Anatomy of a Good Newsletter: Dissecting The Sweet Pea

I was trying to think of a good newsletter exampleit was a surprisingly tricky. I get a fair number of newsletters, but some of them are…bad. ??They’re unclear in purpose, they’re so poorly designed my eyes hurt, or they tell me about things I don’t care about and sound like they’re written by robots. But then I realized I get a great newsletter every week: The Sweet Pea.

The Sweet Pea is an email newsletter published mostly weekly during the growing season by Montalbano Farms, a vegetable farm in Sandwich, Illinois run by Rob Montalbano and Christina Goy. Farmer Rob writes the newsletter for the members of the farm’s Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. I open it every time.

(Full disclosureI used to work at one of their farm stands, and I think they’re great. This post is not sponsored in anyway.)

The Sweet Pea hits all four things I like in a newsletter.

1. Purpose

The Sweet Pea is first and foremost a way to keep CSA members in the loop. During the season, members receive a box of vegetables every week. The Sweet Pea tells us what’s growing, how the weather’s affecting the farm, and about anything affecting our boxes. I imagine this saves Farmers Rob and Christina from answering a lot of questions during the week, as well as educating the readers.

As you approach your newsletter, think about what you want it to do for you. Why are you publishing this thing anyway? To inform your customers? To increase sales? To establish yourself as an expert?

There are a lot of good reasons to publish a newsletter, and when you clarify your purpose and goals, it will become easier to know what to put in it.

2. Design

Design is the organization of visual information. ??The design of your newsletter should be both visually engaging (pictures, sidebars, bulleted information, pull quotes, sufficient blank space to stop the reader’s head from spinning) and visually sensible (most important information at the top of the email, headlines bigger than body text, clear delineation between different stories that share a page). Ideally, it would also be beautiful, but most importantly, your reader shouldn’t have to figure out where the information they want is.

The Sweet Pea isn’t fancy, but it uses a sensible, predictable template. Farmer Rob’s ridiculous farm-themed jokes are in the side bar, so I don’t mistake them for important information. There are always pictures, often of yummy vegetables. I’m in.

3. Useful or Relevant Information

Your purpose may be clear, and your design may be flawless, but if the information in your newsletter doesn’t matter to your audience, they still won’t read it. ??Take a minute to imagine this newsletter arriving in your mailbox. What would you want to find in it? Some good possibilities include:

  • special offers, only available to newsletter subscribers
  • information about a product you already own
  • an inside look at your business
  • a really great story about your business
  • upcoming events or activities

Since the people who receive your newsletter are already aware you exist, and interested in what you do, it makes sense to inform them when you’re having a sale or hosting an event. Be careful not to sell to them too hard, though, as that will make them tune you out if they’re not in buying mode.

The Sweet Pea stays relevant with information about the box of vegetables I’m going to receive. It gives me ideas to use produce I’m unfamiliar with, and gives me more information about something I already care about. Also, it sometimes contains invitations to potlucks.

4. The Human Touch

Even if your newsletter is written by a PR firm, it should sound like it’s written by a person. Ideally, a warm, interesting, smart person.

The Sweet Pea is undoubtedly written by Rob Montalbano. There are the aforementioned corny jokes, complaints about the weather, occasional references to how pretty and awesome Farmer Christina is (they’re married), and reports on how Martha the cat is keeping the farm free of rodent pests. All of this adds up to make CSA members feel like they really know Rob and Christina, even though they may not see them much during the year. That builds customer loyalty and satisfaction.

Don’t be afraid to be yourself. Let a little of your personality, or that of your brand, into your newsletter. If people feel like the newsletter is coming from someone real, rather than a corporate ad machine, they’re more likely to read it more often. And I’m not saying you have to include a report from your cat, but if it fits your style, it might not be a bad idea. Martha is a celebrity.

What makes you open a newsletter?

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