Morning Brew founders Alex Lieberman (left) and Austin Rief.
While marketers of all kinds are laboring over dozens of personas that make up their target audiences, the team at highly successful newsletter brand Morning Brew think they have found a better way.
Target one persona … just one.
“We picked a real human being, detailed out what this human does,” said Alex Lieberman, co-founder CEO of Morning Brew, “literally codified a persona and their behavior that we can reference in any point in time.”
That persona is a lot like Lieberman and co-founder and COO Austin Rief, who together started Morning Brew when they were both in college. It’s a young, high-earning professional, living in a coastal city who is highly aspirational, is tech-forward, is really passionate about business and likes watching Ted talks, said Lieberman.
“The core characteristic of the person is someone who is curious,” he said.
But can a single persona really encapsulate a daily newsletter audience that Morning Brew now counts above 1 million subscribers? Of course not, but Lieberman and Rief believe their creation is relatable enough to the entire universe of Morning Brew readers that its entire content strategy is tied to speaking that person’s language.
One voice to rule them
This week, Morning Brew launched the first in what it says will be a slate of specific industry-focused newsletters. On Tuesday, it rolled out a new daily email on emerging technology, which the founders say will focus on the business of AR and VR, blockchain, drones, robotics and other hot-tech topics. More topical newsletters are on the way, but Morning Brew wouldn’t say what those will be.
The new verticals will carry the same advertising model as Morning Brew’s original newsletter. No banner ads, just “Sponsored by” branding at the top and native advertising throughout that the founders recently told Forbes is bringing in about $200,000 in revenue a week. But even those ads are written in-house in the same voice as the rest of their newsletter.
Rief said the company has built out a detailed voice guide, and though its writing team is like any other, a diverse makeup of people with different styles and opinions on Oxford commas, all of them hew to the same voice.
When email works, it really works
Morning Brew sees a roughly 45 percent open rate, an enviable metric for any brand that has its own newsletters. Its voice and its focus on engaging the target persona play a big role.
Brands tend to overcomplicate email, said Rief. “If people think about it in a more simple fashion, you are creating an email because you believe that you can serve content to an audience that will be worth their time in reading,” he said.
Morning Brew’s goal is simple: Give them your undivided attention for five minutes before the start of the workday and they’ll give you great content.
“The content you create needs to be informed by who your audience is and 100 times better than anything else they are getting,” said Reif.
It’s that focus on shipping great content to inboxes that’s given the humble email newsletter a big boost.
“The cornerstone of an email relationship is trust,” wrote MarketingProfs founder Ann Handley just last week. “Subscribers opt in because they trust that you’ll deliver something of value. If you break that promise, they’ll unsubscribe. You cannot darken their doorstep ever again.”
Handley also touted the 1:1 connection brands get with email, something you don’t get on social media, for example.
“Everything about it (voice, visuals, vibe) is all you. And only you. Those who read your post on LinkedIn are on there interacting with LinkedIn. But when they read your words in your newsletter, they are interacting with you,” she wrote.
For what it’s worth, Morning Brew does include Facebook and Twitter share icons under individual sections in its newsletter, but Rief and Lieberman say those are for reader convenience and those interactions are not a metric they pay much attention to.
More tips from Morning Brew
Knowing the audience is key for Morning Brew, so one rule of thumb they hold is “respond to every inbound email.” Period.
Next, invest in good editorial talent. You can’t write a good newsletter without that.
Email deliverability is an issue for everyone, and Morning Brew has tools in its martech stack to help keep an eye on it. Their advice: Take a good look at the platforms that are out there.
Lastly, Morning Brew runs a referral program that gives readers gifts like stickers, mugs and t-shirts for forwarding their emails to friends. It’s highly successful, and the founders say word of mouth accounts for 40 percent of the company’s audience growth. But Lieberman cautions that referral programs only work when you’ve already built an engaged audience.
“It doesn’t matter if we gave the best rewards,” he said, “it all starts with content.”