Lessons from Lenny: BSD’s Communication Team Weighs In On Lena Dunham’s Newsletter

“First email from Lenny. What do you all think?”

That sparked a 56-message chain with my colleagues about Lenny, Lena Dunham’s email newsletter.

Even if you don’t care a whit about Lena Dunham, her TV show, or her writing career, the newsletter is really damn interesting—because it breaks many of the cardinal rules of email:

  • It’s long. Super long. Like, 7,000-plus words long.
  • It’s the first newsletter I’ve ever seen with its own table of contents, with anchor links to various pieces of content.
  • It’s clearly advocacy-oriented, but it doesn’t ask readers to take actions. It just asks them to read some cool content.

Is that good? Bad? A bit of both?

Well, what follows is an edited transcript of our team’s conversation. We opine. You decide:

You guys? Did you see Lenny finally launched?

Dan: The gif is pretty great.
Nina: It’s an email with a table of contents! Now I want to try anchor links in emails …
Annie: Can I also say how cool it is that someone from “outside the space” decided to say “f*ck it” to standard practices and just did something they thought would be cool? (And now we’re all talking about it?)

 

Wait, what? It’s *how* long!?

Marc: It’s a bit much for daytime, but I think something like this could work if sent early in the day or later in the evening so that it’s hitting people on their way to/from work, or once they’ve gotten home.
Nina: I’m pro, but mostly because of not having cell phone service in the subway. I spend a lot of commutes reading articles I’ve saved to Pocket or other long-form TinyLetter [newsletters] that I’m unlikely to give uninterrupted attention to above ground. Conclusion: Long-form email content = great for mole people.
Katie: I’m into this, but I wish there were “back to top” links at intervals throughout the email instead of just when I reach the bottom.
Ali: That’s a great idea…some kind of navigation to punctuate the articles — the email equivalent of a sticky nav.

 

But … where’s the landing page?

Dan: Why not drive people to a blog where they can take additional actions? Will this content live anywhere other than email?
Nina: So I think it is supposed to be an email magazine rather than an email newsletter — hence a table of contents, multiple editors, no CTAs. I don’t think you’ll see many (if any) email “best practices” in this series. Lenny isn’t breaking email conventions as much as lifting one medium and superimposing it onto another.
Danielle: I agree, they’re not trying to drive action. They want you to read. Also, the premise on their site is “An email newsletter where there’s no such thing as too much information” — they’re certainly living up to that promise.
Ali: I’m still not sure this is the best way to deliver so much content, though. Besides being unnavigable, this format ignores social sharing. If I want to share a quote or article, I have to forward the whole email and point someone to the relevant piece of info. They should consider how their words are being read and where they’re being shared, not just the content of their words.

 

And… where’s the call to action?

Michelle: Their welcome email says, “We want to entertain and inform you, but we also want to make the world better for women and the people who love them. That means keeping abortion safe and legal, keeping birth control in your pocket and getting the right people elected, all while wearing extremely fierce jumpsuits.” If they write something inspiring and don’t give ways for readers to take any action, that feels like a missed opportunity, no?
Marie: Well, we don’t know what will come. They may want to deliver kickass content, delight/motivate readers, and build a community before they ask us to do anything. (It worked for Humans of New York!)
Molly: Exactly! That’s how we approach social in general — we can’t always use it to drive action, but we can use it to build a community that trusts you and WANTS to take action.
Chris: Humans of New York is a great example. I don’t think it was started as a vehicle for action. But action grew organically out of the content they’d been delivering for so long to so many people. It felt natural, and I could absolutely see that as the direction for Lenny.

 

 

So what would we do differently?

Molly: If we were to do something like this for our clients, we should look at click-to-share buttons for each piece of content, and graphics sharing the juiciest bits (a quote from an article, a personal appeal from a celeb, even a graphic that says “Just got the best email from Lena Dunham,” etc.). Those social posts would link people to sign up and get Lenny in their inbox, too.
Dan: This is where strong positioning comes into play: Knowing who you are, who you’re speaking to, what those people want, the service you’ll provide, and the unique benefit they’ll receive from that service. Would Lenny work if it weren’t so personality driven? Lenny’s brand is an extension of Lena’s brand. Leveraging personalities as brand/content drivers is interesting (whether it’s the news or editorial content like this). The question, though, is how do we make the case for newsletters without measurable KPIs?
Annie: We argue that it’s okay to send an email without a CTA that’s looking more at long-term returns of successful cultivation and engagement. The KPIs might be different ones than we’re used to measuring. (Like getting a whole bunch of industry people to talk about your newsletter for an entire day.)

 

Are you ready to try something different with your email list? Do you have a strong brand personality or great content to share?

We’d love to hear from you.

Thanks to BSDers Marc Abanto, Nina Blass, Marie Danzig, Danielle Kantor, Dan Koessler, Michelle Mullineaux, Katie Newport, Ali Walker, Molly Washam, and Annie Wilkins for the great conversation!