The newsletter's history itself is inextricably entwined with commerce and marketing. Let's delve into the background of this classic marketing tool — and explore the new ways that newsletters meld tech and tradition.
Newsletters: The Early Days
Historians believe that the first newsletter was created in 1538, decades before the advent of newspapers, but the first documented newsletter appeared in England in 1631. Titled "The Continuation of Our Weekly News from Forrain Parts," this newsletter disseminated news of happenings in foreign lands.
Across the pond in the New World, the "Boston News-Letter" made its first appearance in 1704. Many other newsletters followed, and the medium grew popular through the 18th century. By the mid-1800s, many newsletters had morphed into newspapers, a trend that continued until the 1900s.
In the early 20th century, businesses sought a new way to communicate with their customers, stakeholders, and other businesses. Though they'd long been placing ads in newspapers, companies needed a way to disseminate long-form information. Newsletters filled this gap.
The first business newsletter is believed to have been published in 1904. Known as the "Babson's Report," this newsletter provided financial and investing advice. It was soon followed by the "Kiplinger Letter," which provided business and economic forecasting trends. It still does today.
These early newsletters generally consisted of a single, typeset page that read like a letter from a financial institution to potential investors. Over the next decades, the trend continued to grow as businesses recognized the power of newsletters to build a customer base, serve as cost-effective advertising tools, and improve brand loyalty.
By the 1930s, the corporate newsletter craze was in full swing. A range of industries, from fashion to finance to farming, embraced this powerful marketing tool as a way to drive sales. In some cases, the newsletters themselves were used as moneymakers; for instance, paid subscriptions to stock market tip newsletters still exist today. In most cases, however, marketers realized the value of newsletters in building relationships with customers.
The Rise of Relationship Marketing
For decades, newsletters have been used as an essential tool in what's known as "relationship marketing," a method that emphasizes developing loyalty, retention, and long-term relationships by providing customers with solutions and information they actually need and can use. In today's marketing world — which sometimes feels like it's characterized by an overwhelming amount of digital noise — the classic printed newsletter stands as the iconic relationship marketing tool.
Why? The newsletter offers a level of practicality and usefulness that customers value, especially in an age of "interruption marketing." Consider that the newsletter:
- offers practical, relevant information that customers can actually use; in other words, they see the newsletter as a benefit.
- is long-lasting; unlike a TV or banner ad, the newsletter can be perused at a person's leisure, placed on their desk, and taken up again when the time is right.
- provides credibility in a way that only printed materials can.
- melds seamlessly with digital marketing by complementing online campaigns and pointing customers to websites.
As evidenced by its long, rich history, the newsletter is here to stay. Are you taking full advantage of this powerful marketing tool?