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Why tone of voice is vital to Morning Brew’s newsletter success

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Recently, the publishers seeing notable success with newsletters are those who have started to carve out their own unique tone of voice

Many publishers have historically kept email newsletters strictly professional. There has always been an expectation that communications coming from an organisation should be business-like and serious. But recently, the publishers seeing notable success with newsletters are those who have started to carve out their own unique tone of voice.

The change has partly been driven by evolutions in the way audiences interact with content online. On social media, people seek connections with other people, rather than brands. The rise of influencers and creators with defined voices is reinforcing the strengths of having a personal relationship with readers, rather than a faceless brand.

That’s not to say that publisher content can’t be branded or professional. But developing and cultivating a unique tone of voice – whether journalist-driven or not – can help build a good foundation with subscribers.

Newsletter-first publisher Morning Brew has refined its voice since starting its flagship business-focused newsletter in 2015. Each issue opens with a short and witty comment, signed by that day’s editors. Then it links to that day’s top stories, with a mini editorial or explainer initialled by the relevant editor talking about the key points of the news item and any additional context.

There are smatterings of gifs, memes and jokey headlines throughout the issues. The style is certainly not unprofessional, but is definitely more informal than many other news-focused emails. 

“The daily newsletter in the early days, we really focused so hard on creating this tone,” Managing Editor Neal Freyman told the Media Voices Podcast. “In the daily newsletter, we’re not doing so much original reporting, we are basically aggregating what’s out there. We think our differentiating factor is the fact that you can read about it and laugh along with us.”

When it came to hiring writers for Morning Brew, Freyman said that he had focused on finding people with a comedic streak, rather than traditional journalists.

“We’re super bullish on the fact that people are really loyal to particular individuals,” Freyman noted. “We do think that brands are important, which is why it’s Morning Brew not Neal Freyman that sends you an email. That works – it’s not extinct.”

“But we do see the growth of the creator economy. We’re not stupid, this is going to be a thing. So we’ve grown creators in-house, we’ve brought them on to launch newsletters, to launch podcasts, to do videos.”

Tone of voice is one of the factors that Freyman believes helps not just grow newsletters, but encourages subscribers to stick around. Morning Brew’s mission is to make reading the news enjoyable, promising to keep readers ‘informed and entertained’. 

“If we stick to [our mission], people will keep coming back because it’s something you need to have in your life, to know what’s going on,” he said. “The humour is a nice sprinkle, because it helps people read and consume the information.”

Extrapolating to other brands

Over 4 million people now laugh along with Freyman and the team of the main Morning Brew newsletter. The company also recently hit 1 million email sign-ups across their five B2B verticals, including Marketing Brew and Retail Brew. However, the journey to replicating Morning Brew’s success wasn’t all smooth-going.

“It was interesting trying to extrapolate the tone when we were creating these new newsletters,” Freyman explained. “We were like, “Wow, we do this so well, like how’s it going to go when we do Emerging Tech? And how are we going to make retail funny?””

Initially, they tried to replicate the exact voice of Morning Brew across the other newsletters. However, it didn’t go as well as they’d hoped. “We realised later that each writer for these publications has their unique voice, so they should really lean into stuff they’re interested in, and that will let their voice shine,” said Freyman. 

Rather than dictate the exact voice a writer should use, the publisher now has a holistic ‘umbrella’ tone. “We’re empathetic, we’re not condescending, and we’re not super cheesy,” Freyman outlined. “And then under that umbrella, feel free to go crazy.”

Supporting independent voices

The next stage will see Morning Brew doubling down on its creative talent. A few weeks ago, they launched a creator programme that allows independent personalities to work for the company full-time, while maintaining separate products and brands.

The partnership provides infrastructure and support to creators who already have an audience, and helps them launch things that would otherwise require upfront investment, like merchandise and events. Morning Brew are currently working with seven creators, with plans to bring more on board.

The extent to which publishers should allow its editorial staff to build their own brands and products depends on the publisher in question. There are pros and cons to the different approaches. But cultivating a brand’s tone of voice – with editorial staff visible or not – is certainly beneficial in an era when audiences expect a more personal connection by default.

Media Voices spoke to Morning Brew’s Managing Editor Neal Freyman about the newsletter ecosystem, launching in new verticals, ad revenue and more. Listen here, or search ‘Media Voices’ wherever you find podcasts. The interview with Neal starts at 14.30.