The Story of Email Newsletters and How it Evolved Over Time? [INFOGRAPHIC]

Updated on October 20 2023
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Email newsletters have been around for decades, but they remain one of the most effective marketing tools available. For every $1 spent, email marketing generates $36 in ROI and makes it one of the most formidable tools in the digital marketing arsenal. 

Email newsletters are particularly effective for SaaS companies, which need to stay in touch with their customers on a regular basis to provide updates, support, and new product announcements. A well-crafted email newsletter can help SaaS companies achieve a number of important marketing goals.

The newsletters you’re receiving are an evolving face of email marketing that is transforming from plain text messages into powerful, interactive, and engaging platforms. 

Intrigued? You should be. 

The evolution of email newsletters is a fascinating journey that has redefined the way businesses connect with their audiences. It’s a story of innovation, personalization, and adaptability in the ever-changing landscape of digital communication. 

Evolution of Email Newsletters

Email Marketing Evolution Infographic
Email Marketing Evolution

The Email newsletters we see nowadays are well-crafted and engaging but it was all very different in the beginning. The evolution of newsletters did not happen overnight, it is a composite action of various technological advancements in the history.

The first email was sent via Arpanet in 1971 by Ray Tomlinson. Ray Tomlinson is credited with this groundbreaking achievement in digital communication. He introduced the “@” symbol to designate a user’s location that allowed messages to be sent to various locations and different users on different computers. 

This innovation was a significant step in the evolution of email and is treated as a foundational stone in this field.

5 years later, after the creation of the first email newsletter, known as EMMS (Electronic Mail and Message Systems) made its debut on December 22, 1977, via Arpanet. 

EMMS was a pioneering publication that offered valuable insights into various aspects of digital communication. It was, ostensibly, the first newsletter created by a 14-year-old kid, Shiva Ayyadurai. He used to publish this newsletter twice a month covering wide range of topics.

In 1978, a pivotal moment occurred in the history of email marketing when the first email blast took place. This groundbreaking event resulted in an astonishing $13 million in sales and showcases the immense potential of email as a marketing tool. 

This email blast was executed by Gary Thuerk, a zealous marketer for the Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC). He sent invitations to 320 users on the West Coast, urging them to attend product presentations. This incident grabbed the attention of other companies and they came to know the power of email marketing.

All these things at that time were happening on the Arpanet, a system developed by the United States. In 1991, a significant milestone in the history of the internet was achieved when it went live and became accessible to a wider audience. This marked the beginning of a new era in global communication and connectivity.

Five years later, in 1996, Hotmail entered the scene by launching its free email service. Hotmail’s offering was revolutionary as it provided people with easy and accessible email accounts at no cost. This move democratized email usage and made it available to a broader user base. Hotmail’s free email service quickly gained popularity and played a pivotal role in shaping the way people communicated online.

Now the users have access to the internet and email. This turns out to be a great opportunity for the companies to leverage the benefits of email marketing.

Companies started to send emails significantly to the masses. The campaign extended to the level that people started to receive so many spam emails.

In 2003, the Can-Spam Act was introduced to tackle this situation and protect users from spam. This legislative act marked a crucial step in regulating email communication and protecting the interests of email users. 

One of the key provisions of the Can-Spam Act was to empower individuals by granting them the ability to unsubscribe from email lists. This pivotal change gave people more control over the emails they received and allowed them to opt out of unwanted messages.

The introduction of the Can-Spam Act forced companies to re-evaluate and adjust their email marketing practices. To comply with the new regulations, businesses had to adopt more transparent and responsible approaches to email marketing. 

Here comes the role of email newsletter. This practice helped companies to provide information about their products and services. The main focus was to educate the audience and not to sell the audience. 

This step was taken to build credibility and trust among customers so that no one unsubscribes them. 

If the story of Email newsletter has motivated you to start your Email Newsletter now, check out our article on How to start an Email Newsletter? 

Email Newsletter: A Secret Weapon of Brands

Now the question arises, why SaaS and other brands started leveraging the power of Email newsletters?

Brands always look for the opportunity to build their trust among their users and Email newsletters are an excellent way to engage with customers. Brands provide valuable content, updates, and offers to keep subscribers informed and interested in their products or services.

Since the primary focus of email newsletters is providing information, the chances of opting-out the email subscription reduces to a huge extent. 

Today, email newsletters can be highly personalized. Brands can tailor content based on the recipient’s preferences, behavior, and demographics, which increases relevance and engagement.

Apart from all these facilities, Brands can track open rates, click-through rates, conversion rates, and more using advanced analytics. This allows brands for data-driven decision-making and optimization of campaigns.

With all these benefits Email newsletter acts as a great weapon to cater the marketing needs with less cost and effort. This drives business growth while maintaining a direct and personalized connection with subscribers.

Pioneer of SaaS Email Marketing

Salesforce, founded in 1999, played a pivotal role in revolutionizing the world of email marketing during the late 1990s and early 2000s. As one of the pioneering SaaS companies, Salesforce leveraged email marketing to not only promote their services but also to educate and engage their audience.

In his book “Trailblazer: The Power of Business as the Greatest Platform for Change”, the Salesforce founder, Marc Benioff stated “Salesforce sent its first email marketing campaign in 1999, and within a year, the company was sending over 1 million emails per day.” He also mentions that Salesforce’s email marketing campaigns were extremely successful in generating leads and sales.

One of the reasons for Salesforce’s success with email marketing was its focus on personalization. The company used its CRM system to collect data about its subscribers, such as their interests, job titles, and company size. This data was then used to create targeted email campaigns that were more likely to resonate with recipients.

Another reason for Salesforce’s success was its focus on automation. The company used email marketing automation to send emails at the right time and to the right people. This allowed Salesforce to send more targeted emails and to save time and resources.

Salesforce’s email marketing campaigns were very successful. In one campaign, Salesforce sent an email to 100,000 subscribers offering them a free trial of its CRM software. The campaign resulted in 10,000 new sign-ups for the free trial, which led to more than 1,000 new paying customers.

Companies that boosted Email Marketing and Newsletter 

While people were learning about the benefits of Email newsletters, some companies were preparing to help those people to start their own newsletters with ease.

These companies harnessed the email newsletter’s ability to engage, inform, and convert subscribers that results in tremendous growth and inspiring others to follow suit. 

Substack

Evolution of Newsletter - Substack's contribution
Substack’s Website

Substack’s journey began in 2017 when three visionaries, Chris Best, Jairaj Sethi, and Hamish McKenzie, embarked on a mission inspired by the success of Ben Thompson’s Stratechery—a tech and media newsletter that demonstrated people’s willingness to pay for premium content. Witnessing Thompson’s prosperous venture, they envisioned a platform where anyone could effortlessly launch their subscription-based newsletter. Their goal was to liberate writers from the constraints of editors, advertisers, and algorithms, allowing them the freedom to create their desired content.

In 2017, Substack became a reality, quickly winning the hearts of writers and journalists alike. Two years later, Substack secured a substantial $15.3 million in Series A funding from Andreessen Horowitz. This financial boost enabled Substack to attract renowned writers and invest in enhancing its features and services.

Today, Substack is home to over 1 million paying subscribers. Some of the most popular Substack writers include Matthew Yglesias, Bill Bishop, and Andrew Sullivan.

Substack’s Revenue Growth

Substack’s revenue grew from $12 million in 2021 to $19 million in 2022, which is a whopping 59% year-on-year increase. 

Medium

Evolution of Newsletter - Medium's contribution
Medium’s website

Medium was started in 2012 by Evan Williams, the co-founder of Twitter and Blogger. Williams wanted to create a platform where people could share ideas and stories in a long-form format, without the constraints of Twitter’s 140-character limit.

Medium was also designed to be a more elegant and user-friendly experience than traditional blogging platforms. Williams wanted to make it easy for anyone to publish high-quality content, regardless of their technical skills.

Medium has since become a popular platform for writers of all levels, from professional journalists to amateur bloggers. It is also used by many businesses and organizations to publish blog posts, articles, and other types of content.

Later in 2020, Medium launched their newsletter feature which let anyone create a newsletter with ease.  To create a Medium Newsletter, you must be an editor of a publication. Once you have created a newsletter, you can start emailing your subscribers directly in their inbox. You can also share a link to the newsletter sign-up page anywhere to promote and grow new subscribers more easily.

Because of its publishing services and email newsletter business model, it has become an extremely popular and credible brand in this field.

Mailchimp

Evolution of Newsletter - Mailchimp's contribution
Mailchimp’s Website

Mailchimp was started in 2001 by Ben Chestnut and Dan Kurzius, two friends who were running a web design agency called the Rocket Science Group. At the time, email marketing was expensive and complex, and it was out of reach for most small businesses. Chestnut and Kurzius wanted to create a more affordable and easy-to-use email marketing platform that would help small businesses grow.

The first version of Mailchimp was a simple email list manager, but it quickly became popular with small businesses because it was easy to use and offered a variety of features that were not available on other platforms, such as drag-and-drop email editing and email marketing automation.

Mailchimp also offered a free plan for businesses with up to 2,000 subscribers, which made it even more accessible to small businesses. This free plan was instrumental in Mailchimp’s early growth, and it helped to build a loyal customer base.

Over the years, Mailchimp has continued to add new features and integrations, and it has become one of the most popular email marketing platforms in the world. It is now used by over 25 million businesses, including a wide range of small businesses, startups, and Fortune 500 companies.

MailChimp’s Revenue Growth

By leveraging the demand of email marketing platforms, Mailchimp has seen tremendous growth.

Conclusion

The evolution of email newsletters and their adoption by SaaS brands represents a remarkable journey in the realm of digital marketing. Email newsletters have undergone a profound transformation from beginnings as simple text-based messages to becoming a powerful tool for engagement and growth, . 

These newsletters not only conveyed information but also fostered trust, loyalty, and ultimately driving tremendous growth for the brands that embraced them.

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