The State of Email: The Case for Drilling Further Into Your Association’s Niche

While niche newsletters are already a hot property outside of the association space, it’s an area where associations can play—especially if they have subniches worth diving into. However, the approach must be informed by business needs.

Associations are known for bringing together groups of people in a narrow niche, forming a community around their general needs.

But is there room for a niche within your niche? Recently, a big trend in the newsletter space has been the rise of niche newsletters that target tiny communities with information that they find valuable enough to pay for.

One firm that has helped grow this trend is the newsletter platform Substack, which allows anyone to ramp up a subscription-based newsletter platform in minutes—helping to drive interest in topics as diverse as marathoning, Chinese culture, and baking bread.

Associations are good at niches. They’re also good at newsletters. Is there an opportunity to follow suit?

Andrew Buck, a content strategist with the cause-based marketing agency Mighty Citizen, says yes—if you’ve done your homework to understand your audience and to figure out where potential opportunity areas lie.

“I think associations would behoove themselves to do the hard and, frankly, time-intensive and resource-intensive work of segmenting,” he said.

If you have, however, there could be an opportunity hiding within your lists.

Let Business Lead the Way

As much potential as there might be in building a niche newsletter, one of the biggest challenges is figuring out what segment to focus on. This is where strategy comes into play, Buck said. Having an underlying basis for your content-related decisions can help ensure that you’re not going off track.

So, before launching a new newsletter, segmenting your audience, or making any other changes to your content strategy, Buck saisd you should first ask: How will this directly improve our organizational goals? “In other words, will it get us new members, will it retain existing members, will it increase our awareness?” he said. “And, by the way, if the answer is ‘we don’t really think it will,’ then you don’t do it.”

He emphasized that this work must meet measurable business goals.

“You better be certain that it’s going to have real, concrete, measurable benefits to the organization, and to the membership,” he added.

Resourcing Considerations

If you do decide to build a niche newsletter, you may be worried about the additional workload.

For those without the resources to build something bigger, one alternative to creating a new newsletter for an emerging segment might be to build personalized newsletters, using artificial intelligence to target messaging to certain demographics and reader segments.

However, it requires balance: Automation may come at the cost of a more authentic, voice-driven approach.

Ultimately, Buck said, marketing is an experiment, and associations should be willing to test things if they can make a business case for them. Experimenting could help you figure out opportunity areas.

“Maybe you decide, for example, ‘Oh, yeah, we want to serve this niche. Let’s try it for three months and see if anybody cares,’” he said. “And then stop doing it if they don’t, or continue doing it if they do. There should be far more experimentation.”

What If It Works?

While such warnings about poor segmentation might scare you off from going down the niche rabbit hole, consider the potential for growth—perhaps a niche newsletter uncovers an important audience, for example.

Buck said this can be a great thing, but it’s important to understand what success means and how it is being measured, whether through click rate, open rate, or number of forwards.

If it does work, there could be potential to further target the audience—maybe through other member offerings, such as events and services. But the first step, said Buck, is to gather more data to understand what can be done next.

“If a newsletter was a big, smashing success, I think my instinct would be to then conduct a survey within that newsletter,” he said. “I would build a survey, relatively simple, relatively short, seven to 10 questions, in order to understand what we can do now.”

This could become the basis of a persona that helps the association better target this audience and offer further services.

“If we have a smash niche and a smash newsletter, let’s take advantage of that to learn,” Buck added.

This is the final part of a three-part email series. In part one, we discussed email trends to keep an eye on this year. And in part two, we discussed what it takes to add automation to your email workflow.

(mitay20/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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