10 Strategies for Creating “Purple Cow” Newsletters

"Purple cow" newsletters speak your readers' language and provide epic content. Here's how to create purple cow newsletters.

10 Strategies for Creating “Purple Cow” Newsletters

When Seth Godin’s book, Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable was published, it became a metaphor that rocked the marketing world. A purple cow would definitely stand out in a world where every other cow is either brown, white, black, or a combination. The following 10 strategies will help you create e-newsletters that are the purple cows of your industry:

We live in an era where newsletters don’t exactly have the best reputation. Inboxes are overflowing with marketing “noise,” and people spend less and less time going through them. For your newsletter to be a purple cow, it must educate, engage, entertain, and fill a need that readers can’t find elsewhere. Of course, you’re discreetly marketing your brand – but you must ask:

  • What unique value proposition do you offer- the newsletter’s reason for existing?
  • Is the content relevant, interesting, and pertinent to your readers or are you marketing yourself?
  • Will your newsletter focus on industry news, product announcements, educational resources, training opportunities, internal company news, employee interviews, a combination, or something else?

1. Do your homework

Use your business eye to review lots of newsletters, even those you deem to be “noise.” Make note of what you do and don’t like: Single, double, or triple columns; fonts; colors; tone (formal or informal); frequency of mailings; use of text broken up with images; relevancy to readers; newsworthiness of content; and anything else that attracts or distracts.

2. Don’t call it a newsletter

If there’s one deterrent to your publication’s success, it may be using the worn-out term “newsletter.” Many would-be subscribers may be reluctant to open it because they don’t know if it’s actually newsy or unending promos. Instead of the word “newsletter,” include a word that portrays benefit: [Name] Report – or Trends, Guide, Review, Insider, Weekly, Monthly, Voice, Bulletin, Dispatch, Forum, Communique, and the like.

3. Determine frequency

Edge your way into the routines of your readers by creating a regular publication schedule so they know when to expect it. That doesn’t mean you need to publish every week, every two weeks, every month, or quarterly. It merely means creating a schedule that’s predictable; one you stick to and readers count on.

4. Create high-impact subject lines

Many marketers try increasing familiarity with their readers by sending straightforward subject lines that read something like “October Newsletter.” Boring and unimaginative! A better approach would be to try something, creative, engaging, or action-oriented. Your subject lines may reflect humor, fear of missing out, curiosity, vanity, greed, sloth, or pain. In the following examples, see how an October newsletter became more inviting:

  • Guide for October: Our trick – Your treat
  • New this October: Triple Your Profits Report
  • October’s here: We like being used
  • October Insider: Three Ways to Save [. . .]
  • October Monthly: Analyze your ROI with [. . .]

Avoid all caps and words that shout spam such as free, full refund, limited time, take action, cheap, financial independence, congratulations, click here, call now, dear friend – you get the point.

5. Remember: content is king

Have you ever read the first and second editions of a publication that were so interesting you couldn’t wait for the next issue? Then the third edition begins a long line of descent until you don’t want to read them anymore. This won’t happen if you keep the content fresh, varied, targeted, timely, and interesting. Get the scoop from a wide variety of sources, giving credit where appropriate: employees, customers, press releases, reliable social media, newspapers or apps, internal or external publications, your readers, and even competitors.

Include imagery: Graphics (charts, tables, sketches, screen captures, and photos) serve to break up large chunks of content. Make the imagery relevant to the copy, and determine if you need permission. If so, get it in writing and give credit to the originator.

Bring headlines of articles to life: Headlines that attract attention often use specific numbers and data; start with verbs; offer How to’s or lists; express emotional objectives (effortless, essential); state unique rationale (reasons, ideas); or ask and/or answer the questions who, when, where, why, and how.

Tell a story: Stories about people are much more engaging than dry recitations of facts. Consider a story (with a photo) in each publication about one of your customers, introduced by a short, pithy headline. People love to see their names and print and will undoubtedly share the newsletter with others, thereby increasing your marketing reach.

Personalize: Although you may have a large database, remember that your newsletter will be read by one person at a time. Write personably, using the word “you,” as if you’re talking directly to that one person.

Apply the 90/10 rule: While it’s tempting to talk about the great things your company is doing, focus on the value to your readers. Your newsletter should contain 90 percent that’s something of value to them, and 10 percent promotional. (So, unless your newsletter is strictly for employees, readers aren’t interested in the new vending machine in the break room.)

Content ideas:

  • Problems you can help readers solve
  • Timely issues they care about
  • Applicable trends
  • New products or models
  • Milestones
  • How-to’s
  • Case studies
  • Human interest
  • Research and development
  • Interesting publications
  • Financial news
  • Community affairs
  • Interviews from industry influencers
  • International news
  • Saving time or money
  • Industry updates

6. Prepare a call to action (CTA)

An action-oriented, benefit-driven CTA will prompt readers to interact with you, tell them what they should do, and give them the motivation to do it. While you don’t want the CTA button to be obnoxious, it must be visible (perhaps in color) to be found quickly.

Clickworthy CTAs may include: grab your free [. . .] now; learn more today; join our community; get started immediately; view a sample; enter this giveaway; download now; snag XX percent off, this week only; save me a spot; register today; submit your [. . .] today; view now; Yes, sign me up; offer ends at midnight – or anything else that will prompt action.

7. Link it

Concise copy is key. Once you’ve collected all the content, you may realize you have a lot to say. While this isn’t a bad thing, reduce scrolling to make the content digestible. Links accomplish that. Introduce a topic with a blurb of a few tease lines, followed by a “read more” link. (This is different from a CTA. Its purpose is to condense space rather than to interact directly with you.)

8. Be legally compliant

Legal compliance for commercial email marketing is set by the CAN-SPAM Act. This involves sending false or misleading header information, using deceptive subject lines, opt-out requests, and more. For additional information check out:


9. Review carefully before hitting send

In addition too checking four spelling misteaks (yes, errors intentional), be sure to check the following before sending:

  • Are there any typos or grammatical errors?
  • Is the newsletter uncluttered and easy to read?
  • Are all the links working?
  • Did I stick to the theme?
  • Is the subject line dynamic?
  • Are article headlines compelling?
  • Am I missing anything?
  • Am I sending this email to the correct list?
  • Is there anything that may be legally or morally questionable?
  • Did I get written permission and give credit for anything “borrowed”?
  • Have I sent a test email to see how it looks on a desktop and mobile device?
  • Would I like to read this if it were sent to me?

10. Test and adjust

Email marketing platforms have metrics that can provide valuable information. Check to see how many people open your email, how many clicks on links, and how many unsubscribe. Pay close attention to these metrics after each mailing. They’ll show you where you may need to adjust and whether the changes are paying off. (One scenario may be that lots of newsletters weren’t opened. Perhaps you’d need to personalize the content or create more dynamic subject lines.)

Once you’ve discovered what keeps your readers up at night and what gets them out of bed in the morning, you’ll start to prepare purple cow newsletters that speak the language of your readers in addition to providing epic content.

Sheryl Lindsell-Roberts has been a training professional for the last 25 years. She’s the author of 25 books, including “New Rules For Today’s Workplace,” “Speaking Your Way to Success,” Business “Writing for Dummies,” and several other Dummies books. She’s been quoted in The New York Times and other publications and has appeared on radio and television networks throughout the United States.