Is the email newsletter dead?


At a recent meeting, I was explaining to a client that when designing for email it’s important to take into account the short attention span of the user. Most people scan your emails and don’t really read it word-for-word. Mid-sentence, the manager quickly gave me an alarming look: “Is the email newsletter dead?”

Is it dead? No. Does that mean email marketers need to be more creative? Definitely.

As proof that the email newsletter is far from dead, almost every company we do business with has one or even two of them in their arsenal — They’re necessary, useful, and ubiquitous in today’s digital, online 24/7 world. However, it is our jobs as marketers and designers to make people care about the content we send. Don’t simply send an email or newsletter because you want to fit in with the companies that do and you feel the need to keep up with them. If your content is useless and your emails are bland, there really isn’t a point to sending a newsletter in the first place.

If you want to know what is dying, it is the belief that if your newsletter is merely a header, footer and long paragraphs of copy splattered with a few images, people are going to care and engage with it. In that case, you are horribly mistaken; it’s time to innovate!

For example: About a year ago, everyone was talking about how printed newspapers were fading away because, “Everyone reads the news online, social media, etc..” But what did the newspapers do? They started printing in full color added bigger font sizes, and utilized large engaging headlines. They, in their own way, tried to make the same content that they had been printing for years more engaging — A valiant effort, really.

The key of designing any newsletter, or even a newspaper, is creating visual content hierarchy that is engaging. Making your visual content alluring and eye-catching is by no means easy to do. In fact,  just ask your local newspaper and I am sure they will agree. Your goal is to prevent the reader from glazing over your content and deeming it unworthy to read. By using a strong visual hierarchy, you can pull the reader in by their eyes and convince them that your content is important, interesting, and worthy of being read.

So how do you know if your newsletter is has good visual hierarchy?

Try this. It’s a great way to look at your newsletter through a completely different lens:

Step 1. Open up your newsletter, close out all other documents and clear your desktop so that the only thing you can see is the newsletter.

Step 2. Close your eyes

Step 3. Open your eyes and say out loud the first thing you immediately see.

Now, what was the first or second thing you saw? Was it the two most important pieces of content in the newsletter? When you opened your eyes, did you immediately understand what the communication was about and how to act on it? Did your eyes just glaze over from all the information? Did anything stand out at all?

Take these answers into consideration and keep rewriting, rearranging and redesigning until it all makes sense. It may seem a bit obsessive to do and the people in your office may think you’re a little nuts, but you’re a creative mind and we are all a little nuts anyway. If needed, solicit a second opinion or ask a teammate to go through the exercise, as well. You will be surprised in what you will learn about a simple newsletter that you (and your subscribers) may have been taking for granted.


Alex Bardoff
Creative Manager, WhatCounts

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  1. These 3 steps are the same for ANY visual material. I could use a discussion on choosing fonts for an e-newsletter, or how to FIND visuals when you really have none other than logo and headlines.

  2. I’d be interested to hear feedback re: proper use of images. Is it advisable to include a larger image like what you are displaying here with each different section of content being discussed or rather to embed a smaller within the content? Is their greater engagement per se’.

    Also, because attention spans seem to be diminishing would it be encouraged to utilize more and more bullet point type formatting rather than paragraph style?


    • I would definitely suggest “shorter is better” when it comes to the 140-character-long attention span of many readers these days. However, if your readers are looking to learn something from your content, maybe use a longer section towards the bottom with a summary above?

      As for the pictures, it really depends on your readers. If you are relying on images, though, make sure you have descriptions in the alternate text for the images in case your subscribers has their images turned off. Also, don’t rely on your content being completely image-based, as some people cannot download images, depending on what device they are reading their email on.

  3. Email marketing was initially attractive because people received too much physical mail. Now the opposite is true. Email inboxes are flooded and people only have so much time to read. It’s important to capture attention with an engaging title and back it up with useful content.


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