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Why newsletters are the perfect medium for brands like Cuup and Burrow, as DTCs look beyond social media marketing and traditional ad agencies to spread their message

  • Newsletters have become a popular medium in recent years as writers started independently publishing their content via email to subscribers.
  • Retail brands have started to capitalize on this trend and send emails to customers that are purely content-focused.
  • The advantages of email newsletters is that they're easy and affordable to make, whereas working with publishers to create and place ads can be time-consuming and costly.
  • Business Insider spoke with DTC startups like bra brand Cuup, furniture companies Burrow and Floyd, and maternity clothing brand HATCH about how they developed their newsletters.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

"Scholarly" might not be the first adjective you'd associate with a lingerie company, but direct-to-consumer bra brand Cuup isn't going for typical. "We're pretty academic at Cuup," Abby Morgan, the company's co-founder told Business Insider in an interview. 

So when the brand decided to eschew traditional influencer marketing, they took a route that would allow them to have the sort of complicated conversations that represent how women feel about the concept of femininity: an interview series they'd send straight to readers inboxes, via a newsletter. They decided to call it BodyTalk, and it would feature conversations with interesting women, "not influencers, not celebs," Morgan said, "but, who's the doctor in Ohio who has an extremely interesting story to tell — can we give her a platform?"

Newsletters are having a moment. Over the last few years, more and more writers and journalists have left traditional media outlets, struck out on their own, and brought their audience with them. With newsletters, writers can reach subscribers right in their inbox, helping them establish a deeper connection with their readers, and platforms like Substack and Patreon enable them to generate income through these superfan subscribers. Savvy retail brands like Cuup have capitalized on the trend too, taking email, a marketing format as old as time itself, and using it as a place to showcase content instead of promote sales. 

With newsletters, brands are using email to become content creators and curators themselves, without needing to buy ads or work with publishers to get their content seen. 

"If you're a retailer you might think, 'why would I pay somebody else for advertising if I can start creating my own content?'" said Alexander Chernev, a marketing professor at Northwestern's Kellogg School of Business. Chernev said smaller startups are avoiding expensive advertising costs by embracing newsletters to become their own publishers. And email newsletter technology has made it a lot easier and cheaper."

"To publish a newsletter you don't have to be an expert in publishing or programming, you just have to have content. It's easier to do, and the cost of doing it is lower than it used to be," he said. 

The goal in delivering stories straight to customers' inboxes is that instead of customers playing Whac-A-Mole, deleting promotional emails as they flood in, they'll be intrigued enough to open and spend time learning what the brand represents.

DTC brands lend themselves well to this sort of content marketing because they're often founded on ideals, passions, and stories, not just products.

"There's a trust we've earned from our customers that ties back to our core mission," Alex O'Dell, co-founder of furniture startup Floyd told Business Insider. Floyd's newsletter, and associated blog Lived In, is about home design.

"I'm more likely to read Patagonia's newsletter on environmental activism, "The Cleanest Line," than if H&M launched one," O'Dell said. "If we sold a commodity product and didn't prioritize good design above all else, a newsletter about design would come off inauthentic."

With newsletters, brands can also see who their loyalists are. Morgan said BodyTalk is a way to deepen Cuup's relationship with customers who want to opt-in. "The majority of our audience just wants to buy a bra and they don't want to go deeper," she said. "But for the people that do, those are the people you really want to cultivate relationships with because we think they're going to be our strongest customer."

The email format also enables brands to segment out their audiences and deliver hyper-specific and relevant information to different groups. Maternity clothing company HATCH uses that customization to reach women at various stages of their pregnancy. 

"We send our expecting readers a 'weekly tracker' that features medical and lifestyle content pertaining to the specific week of their pregnancy," Ariane Goldman, founder and CEO of HATCH, told Business Insider. "So if a reader is 13 weeks pregnant, she'll get an email explaining what's happening to her body and baby that week, as well as style solutions and lifestyle stories that pertain to that leg of her journey."

Showing up in someone's inbox with medical information tailored to their current week of pregnancy creates a more intimate relationship with readers than most newsletters. And some customers could be turned off by the presumed familiarity if not done well — it's a delicate line to walk. Even making recommendations, or taking a more conversational style, can blur the line between an email from your college bestie and one from a brand that wants your money. But Cole Kennedy, senior copywriter and brainchild behind the newsletter at direct-to-consumer furniture company Burrow, said he hopes it gives consumers a peek behind the curtain that endears the brand to consumers. 

"There's a lot more "we" and "us" in Sunday Strategy, and more personal editorializing," he said. "Here's what we, the real people who are sitting at our desks (or on our sofas) typing these emails, are listening to, or reading, or care about. We want people to have a clear understanding that Burrow isn't some faceless monolith, even if you can't see our faces."

Burrow has noticed that its Sunday Strategy newsletter, which curates albums, books, interviews, and streaming recommendations for Sundays on the couch, gets customers to click.

"Oftentimes, we see higher engagement with our Sunday Strategy emails, compared to some of our direct response marketing campaigns," said Whitney Blau, head of conversational marketing at Burrow. "Although the intent of these newsletters is not to drive sales, we've found that they do in fact convert."

In rare cases, some brands manage to create content that also establishes them as credible experts in their own right, as has been the case with Cuup. Morgan recalled the day an MFA student came into the company's Soho office looking to talk with the team about BodyTalk.

"Her whole senior thesis was on what academia could learn from brands about modern feminism," Morgan said. The fact that this woman saw Cuup as a not just a bra brand with a content arm, but a reputable authority on the subject of feminism, was a gratifying moment for Morgan. "She came to Cuup because she was like, 'wow this is actually a source of content.'"

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