Growing our brand: the MarsBased newsletter

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We are growing our brand with the years. In this blog post, we review our first two years of running our newsletter!

The company turned six, only two months ago. However, we didn't start the newsletter until early 2018 because we are still a small company and couldn't do everything and do it right. So after closing a couple of other internal projects, and getting positive feedback from our audience as to whether they would read a newsletter, we decided to give it a go.

Let's take a look at the data, first!

Data & stats for nerds

In our first year, we grew the newsletter to 500 subscribers while on this one, we've obtained 300 subscribers. Growth, however, hasn't been one of the KPIs we've prioritised. Instead, we've focused on getting the best content we could for every newsletter issue.

Our newsletter reflects our philosophy: no ads, no shortcuts, no growth-hacking and well-aligned to the values of giving before taking and being helpful to the community before anything else.

We are the only ones caring about the metrics, and most of the times, not even that. We don't report to investors or external shareholders, so we don't feel forced to meet arbitrary goals.

Since April 2018, we've sent 34 newsletters. The whole 2018 had just one issue per month while during 2019 and 2020 we're doing twice per month: one "update" issue on the first Tuesday of each month with what's coming up next in the company and a recap of the previous weeks, and a second one with a compendium of content on one specific topic.

So far, we've explored topics such as Node.js and Ruby on Rails for the technical audience out there, a few issues on remote and a few others about company culture, just off the top of my head.

Let's check the stats. I first broke the data down in three data sets:

  • 2018: From April to December, one issue per month.
  • 2019: Mixed: half of the year with one issue per month, the other half with two.
  • 2020: From January to April, two issues per month.

As you can see, we will be comparing data that's different in nature, but I thought it'd be interesting to see 2018 as only with an issue per month, 2019 as the year with two issues, and 2020 as an atypical year because of a global pandemic AND two issues per month.

I will also compare this to 1st year vs. 2nd year.

Open rate

Currently, our overall open rate sits at 23.12%. When we were doing once per month, the open rate was 30,78%, so clearly we are not doing something right. Or are we?

Let's take a look at further detail!

These are the results:

  • 2018: 30.78% (MAX: 48.20% - MIN: 19.48%)
  • 2019: 19.82% (MAX: 33.40% - MIN: 13.68%)
  • 2020: 15.88% (MAX: 18.35% - MIN: 13.22%)

In 2019 our open rate dropped, probably due to the increase of the frequency. We too see a big drop this year, but it wouldn't be very farfetched to assume COVID-19 has had some kind of influence there.

When comparing year one versus year two, these are the results:

  • First year: 26.14% (MAX: 48.20% - MIN: 18.29%)
  • Second year: 17.26% (MAX: 33.40% - MIN: 13.68%)

Again, a drop, but not as big as between 31% and 16%.

Click-Through Rate (CTR)

  • 2018: 5.82% (MAX: 10.87% - MIN: 3.02%)
  • 2019: 4.92% (MAX: 10.29% - MIN: 1.51%)
  • 2020: 3.93% (MAX: 6.07% - MIN: 2.49%)

Whereas the open rate has suffered a significant decrease over the two years, the CTR not so much (acknowledging the current circumstances). This, to me, is more meaningful: we'd rather optimise for people to click on the content than actually opening the newsletter. More on this later on.

And now, comparing the first year to the second year:

  • First year: 5.56% (MAX: 10.87% - MIN: 2.57%)
  • Second year: 4.30% (MAX: 10.04% - MIN: 1.51%)

Here we find a slight decrease in CTR as well, when comparing the first year (1x month) vs the second year (2x month). Even though it's not 100% accurate, we can round it up like this for the sake of simplicity.

Dates

MarsBased newsletter stats
  • Since people don't like reading newsletters that much during holidays, we lower the frequency then.
    • September provides always good numbers (usually our maximum values are in September).
  • We haven't tested sending the newsletter on different days. We want to send it on Tuesday because it's Mars Day 👽
  • Our best month in click-through rate (CTR) has been November last year.
  • In August, we decided to take a break and not send any campaign.
  • In terms of Open Rates, our best month was September.
    • On that month, we shared everything we know about Company Culture, and it was thoroughly well-received among our audience.

Other stuff we're not calculating

There are three things we should be calculating, but we haven't set them up as a proper priority.

First, how many business leads do we get out of the newsletter. During the first year, we didn't get many, and they were of really low quality. 2019 brought a few more and a couple of really good ones. This year, we have yet to see any, but we understand that companies are not into buying mode.

However, as stated above, this is not our first concern nor the reason why we have a newsletter, but it would help to justify a descent of the open rate if the leads per issue were significant. I'd be happy to have it.

Second, the quality of the subscriber has increased significantly. Whereas the first year it was mostly our friends and family (and maybe some fools?) signing up, last year and this year we've seen people of higher profiles subscribing. We've got high ranks in corporates, founders and C-levels of notorious startups and partners of big European VCs.

I honestly have no idea of how to calculate this and make it a metric, other than checking it manually regularly as I nowadays do, but it's something I'd like to work on, as this will undoubtedly yield good outcomes in the months and years to come.

Third, we don't know how many candidates have known us through the newsletter. If, say, every year we signed one or two people thanks to the newsletter, it'd be also a stellar metric. For now, we know that there is a strong correlation between the best candidates and them being subscribed to the newsletter and following our blog and social media, so that's all I can say in this regard.

Audience

MarsBased newsletter audience
  • Barcelona is still on top of the list, as it should be: we're from there.
  • Madrid has climbed to the second spot. Last year, I spent a week a month there opening business, so it's yielding results.
  • Dublin appears in the third spot. Seems like it's big companies headquartered there in Europe such as Amazon.
  • Murcia and Silicon Valley (what a pair!) don't appear as Mailchimp now shows only the top3. Used to be top5.
MarsBased newsletter audience
  • The distribution of origin of the subscribers is pretty similar to last year:
    • Most people come through our Slack. Since there is no automatic integration, we import them manually (if they decide to subscribe to our newsletter, that is).
    • The hosted form on the MarsBased website went up from 4.6% to 15.09%.
    • The 113 unsubscribes is higher than it should be because we accidentally imported the wrong list once.

Content

I've broken down the data of the first issue of the month (update) vs. second issue (specific topics) and this is the data:

  • Open rates:
    • First issues: 18.35% (MAX: 25.67% - MIN: 13.68%)
    • Second issues: 18.09% (MAX: 24.02% - MIN: 13.22%)
  • Click-Through Rates:
    • First issues: 4.34% (MAX: 10.04% - MIN: 1.51%)
    • Second issues: 5.04% (MAX: 10.29% - MIN: 2.49%)

While the second issues seem to generate interest to fewer people - slightly - they provide better metrics as per the CTR. However, the differences are not substantial enough.

Takeaways

With this data, and taking into consideration that 1. we're not marketers and 2. the newsletter isn't at the top of our priorities, what we can take away of all of this is the following:

  • There is definitely room for improvement, but we think we've got a pretty stable newsletter servicing our audience.
  • We won't experiment much with the newsletter. Not until the current COVID crisis has passed.
  • Every year, I get more people thanking us for the newsletter, so it feels reassuring.
  • People are getting used to our fun gifs at the beginning of each newsletter, so it's become sort of our signature.
  • We need to get more data out of it (quality of subscribers, leads, job applications).

Is it worth it?

Yes. Definitely, it is.

Although we are not getting a lot of dealflow from the newsletter, we've gotten a few deals so far which make it worth our while.

That being said, we figured somewhere along the road that dealflow isn't what we expect to get out of a newsletter. We are more interested in building a loyal audience. We want to update our fans and friends alike with well-timed and high-quality content.

For a company working almost exclusively through recommendation, we need to be top of the mind for our immediate circles, and we're accomplishing it by appearing on their inboxes twice per month, and being active in social media, events and other sorts of digital presence opportunities.

Thanks to our newsletter we are getting more referrals by potential clients, more candidates to fill our openings and we're building a loyal fanbase, who will back us in whatever project we start.

One quick example of a good thing we got out of our newsletter: last year, we sent a newsletter aimed at corporates. We had been talking to a lot of them in a short amount of time, so we decided to test the waters.

We put together a few articles, some written by us some not, for people working in big multinationals, and some articles with industry insights and it worked. We got a few good reactions, and a contact from the Catalan government inviting us to take part in a project to promote Corporate Venturing. Later on, that would become our event Corporate Innovation Summit, which turned out to be a resounding success for everyone.

What's in store for the future?

We are not a company of making grandiose plans for the future. We work on the short- and mid-term by defining thought-through goals aligned with our values, and thus, growth for the sake of growth, is not one of them.

We will stick to our agenda of sending one or two newsletters per month to communicate our updates, our best blog posts and things we find interesting, but there are no grand plans for our newsletter so far. It seems we're on the right track, and we'd rather experiment somewhere else than alter something already working and performing well.

Àlex Rodríguez Bacardit

Àlex Rodríguez Bacardit

Desarrollador convertido al lado oscuro: desarrollo de negocio. Experto en crear problemas y luego solucionarlos, se encarga del crecimiento y estrategia. Récord Guinness por completar Day of the Tentacle en tres horas.

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