Today I sat down with Justin Tryon to discuss email newsletters, and pick his brain about the elements of a successful newsletter and to get his advice for businesses considering a makeover.

Here is the transcript if you would rather read.

What should an effective newsletter do for a business or organization?

Everybody’s newsletter is slightly different, but what they all should do is tell a story or impart some important information.

Ideally a newsletter will have the ability to build a relationship, loyalty, and retention. To put it another way, a newsletter really shouldn’t be about selling—that’s the wrong mindset for a newsletter. What it should be is really more educational and informational and give people content that they’re really going to find valuable when they are opening up and reading your email. So it’s important that a reader will find that value, hopefully establish you as the expert or the person to go to for that information, and really keep your business on top of their mind when they’re ready to buy.

What are some of the key elements of a successful email newsletter?

For me, first and foremost is familiarity. People need to recognize that it’s coming from you and the messaging needs to be very clear.

One of the other things that I always say is an aspect of success is understanding reader interests. I always like to give the example of Borders Books. Part of the process of buying a book from them was that I had to provide them with my email address. I received lots of emails from them, but they really didn’t have anything to do with what I was interested in. I purchased a science fiction book I really like—Neal Stephenson and William Gibson—and I was getting emails from Borders that were all about romance novels. They really had nothing to do with what I had purchased and I really feel like that was a missed opportunity for them to better understand what my interests were. You don’t want to do that with your newsletter. You want to make sure that your newsletter provides information that your readers are going to be interested in.

Segmentation is important and if you don’t know what they’re interested in, you can use a little survey to get some information back from them; find out what they would like to know about or how often they would like to receive the email. This is important because this will be information that you can use to customize and segment the newsletter for appropriate audiences.

What is your biggest piece of advice for businesses that may be thinking that their newsletter could use a makeover?

One of the biggest signs that your newsletter is getting stale is a decline in opens and less clicks on the links that you provide inside of the email.

You can do a couple of things. The first of which is a design makeover—it doesn’t have to be extreme and just a couple of changes here and there to freshen up your newsletter is great.

And make the content easy for people to find. For example, a table of contents can do wonders for just making people aware of what the email is about.

And of course, making sure you’re including information that your readers are going to find valuable. What the reader is really going to be doing is taking a look for information that’s relevant to them. So just those couple of things can help them understand the value that they’re going to get from reading your newsletter.