So how do you manage your own newsletter and reap the benefits, now and in the years to come? Let’s break it down step by step.

How to launch a newsletter

When starting a newsletter, it’s important to create a value exchange for the audience. What about this content incentivizes them to provide you with an email address?

Every website is different, but features like exclusive content, recaps of recent happenings, trends and events can be great incentives. Once you’ve honed in on the content, begin promoting the newsletter on your site as well as social channels, then funnel email addresses you collect directly into your database.

Strategy in communication is critical—subscribe pop-ups on websites are typically less effective than static subscribe boxes, for obvious reasons. Typically, readers don’t like being prompted to subscribe to anything when blasted with a pop-up immediately. Give them time to experience the website and its content first.

Leveraging newsletters for first-party data

First and foremost, focus on growing your audience. The more visitors to your site that you are able to convert to newsletter subscribers, the more insight you’ll gain about your readers.

Second, analyze the data gleaned from your newsletter distribution. Did readers subscribe, and from where? If they unsubscribed, do you know why? Understanding patterns among subscribers, unsubscribers and content will help you curate future content that improves performance over time.

It sounds obvious, but better retention means longer site visits, higher ad viewability, improved user experiences and ultimately more revenue generated—and a continuous climb in subscriptions will help you understand retention. The goal is to keep creating content that engages audiences and keeps them coming back.

Case study: The New York Times

Launched in May 2020, The New York Times’ newsletter, The Morning, has had more than 1 billion unique opens. While this doesn’t translate to 1 billion subscribers, it’s still an impressive statistic. The growth of this newsletter in one year’s time reflects the yearning of its audience to further their experience with the publication as well as its loyalty. In fact, The Times has over 71 newsletters on different topics.

The key takeaway here is that consumers are more interested than ever in personalized experiences with publishers, and a newsletter creates an additional touchpoint. Habitually opening a newsletter in one’s email inbox not only keeps the reader connected but also fosters a stronger two-way relationship.

LiveIntent has reported that 53% of publishers saw engagement with email newsletters go up since the beginning of the pandemic. If that’s not motivation for any publisher to zero in on its newsletter strategy, I don’t know what to tell you. With the deprecation of the third-party cookie looming, the time is now.