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How Morning Brew Makes $13M from Email Marketing

Morning Brew is one of the fastest-growing media companies out there, thanks to its innovative email marketing strategies. Before Morning Brew, we had seen companies like AppSumo make about 50% of their total revenue from email marketing alone. Morning Brew is doing even better as they make 90% (13 million) of their revenue from email marketing alone. 

The Brew is a daily email newsletter company founded in 2015. The company has risen to prominence with its unique newsletter editorial and email marketing strategies. So far, they have built a solid and loyal readership of 3 million subscribers, partnered with hundreds of brands that they do business with, and grew their revenue from $3 million to $13 million in one year on the back of their email newsletter alone. 

Morning Brew is an absolute email powerhouse. In this article, you’ll learn about the unique strategies that fueled Morning Brew’s growth over the years.

So, let’s get started.

How Morning Brew Grew its email list

Most newsletter businesses are hands-down obsessed with their subscriber base as they start to grow.

For Morning Brew, this was an easy win. Their newsletter content makes people want to share it and has created one of the best referral programs ever. 

Let’s discuss their content and referral strategy. 

Fueling word-of-mouth with great content

Without offering incentives or partnering with influencers, Morning Brew has successfully created a newsletter business that entices subscribers to share each issue with their peers.

How?

Great content. The truth is that as a newsletter company, if your email list is not growing on autopilot, you have a big problem. Morning Brew understands this and leverages the power of quality content to make its newsletter exciting and interesting to its audience — which fosters word-of-mouth. 

Leveraging the 3 E’s to encourage word-of-mouth

“Everything we do is focused on the 3 E’s: Educate, Entertain, Engage.”

Blake Solomon Director, Branded Content at Morning Brew

This is the underlying technique behind all of Morning Brew’s newsletter content. These three elements make the newsletter magnetic to readers. 

It has value (Educate): The Morning Brew newsletter provides only over-the-top content. They design the newsletter to provide helpful information that hits the mark. Plus, the content is tailored to their audience with their unique writing style. As a result, readers praise the newsletter and recommend it to their friends and family without the company asking them to. 

It’s fun (Entertain): If you ever read an email from Morning Brew, you know this is a winner for the company. They leverage humor to keep their emails playful while giving them a human feel as people read them. Sometimes, there are sections dedicated to making the email fun and playful. And these blocks, while fun, are still informative. 

See this example below. 

Using humor helps Morning Brew make its brand relatable for readers. It allows them to connect with their audience at a core level. 

It’s interesting (Engaging): You can think of this as the result of the upper two aspects. By focusing on the first 2 E’s, Morning Brew makes its newsletter relevant, valuable, and engaging without being overly formal. As a result, readers are turned into evangelists.

Creating content chunks

Creating content that your audience loves is also making it easy to read. Companies offering daily newsletters usually cover many topics in a single newsletter—making it hard to digest. So the way you design and arrange your newsletter content also plays a crucial role in its performance. 

Morning Brew understands this. That’s why each newsletter email is designed in content chunks. Each topic has a separate block, and if a specific section isn’t interesting enough to you, you can scroll down to the next. 

The company’s writers briefly elaborate and add a captioned and bold headline and a picture at the beginning of each chunk. The headlines enhance the reading experience and also provide readers with contextual guidance.

It also helps make the newsletter content (although lengthy) visually appealing, enjoyable, and easy on the eye. This ensures that readers understand the message and don’t lose track when reading. 

Launching a referral program at the right time

Referral marketing is the big engine behind Morning Brew’s growth. Readers’ referrals drive Morning Brew’s growth, with 30% of its 3 million subscribers

As mentioned earlier, Morning Brew didn’t jump into creating a referral program. It takes more than a good reward to launch a successful referral program. So, here is what Morning Brew did.

Making sure the product is ready for referral

When creating a successful referral program, you need to ensure your product is worthwhile. The incentive or rewards are not enough to get people to share your product. 

The product itself needs to be of great quality and relevant. And you can only guarantee sustainable growth with your referral program if it’s launched at the right time and at the time when it will make the most impact. 

As for Morning Brew, the reality is that it gained popularity organically through word-of-mouth for years before an official referral program was ever implemented. Morning Brew had already won the hearts of many readers and presented itself as a quality newsletter. And as it grew through word-of-mouth, it was effortless to convince readers to share the newsletter to earn rewards.  

“When your product is good enough that people instinctively refer others without any sort of incentive, that’s a strong indicator that you’re ready to build a referral program.”

Tyler Denk

A/B testing landing pages and CTAs for the referral program

Most people are like, “it’s just a referral link, why does it need such fancy experiments?” You should know that Morning Brew isn’t playing around. And they are not just a newsletter. They are a newsletter business. And so optimization is part of the game.

As people start sharing their referral links and driving friends to subscribe, traffic will arrive from everywhere. It will be difficult for Morning Brew to tell exactly where this traffic is coming from. And therefore, it may not be easy to know how those different spikes of traffic will react to the aesthetics, language, and features of the landing pages.  

For example, they had to determine the best page layout, header text, button text, form style, button color, additional images, etc., to make the page attractive and guarantee sign-up at every turn. 

This is where A/B testing comes in. Morning Brew used Google Optimize to test each element of their landing pages to understand referred subscribers’ behavior and reaction. 

Case in point, they tested their original landing page against a new sign-up landing page. The latter was minimalist, with only text indicating that a friend had recommended you sign up for the newsletter. 

Here is their original landing page. 

Here is the new signup landing page. 

The new sign-up page outperformed the original page by 3.1%. By running the same test between the original landing page and other signup pages with different designs, languages, and aesthetics, the company improved its email conversion rate by over 7%. 

Here is a screenshot of the different designs and CTAs tested and obtained results. 

Although it’s virtually the same every day, constantly switching the call to action generates nearly 1,000 subscriptions to the other newsletters and more than 5,000 views of the Morning Brew podcast each day. 

Doing so has helped Morning Brew examine referred subscriber behavior on their landing pages and the different CTAs before making important decisions—allowing them to increase the chances of success for their referral program. 

Designing a custom-built referral program

Morning Brew does not use third-party applications or software for its referral program. The referral program is entirely custom-built to meet their unique needs and goals. Then, they leverage a few integrations with their email marketing tool to integrate the referral material into the newsletter. 

Let’s discuss a few attributes of their referral program.

A unique tracking system

The referral program has worked so far because the company implemented a tracking system that tracks new subscribers with Unique Referral Links. 

Here is how they do this.

Each new Morning Brew subscriber has a unique referral code tied to their account. This unique referral code helps subscribers generate unique referral links that they share with their peers in the referral program. 

When someone signs up using your unique link, they are automatically linked to your account. Now, as your referred friends confirm their subscription through the double opt-in, it triggers an action with the Morning Brew ESP to send an API request to the Brew’s subscriber database and points to your account as the referrer. This will then add a “plus one” to your referral count. 

Customizing the referral post copy

Another technique Morning Brew implements for their referral program is customizing what the users see on the referral post. The referral post is also designed as part of the newsletter content. They keep it at the end of the newsletter to ensure it doesn’t tamper with the reader’s experience. 

Here is an example. 

To make the referral program more effective, Morning Brew changes the visual elements they display on the copy based on the reader’s referral count. 

Here is what Tyler Denk has to say about this. 

“To ensure this section doesn’t get too stale, we are constantly changing what a reader sees on any given day based on their referral count. We’ll rotate between animated gifs and showcasing specific rewards.” 

This allows them to change the overall look and feel of the referral section anytime the reader sees it. The switch between the many rewards helps motivate the reader to continue the referral they started to earn their reward. 

Motivating referrals with a progress bar

They’ve also created a progress bar that motivates existing subscribers to push forward and bring in more new referrals. 

This is a good technique as it reminds the referrer how many people they need to bring in order to get their reward. 

Sending a friendly and customized note to referred subscribers

When you decide to refer a friend, Morning Brew leaves them a personalized message in a conversational tone, along with the sign-up form. Here it is. 

This note aims to engage new referred subscribers from the get-go. The message also acts as a further push to get them to subscribe, and its brevity and fun tone does a great job of delighting new subscribers from the outset.

Offering milestone-based rewards

Morning Brew’s reward program is as fun as their newsletter emails. They display all the awards and the required number of referrals for each award for all to see. 

The reward system is pretty simple. It’s a milestone-based system. This means that the more people you bring in, the more milestones you reach and the more rewards you get. Read it here from the company’s CEO.

The fun part is that the referral account does not reset. Meaning that if you had brought three people and won the sticker, you only need to bring two more people to win the water bottle. 

How Morning Brew improved newsletter engagement 

After growing their email list, the next step was to ensure that people genuinely consume their content and return every day. Here is what they did. 

Ensuring good email deliverability

The first step to ensuring your email is opened and read is making sure it has landed in the recipient’s inbox. In fact, email open is calculated out of the deliverability rate. Here is how Morning Brew ensured good deliverability on their emails over the years.

Asking new subscribers to keep them in their primary inbox

Morning Brew ensures good deliverability on their emails right from their first touch email. 

The one call to action in their welcome email invites the new subscriber to move Morning Brew’s communications to their primary inbox. After the beautiful one-liner welcome note, the email body focuses on breaking down tips to help subscribers move the company’s email to their primary inbox.

Read the email below as they explain it. 

Moving the conversation to the primary inbox indicates to the recipient’s email service that they value the conversation — which is then marked as “Important.” This, in return, also ensures that all communications from Morning Brew land straight into the user’s “Primary Inbox” and nullifies all the odds of their emails being marked as spam. So, it might seem like a not-so-ground-breaking move, but the result is worth it. 

Switching to a better API

Switching to a better API email service provider has been one of Morning Brew’s best decisions ever made. Morning Brew decided to change after several tries and failures across multiple poor APIs. 

Before the switch, the company’s campaigns generated an average deliverability rate of 60% and an open rate of 22%. For some small companies, these numbers may seem impressive. 

But for a company that relies on its email newsletter as its sole product and revenue stream, these numbers don’t promise a bright future. You can’t ensure optimal success when your communications are only received by 60% of your audience. Even worse, you can’t measure the quality of your emails with accuracy. 

So by turning to a better ESP, Morning Brew was able to get better results for their campaign, both for deliverability and open rates. The deliverability rate reached 99%, and the open rate has more than doubled, going from 22% to 50%.

“Before the switch, we had an average of a 22% open rate. Today, we have a 50% open rate, which is a huge difference. Additionally, inbox deliverability has improved. In a year, we’ve gone from 60% inbox deliverability to 99% deliverability.”

Tyler Denk

Focusing on quality subscribers only

When you start building a newsletter, it’s easy to get lost focusing on your subscriber count instead of the quality of the people who subscribe to your newsletter. Most businesses think that the more subscribers they have, the better the business results will be. 

Most publishers would rather have an email list of 1 million subscribers than an email list of 300,000 subscribers. But if the smaller list is much cleaner and more engaged, it’s actually a lot more valuable. The key is always how engaged people are with the emails you send.” Tyler Denk 

Morning Brew knew that collecting every email address that shows up wouldn’t cut it. So, they put in place systems to filter email addresses. Here is what they did. 

The three-step opt-in sign-up

Morning Brew has started filtering new subscribers to ensure the quality of the subscribers because a list full of fake emails would hurt their deliverability rate. Therefore, Morning Brew had adopted the double opt-in sign-up approach to guarantee that only quality subscribers get on their mailing list.  After a new subscriber signs up for their newsletter, Morning Brew sends them an email containing a link they must click to confirm their subscription

Today, they use what we call the “three-step opt-in sign-up”. As anyone would expect, it’s the simple lead capture form on the website. But Morning Brew added two extra layers to ensure they collect only quality emails. 

First, there is a lead opt-in lead capture form on the website.

Then there are two extra layers to collect a few more information about you and your business.  

After you provide the information, you will then be signed in. 

This approach allows them to check all new subscribers’ emails to ensure authenticity and quality. In turn, they also avoid bots and frauds and ensure their email list is up to par. 

Routinely cleaning up their email list

Who would have thought it? Even Morning Brew has inactive subscribers that they try to remove every now and then. 

Morning Brew routinely cleans up its email list to ensure the people on its mailing list are active and frequently engage with its content. The fact is, a list of people who don’t read your emails won’t get you any results. 

“We are very strict with going through and purging users that are either using fake emails or that have subscribed but haven’t opened our email in a couple of weeks,” Jason Schulweis, Head of Brand Partnerships at Morning Brew, says. 

“That open rate is something that we look at very closely,” he added.

“If someone hasn’t opened in six months, there’s absolutely no value for them to be on your list and without completely nerding out on email.”

Tyler Denk

Keeping their email list clean gives them a better chance to reach and engage their audience and decreases the chances of their emails being flagged as spam.

Pro tip: Encharge allows you to automatically archive people after a certain period of inactivity. You simply create a segment with the Field condition “Last activity is more than 120 days ago” and use the Entered Segment trigger step connected to an Archive step in a flow.

Boosting open rate by A/B testing subject lines

The way Morning Brew selects email subject lines is meticulous. Their subject lines are always terse, generally less than five words, and curiosity-provoking. 

But contrary to what you might think, the Brew team doesn’t spend an excessive amount of time choosing subject lines. They simply take subject line suggestions from one or two of their writers and run with them.

Source

However, the biggest part of the work is done when they A/B test the different subject line suggestions

Before sending the newsletter to all their 3 million readers, they first send it to a few audience segments. According to Toby Howell, ex Social Media Manager at Morning Brew, they send it to 80,000-reader batches. While sending the newsletter, they use different subject lines for each batch. 

Source

After the blast, they refer to their analytics to identify the subject line that generated the highest open rate and use it as the subject line for the newsletter and send it to the remaining subscribers.  


Pro tip: Encharge broadcast A/B testing allows you to automate this process from start to finish. Simply select the size of the test group, and decide how to determine the winner and after what period. For instance, you can send to a test group of 500 people. Based on the number of opens within the next 24 hours, Encharge will determine the winner and send the email to the rest of your audience.

Leveraging the power of a great onboarding

If you think a welcome email is a casual and straightforward note you should send to your new subscribers, sit back and learn. Morning Brew ensures a great engagement right from their welcome email. 

Morning Brew uses the onboarding email to establish the first connection with their new subscribers and start a solid relationship with them. Right from the subject line, you can tell that you’re in for a fun treat. 

They use the welcome email as an opportunity to: 

  • Show their excitement for the new subscribers by writing a clear and bold welcome note. 
  • Guide subscribers towards a first action, ensure future email deliverability and encourage future emails to be opened by asking new subscribers to move their email to their primary inbox. 
  • Provide additional information about the type and frequency of the content the subscribers will be receiving,
  • Get the new subscriber to read their latest newsletter. 

Here is the actual email.

New subscribers can identify the brand’s tone and style by reading the welcome email. These are the backbone of their newsletter’s originality and appeal. 

Morning Brew’s welcome email is excellent in that it helps them achieve a lot in one quick email. The company is able to strike a chord with the new subscriber, set expectations, and pave the way for seamless future interactions. 

Keeping engagement high with great copywriting

We’ve already discussed Morning Brew’s quality as we explained how they create great content to drive word-of-mouth. But we can’t overstate this enough. The company made a name for itself when it entered the business with an innovative approach to providing daily newsletters to its audience, and it has been living up to that promise ever since. 

Take other newsletters like Skimm or Investor Daily, for example. 

They keep the content, message, and every element of their newsletters formal with very few visual elements aimed at the general public. On the other hand, Morning Brew strives to make its newsletter more engaging through a unique editorial approach. 

The Brew team gear the newsletter content to a specific audience and use a fun, conversational tone to deliver all messages. Unlike other newsletters, Morning Brew uses interactive elements and visually appealing content. They use images for each topic they cover and funny gifs to keep the emails fun and interesting. 

In addition, they always dedicate the first section of the newsletter to a casual joke. Here is the latest one as we write this. 

The content is also written in simple, everyday English. They cover each topic to its essence without boring the readers. This helps make the Brew newsletter enticing and enjoyable for their audience. The content is valuable, fun, and easy to consume. Therefore, it keeps readers engaged, informed, and entertained at the same time.

How does morning brew monetize their newsletter

The way Morning Brew monetizes the newsletter is not magic. The strategy is pretty simple. They’ve built an audience that loves their content and comes back to it every day. Then they partner with other companies to display their ads. 

Let us explain. 

Offering a direct-to-consumer medium for advertisers

The Brew enterprise revolves around a daily newsletter, the only product they sell. They partner with other companies to display their ads in their newsletter emails. 

They write the ads in-house for their advertisers, and they clearly indicate that the content is sponsored. This is a fairly unique approach and ensures that the ads don’t give a bad first impression to the reader. 

Here is an example from their newsletter. 

This strategy is quite simple, but their unique editorial style and ability to drive engagement make them the most successful. 

First, they gather qualitative feedback from recipients to help improve both the quality of the newsletter content and the sponsored posts. The feedback gives them insights into the audience’s needs and interests, and it helps them determine how to serve them best. 

“That qualitative feedback really helps us in terms of what we continue to do and what we do next,” says Jason Schulweis. 

On top of this, Morning Brew uses the same friendly and fun conversational style they use in the newsletter copy to design the ad. This helps them align the ad copy with their newsletter content, so they are effective without breaking the overall feel of the newsletter. 

Here’s an example with the copy style in question.

Shifting from a business newsletter to being a media company

Sometimes, the business model that got you off the ground is not necessarily the one that makes you the most revenue. Or sometimes you have to change it to achieve your full potential. 

For example, Netflix had to go from content distributor to content creator, and Coursera had to go from a standard B2C company to a combined B2C and B2B model.

For Morning Brew, it was going from being a standard newsletter to becoming a media company. 

This doesn’t mean that the company is changing its core product. The newsletter remains their main product asset. But they added newsletter channels in other areas that can interest and attract the Average Joe. This allows them to reach different audiences and partner with companies in these areas to promote them, multiplying their revenue streams.

In addition to the daily Morning Brew newsletter, The Brew now offers.

  • The Retail Brew newsletter, which covers retail and e-commerce news, 
  • The Emerging Tech Brew newsletter, which covers the technologies that will shape the future of business, 
  • The Marketing Brew newsletter, which covers marketing, advertising, and media stories; 
  • The HR Brew newsletter, which covers the work of human resources professionals; 
  • The Money Scoop newsletter, which covers all aspects of personal finance; and 
  • The Sidekick newsletter covers entertainment, recipes, productivity tips, and more. 

Combined, they bring in 3 million unique subscribers to the Brew Company. This also allows them to build an empire like a media company from the back of the email channel. 

Interestingly, the company has also added to its product by starting a podcast. This also helps them attract a few ears they can leverage for their business. 

Wrap up

Morning Brew does an amazing job with their newsletter. Their newsletter is constantly growing, and they’re always living up to subscribers’ expectations. Clearly, there is a lot any company can learn from their email approach. Now, as you design your email strategy, here is what you need to keep in mind. 

Always create content your audience will enjoy

This is the foundation for any successful email business. If your audience doesn’t like your emails, you’re doomed to fail. You need to keep your emails simple, fun, and engaging. Also, keep in mind that size matters because people will not spend hours reading your emails. So cover only the essentials and make sure you don’t bore the readers.

Normalize A/B testing 

A/B testing is one of the least rated strategies in digital marketing. But we can tell from Morning Brew that there is more to A/B testing than most marketers think. Always test everything you can. Don’t leave anything to chance. Only then can you be sure of the impact and results of your strategies. 

Keep your email list clean

You need to constantly track and weed out fake emails and dormant subscribers. You can send a few re-engagement emails. But if subscribers are not responding or engaging with your communications. It’s always a better option to keep them off of your list. 

Create a killer referral engine

Your referral program can only be hugely successful when your readers are willing to recommend your newsletter without caring about any reward whatsoever. So, first, make sure you have a great product, make sure your audience loves it, and then think about amazing rewards. 
If you are looking to start your newsletter business and need a platform that provides excellent deliverability, powerful A/B testing features, and built list cleaning features like automated archival and free email verification, make sure to give Encharge a try.

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