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Agent to Agent: 3 Ways to Optimize Your e-Newsletter

By Jennifer Davis

At Progressive, we send around 25 million emails each month to our customers. That’s a lot of content. To get the most from each touch, we use a variety of methods to test and improve what we send over time to ensure we’re reaching customers when and how they prefer with content that’s clear and useful. Some of what we’ve learned along the way can help you with your own communications, particularly your agency newsletter. As you know well, content creation takes time, and all content isn’t created (or consumed) equally. Understanding up front not only what your clients want to read, but when to reach them and how to quickly capture their interest can be the difference between a newsletter that effectively engages your customers and one that’s deleted before it’s ever opened.

Here are a few tactics that have consistently worked for increasing our customer newsletter opens and clicks. Try them in your own agency newsletters to learn what works best with your readers.

When to Send

Afternoons and ends of the week are smart ways to avoid inbox clutter.

An inbox is a tough place to get noticed. It’s a steady stream of new information, much of it more important (or, let’s face it, more interesting) than an insurance newsletter. The average working professional receives more than 100 messages a day from colleagues, friends, and favorite brands, not to mention spammers of every stripe.1 Avoiding the highest-volume times of the day and week is a good way to improve the odds that customers will see and open your email.

For starters, don’t send first thing in the morning. You’re competing with overnight email accumulation, and your message could get purged in the rush to clear out the inbox before the workday begins. Steer clear from sending overnight emails as well. Mobile users who forget to mute their phones don’t take kindly to midnight pings, dings and rings waking them from their beauty sleep. Midafternoon has been the sweet spot for our efforts — inboxes often are less cluttered, the morning rush has subsided, and customers may be more open for a little light reading.

When deciding on which day of the week to send, we’ve found that closer to the weekend is better. Thursday and Friday are good choices. We’ve also had luck scheduling emails to go out over the weekend. Those who are most likely to open it will do so within 8 hours of receiving, so it’s smart to reach the customer when they have more time to read.

How to Grab Their Interest

Keep subject lines short, personal and relevant.

The average person’s attention span is 8 seconds — a full second less than a goldfish.2 Media like Twitter and Vine are pushing us further toward the sound byte. The pull quote. The highlight. Today’s readers expect quick hits, and they make instant decisions whether or not to open our email with a scan of the subject line and, if we’re lucky, the first few lines of the intro. The technology our clients use to read our communications also plays a role. Either we develop content that acknowledges these realities, or we risk losing relevance (and readership).

For instance, half of your customers will be opening your email on a mobile device, so limit your subject line to 50 characters to avoid getting cut off on the small screen. Use the headline of your newsletter’s most interesting article rather than something generic (the subject line “Smith Insurance June Newsletter” isn’t likely to earn an open in a newsfeed or an inbox). Add “you” or “yours” early in the subject line to grab the readers’ attention and personalize the message (for example, “5 tips for mingling with the neighbors” would become “Meet your neighbors: 5 tips for mingling”). Clarity is key, so keep it short, straightforward and avoid anything too clever.

Also recognize that email providers like Gmail and Yahoo leverage “pre-headers,” while software like Outlook enables preview panes — both present not only the subject line, but a few lines of intro text. Be sure the first few sentences of your email, not just the subject line, leave your readers wanting more.

How to Keep Them Reading

Follow the 3/30/3 rule.

Content may be king, but in an age of social media, millions of customers have kingdoms of their own. They are used to creating and sharing their own content on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest, and they understand the impact of high quality images and powerful headlines. That makes our job that much harder, because the customer is savvier and the bar is higher. Remember that readers eat with their eyes first, so pair articles with an eye-catching graphic. We’ve found that leading with an image drives engagement, and a high quality photo is just a smart phone and an Instagram app away. If that’s not an option, stock photo sites are an easy and inexpensive way to add quality imagery on the cheap.

We’ve also found a few ways to get our headlines working harder. We’ve had success talking more about the customer and less about us. For example, a simple change from “Progressive offers policy reviews,” to “Policy reviews can save you money,” drove greater engagement. Articles with number-driven headlines do well, like “5 tips for winterizing your boat” or “3 ways to prevent thieves from nabbing your car.” Our research also has found that preferred customers enjoy reading about tips to safeguard their possessions, and these articles are a great opportunity to provide expertise on vehicle care while educating customers about coverage that makes a difference during a claim.

How much content is right for one sitting? Readers will likely only read 1-3 articles, so less truly is more. That’s good news for agencies that don’t have a lot of time or resources internally to dedicate to newsletter development. As for length, aim for articles between 300-500 words.

Many writers follow the 3/30/3 rule:

  • A third of your audience will spend 3 seconds — so be sure the piece can be easily scanned. Include strong subheads, images and captions.
  • Another third will spend 30 seconds. They need to get the gist in that amount of time. Write a good headline and opening paragraph.
  • The final third will spend 3 minutes. They’re your true readers. Assume they’ll cover about 200 words a minute.


Perhaps most important: What works for us we've learned over time, so continue to test and learn no matter what kind of content you’re developing for your customers. I hope you take away a few ideas to try in your next newsletter — we’ll continue sharing our learnings with you through our ProgressiveAgents YouTube channel, PIA events and our marketing portal, Brand Express.

Jennifer Davis is director of Retention Marketing at Progressive.

1https://litmus.com/blog/how-to-write-the-perfect-subject-line-infographic/subject-line-infographic

2http://www.statisticbrain.com/attention-span-statistics/