What's the Difference Between Email Marketing and a Newsletter?

Updated on March 18, 2017
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Heidi Thorne is a business author with 25 years experience in marketing and sales including a decade in the hotel and trade show industries.


Is Email Marketing the Same as Email Newsletters?

No! However, an email newsletter can be part of an overall email marketing strategy. Email marketing refers to messages and advertisements sent to subscribers with the intent of making a sale, either immediately or in the future. While email newsletters may have the same ultimate goal of making sales, their function is primarily informative. Businesses can use either or both.

"Old Fashioned" Email Newsletters

Back when email marketing was new, people tried to make older marketing methods fit into this new medium. One of those methods was newsletters.

In years past, print snail mail newsletters were a mix of news items and "filler" such as quotable quotes, cartoons, word puzzles, word of the day, recipes... things that could have related to the business or were just entertaining. The intent was to keep the business' name in front of their target audience in a friendly, non-sales manner. They worked, at least until print and mailing costs rose and new technologies arrived. Some marketers still use these physical mailers, in spite of the cost.

If they had been successful with postal mailed newsletters, marketers often would simply plop all of the usual material they'd put in a print newsletter into an email broadcast version of it. If that material was desired by their subscribers, then that made for an easy transition to a new technology.

However, people usually want to read through an email quickly, making all the filler fluff a nuisance. Example: Just the other day, I got an old fashioned-style newsletter by email that was filled with filler. I had to scroll through about four screens to get to the featured article. Then I had to click a link to read the rest of the article on the sender's website. What a waste of my time!

Other marketers unwilling to let go of their old style print newsletters would just attach a PDF file of the print version to a broadcast email. I don't know what's worse: Having to scroll through a bloated email or having to download and read a PDF. And here's what can make a PDF attachment worse than the filler-filled email: It's not mobile friendly. More and more people are reading their email on mobile devices. Having to download a PDF that requires pinching and stretching to read on a small screen is a mobile marketing no-no!


Newsletters Should Be News

Even the word "newsletter" has "news" in it. And a newsletter should have news in it, too! In my inbox, I receive a number of email newsletters that are genuine news, making them must-read messages for me. No filler, just news and information about issues and people I care about.

So can a newsy newsletter be marketing? Newsletters, whether offline or online, are a content marketing and inbound marketing play. While both email newsletters and marketing messages may include calls to action—or calls to click!—the goal for email newsletters is engagement, while the goal for email marketing is sales.

The goal for email newsletters is engagement, while the goal for email marketing is sales.

— Heidi Thorne

Email Marketing's One Goal

The material in an email marketing message is of a very different variety than a newsletter. A marketing email will discuss features and benefits of a product or service, pricing, or make special offers. Getting subscribers to make a purchase, or at least connect to get more information about buying, is the goal of any call to action.

One mistake that many marketers make is putting too many calls to action in one marketing email. They're just hoping that the subscriber will buy something... anything! This is actually counterproductive. As with all offerings of too many choices, this can result in buying nothing.

So limiting a marketing email to one goal—a call to action to enter a sales funnel—makes it more clear for the buyer and more measurable for the marketer.

Should You Do Both?

Many businesses do both email newsletter and email marketing broadcasts. In fact, that can be a winning strategy! However, the goals of these two efforts should not be mixed. When a newsletter becomes too sales oriented, subscribers learn to classify the marketers' messages as disguised sales pitches.


How Often Should Emails Be Sent?

Setting an expectation for message frequency when subscribers opt in (i.e., "subscribe to our weekly email newsletter") to a list can help increase message opens and decrease unsubscribes. But is there an ideal frequency for newsletters and marketing emails?

Newsletters. Some email newsletters are sent daily in very active markets, while others with less urgent issues or slower activity may choose a weekly or monthly schedule. It depends on how often news or updates occur, subscriber desire for frequent updates, and if the marketer has the time, talent, and resources needed to create a newsletter at the desired frequency.

Marketing Emails. Unless subscribers are looking for a daily deal offer, daily marketing emails can be overwhelming and annoying. (I get a slew of these daily offers that are immediately sent to my electronic trash without being opened.) A weekly marketing email is usually tolerated by subscribers.

Though too frequent of email contact is annoying, be aware that the less frequent an email is sent, subscribers can easily forget they ever signed up for it and then unsubscribe. Monitoring opens, clicks and unsubscribes can help provide insight into changes that might need to be made to emailing frequency for either type of message.

Disclaimer: Both the publisher and author have used their best efforts in preparation of this information. No representations or warranties for its contents, either expressed or implied, are offered or allowed and both parties disclaim any implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for your particular purpose. The advice and strategies presented herein may not be suitable for you, your situation or business. Consult with a professional advisor where and when appropriate. Neither the publisher nor author shall be liable for any loss of profit or any other damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential or punitive, arising from or relating to your reliance on this information.

© 2017 Heidi Thorne


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  • heidithorne profile image

    Heidi Thorne 8 months ago from Chicago Area

    Salty Sam, have to confess I use the click for the full article strategy. However... I only feature a summary teaser for ONE article per email. In fact, that's the one and only thing in my emails. I can totally appreciate the frustration with the never ending "click here" links. Annoying as heck! And I also agree with "Grandma's" newsletter strategy. Love that! Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and ideas! Have a great week!

  • profile image

    Salty Sam 54 8 months ago

    I dislike the newsletter where you get a couple of brief lines and then have to click through to read the full article. There may be several articles you want to read so it means going back and forth between the email and the website. And most times if the first article is badly written I do not bother going back.

    I think newsletters should be like Grandma, short and sweet. No more than 500 words each piece. After all, we get enough to read each day.

  • heidithorne profile image

    Heidi Thorne 10 months ago from Chicago Area

    Flourish, for me to even consider downloading a PDF newsletter, it better be crazy good stuff I can't live without! Ugh to your PTA plea-letter. :) It's that whole pity buy thing again. Thanks for adding your experience to the conversation! Have a lovely weekend!

  • heidithorne profile image

    Heidi Thorne 10 months ago from Chicago Area

    Billybuc, we ALL have tons to learn! Thanks for being a fellow student on the path. Appreciate you stopping by and hope you have a great weekend, too!

  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 10 months ago from Olympia, WA

    An important distinction, Heidi, and thanks for the clarification. Hard to believe that even at my age I still have tons to learn. LOL It never stops!

    Have a superb weekend, my learned friend.

  • FlourishAnyway profile image

    FlourishAnyway 10 months ago from USA

    I especially like your points about pdfs (annoying to dowlown a newsletter -- I see that and often just skip it) and seeing too many sales solicitations in newsletters. My child's high school PTA does the high school newsletter filled with so many pleas for donations and memberships and other solicitations for help ($$) that I view the whole thing as one big sales pitch.