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Email newsletters are usually used to support or promote other forms of online content.
In contrast, email is the core strategy behind Lenny Letter – a feminist newsletter created by Girls founder, Lena Dunham, and co-producer, Jenni Konner.
With 500,000 subscribers and a reported 70% open rate, it has rapidly grown in popularity since its launch in 2015. So, what makes readers race to read it?
Here’s a bit more on how Lenny has evolved so far.
Email as an intimate medium
Lena Dunham has famously championed the discussion of feminist topics, including friendship, health, sex and money – previously using the mediums of TV and books to do so. With the realisation that there was an appetite for more in-depth feminist content, she launched Lenny Letter to deliver it direct to women’s inboxes.
Lenny takes the form of two emails per week – Tuesdays is for personal essays and short stories, while Fridays is reserved for interviews. Both are lengthy and usually feature illustrations by up-and-coming artists.
So, why did Dunham choose to steer clear of the standard website-format, used by the likes of The Pool and Jezebel?
According to editor Jessica Grose, it is so that writers can directly speak to the audience, shining a spotlight on important messages rather than distracting them with a broad selection of articles.
What’s more, it is built on the notion that email is a much more intimate and personal medium, with users deliberately opting in to receive content rather than absent-mindedly browsing on a public forum.
Encourages social community
Lenny does have an accompanying website, however, content is published with a delay of 24 hours or so to incentivise subscriptions to the newsletter. This is also done to give the design of the newsletter due attention, with illustrations and composition deliberately aligning with the medium.
Like a lot of other publications, Lenny does not allow comments, instead encouraging readers to use social media to start positive conversations about topics featured. In turn, Lenny employees are highly responsive, typically replying to Instagram or Twitter comments within the same day.
Combined, this has helped the publisher to create a receptive online audience, which has in no doubt contributed to high open rates and loyal readership.
Advertising business model
The main reason for the existence of the Lenny website is to provide a permanent space for display and native ads – the result of a partnership with Hearst Media. The deal involves Hearst selling space for advertising and branded content on the site, as well as promoting Lenny across titles like Marie Claire and Cosmopolitan magazine.
Lenny also stresses that its branded content is just as authentic as its regular features, collaborating closely with brands to ensure the publication’s tone of voice remains strong.
For instance, an interview with writer Helen Ellis focuses on what it’s like to be in a stressful situation – and it also happens to be sponsored by Secret Deodorant. Examples like these show how sponsored content can blend seamlessly in with the over-arching brand. Of course, it also relies on the audience’s trust in its reputation and dedication to quality journalism.
Branching into other areas of business
Alongside the newsletter, Lenny also has an online shop selling branded clothing and accessories.
Described as a place that ‘would rep grassroots feminist businesses’, it’s more of an extension of the brand’s values than a real money-making venture. Likewise, it also builds on the community element, with readers keen to wear subtly branded items like the ‘Dismantle the Patriarchy’ patch set.
Lenny is not averse to expanding its presence in other areas, too. Last year, it began a podcast series called ‘Women of the Hour’ and it currently has a video series in the works for HBO Now.
Naturally, it will need to tread carefully. While expansion could help to increase new subscribers, even more brand involvement or corporate sponsorship could potentially alienate existing readers invested in the core premise.
That being said, as long as it keeps its focus firmly on what women really want to read about, I can’t see it going too far wrong.
For more on the topic of email, you can download Econsultancy's Email Marketing Industry Census 2017