Newsletters suck. How and why we created Zest’s personalized UpSkill email

Product March 4, 2019
A newsletter sucking water out of a glass


Newsletters suck. How and why we created Zest’s personalized UpSkill email

Once upon a time, we launched a newsletter. It was a great endeavor and a great newsletter. But we killed it…

What went wrong? As Idan explained at the time, our open rates were great (72%) but the value added wasn’t.

TL;DR our execution sucked 🥤. Our layout was crowded. Our headlines failed and most importantly–the content wasn’t personalized. It simply wasn’t Zestworthy.

I personally hate newsletters and I’ll tell you why. Email is one of the most personal mediums of communication. Instead of using that to an extensive advantage, almost everyone gets the same ‘one size fits all’ email with the same sponsorships and most importantly, same content.

Which is why we opted for something different this time. It is so different, you might not even call it a newsletter.

Let me explain the how and why.

New objective: authentic and personal

Our goal is to keep growing Zest’s users’ talent by providing them with knowledge-building content.

The objective was to make the Zest newsletter simple, personal and SOOO valuable that you’d get a mind-numbing rush of excitement when that inbox notification pops-up.

Having the data from our previous newsletter on hand, we knew we had to create the opposite of what we previously had done.

“Get the spanners, we’re tweaking the engine”

It was time to get innovative and build the structure and content of Zest UpSkill.

We started off by creating our first content selection engine.

The Zest content selection engine isn’t a typical “recommended for you” engine, oh no.

This engine learns from your consumed content history to deliver content that aligns with your interests and points you toward similar topics to help you deepen and widen your professional knowledge, transforming your from a T-shaped marketer into an I.  

Value-added? Abso-freakin-lutely!

value added content based on my preferences
Christian's feedback on Zest's content selection engine
Highlight of the day!

Next, we wanted to include a way for you to keep up with the tribe’s suggestions. Most often, contributing content on Zest is like recommending content to a friend. So we added a section highlighting recent suggestions made by one of the Zest members you follow.

Psst… It also helps you catch up with influencers’ contributions, friends and fellow CMOs! 😉

friend's suggestion on Zest
Thanks, Nick!

And if you’re like me and tend to hoard content more than read it, we added a little space for reminding you of content you saved!

saved article reminder
7 weeks ago sounds like I forgot about it – thanks!

And that is all! Two to four content pieces per week, specifically tailored to your needs.

Patrick gives feedback on email
We love you too <3
Stephanie's feedback
awesome it is then 😎

Keeping it clean

For the sake of precaution, we still tested a graphic version against the rich text email version.

graphic version vs simple version

Not even 30% of the graphic version fit in this image…

Needless to say, a gas tank of lit user feedback started to build our confidence like a stack of legos: “Get straight to the point, and do it fast” was what Zesters were looking for. And that meant cutting the graphic version and not looking back.

Ethan gives super-feedback
And this is how we’re keeping it 😎

We were missing that touch of ‘human’

  • No clutter – ✅
  • Zesters are happy – ✅
  • Content is Personalized – ✅
  • Human touch – eeerrrr…

We love tech here at Zest, but the human element is essential to everything we do. I mean, in 2019, it’s like a requirement, no?

So for the Zest UpSkill we switch up the opening sentence every week to see how it would spark the engagement. We’ve had some interesting feedback about that choice, lemme tell ya. (See, it works: new opening = feedback = human interaction  <3)

first email opening sentence
Here’s the first one
second email opening sentence
Aaand the second one

And it seems, Zesters like it as well!

Dani sends feedback
Thanks, Daniel! And nope, we’re scattered all over the globe 🙂

Final takeaway

When we sent out the old newsletter our mind was on us and our KPIs. The strategy was bad for our users and our reputation. But we listened and we learned.

This time around, we stayed true to our member-focused approach to deliver the simple, authentic and knowledge-rich content that we know Zesters want.

For the professional marketers who turn to Zest for time-saving, actionable content, what matters is that we deliver knowledge, not design.

Now, think about your users.

Of course, it depends on the end consumer and the product. But if you have low amounts of content, are your visual elements complementing your content or creating a distraction?

When you get a split-second of attention from the user, it’s worth testing a design they’re used to text-only email. Their feedback will probably give you answers to how to get to your point and fast.

Feedback for the Zesteam?

Ahoy! I’d love to hear from you.

If there’s anything you’d like to share about the newsletter, feel free to call me at or message me on LinkedIn.

And if one announcement wasn’t big enough to make, Zest is also available on RSS!

Eric Siu & Neil Patel recommend Zest

Or, if you have your own reader simply copy this link and add it to your RSS reader