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TinyLetter: Email Marketing Minus the Selling

I’m curious. How many TinyLetters arrive in your inbox every week?

If you’re currently picturing a particularly diminutive piece of mail you must read with a magnifying glass, then maybe we need to back up a step first.

TinyLetter is an email marketing platform developed by the same folks behind MailChimp, but the similarities stop there. There are no specialized templates to choose from, no slick graphics, no colorful drag-and-drop buttons or callouts, no advanced HTML code view. What you get is a simple, clean, email-like interface where you can write text, add hyperlinks, and maybe, if you’re feeling crazy, add a picture or two.

You see, TinyLetter is best explained when you think of it as a private blog post sent directly to a subscriber’s inbox.

But why would anyone want to read that?

Because they’re someone who doesn’t want to be marketed to in the traditional way.

Think about the state of your email inbox(es) right now. It’s probably safe to say it feels crowded, right? Every other minute a new message comes screaming in, demanding your attention. You can go on the defensive; unsubscribing from as many lists as you can and filing away as many of rest as you can. But it feels like a losing battle. The more you work to manage the email, the more it keeps coming.

So the thought of anyone agreeing to sign up for more email from you sounds ludicrous, right?

But think about your physical mailbox, now. It’s not so different from email, is it? Every day you find yourself pulling out stacks of bills, credit card offers, catalogs, and annoying circulars. Yet sometimes, tucked in between a bank account statement and a dental appointment reminder, you find a personal message that delights you, like a card from a niece or a letter from a grandfather. You wish you got more of those.

TinyLetters are those bright spots in an otherwise overcast inbox: people want to read them because they’re delightful. And what’s more, people want to read them because they trust the sender.

An inbox is a personal space. People have more and more control over them these days, too, thanks to filters, security measures, folders, and tabs. They can keep their inboxes on lockdown, but by signing up for your newsletter, they’re saying, “Come on in; I want to hear from you.” Though your newsletter might have a smaller audience than your blog or website, you have your subscribers’ attention. It’s quite an honor to have someone give you their email address.
– Kate Kiefer Lee, MailChimp editor, in an essay for STET

Earning trust through your content

I mentioned that TinyLetter’s interface is simple, and that’s important because it lets you truly concentrate on the content. And the content is what’s going to earn you the trust.

With TinyLetter, you can’t just paste in a product photo, link to a sale, and hit “send.” Success hinges on giving something more to the subscriber, and in TinyLetter land that typically means a few personal paragraphs followed by links to the sender’s recent work, plus additional resources, interesting articles, or even funny gifs. With TinyLetter, it’s more about sharing from the heart than selling anything. The not-so-surprise twist is that sharing from the heart can be a successful, if indirect, way of selling.

This is a philosophy that TinyLetter’s parent company believes down to its core. Ben Chestnut, founder of MailChimp, wrote a TinyLetter about his deep and abiding love for the inverse marketing funnel, but the gist of his essay can perhaps best be summarized by a tweet by Rand Fishkin that Chestnut retweeted:

fishkin-tweetNot selling anything is an alternative way of selling, to be sure, but it especially works for:

  • creative entrepreneurs,
  • professional writers,
  • industry consultants,
  • unique nonprofits,
  • and other business owners looking to build an authentic voice.

The authentic voice is truly the key. That’s the driving force behind the handmade trend, and the reason artisan sandwich shops and bespoke clothing makers continue to pop up everywhere: customers value personal connection and they’re willing to pay more for that privilege. Or, in the case of TinyLetter, they’re willing to give you extra room in their already full inboxes.

In the post-personal-blogging and post-Google-Reader era, TinyLetter steps in to fill the gap. Even though they might go out to a few dozen to few hundred subscribers, they feel like personal messages because they are. And that’s what makes them a unique marketing tool.

What you should know about TinyLetter


  1. First of all, it’s free, at least up until 5,000 subscribers. You can add subscribers by uploading a .CSV file, importing them from Gmail, or simply entering email addresses by hand.
  2. It doesn’t take much to get your account up and running. Outside of crafting an engaging newsletter name and description, you can choose from a limited number of fonts and colors and upload a background photo for your subscription page. You can also customize the text for the subscription confirmation and unsubscribe messages, or redirect the latter to a URL.
  3. When you’re ready to promote your newsletter, you have options. One, you can embed a signup form in a prominent place on your website. Two, you can tweet out media-rich links to your newsletter, thanks to TinyLetter’s integration with Twitter cards.
  4. You can periodically check in on subscriber metrics to see total opens, unique opens, total clicks, and unique clicks for each individual. You can also go into your sent folder and view overall stats for each newsletter.
  5. Subscribers can respond to your newsletter by simply hitting the reply-to button, so get in the habit of regularly checking the email you used to create your account. If TinyLetters are a new form of blogging then reply-tos are a new form of commenting, and every comment deserves a response.

TinyLetter helps you bring your email marketing down from a shout to a whisper. And sometimes the quietest voices have the most interesting things to say.

What do you plan to share with TinyLetter?

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