‘Celebrate your team and your values’: how to make a newsletter that connects with your customers | Email marketing and automation with Mailchimp

New Zealanders Jen Ferguson and Glenn Williams didn’t have big ambitions to be entrepreneurs when they moved to London in 2012. But two years later, they quit their jobs and opened an independent craft beer, hot sauce and wine shop in Peckham. “We wanted to surround ourselves with the things we love the most,” says Ferguson of Hop Burns & Black. “And see if we can inspire others to do the same.”

Eight years later, the co-founders have expanded their range to include ciders and small-batch spirits, opened a second location in Deptford, published an award-winning beer and food cookbook and launched a thriving subscription business.

It’s an encouraging story in what has been a difficult few years for independent retailers. The Covid-19 pandemic resulted in an average of 48 shops, restaurants and other catering establishments closing each day in the UK in 2020. But there were benefits too, as customers realized the importance of supporting their local small businesses. A survey last year found that nearly two-thirds of UK consumers chose to shop closer to home in the past year, resulting in a 63% increase in spending at specialty food and drink stores. Half said they expect to continue doing so.

When lockdown kicked in, Ferguson and Williams decided to close both of their stores and turn their attention to online shopping and home deliveries. “More than anything, it showed that being nimble and able to adapt very quickly and keep your cool in difficult circumstances was the key to surviving and thriving,” Ferguson says of the pandemic. “During that initial lockdown, the subscription service grew exponentially because people wanted to make sure they had that constant supply of things they enjoyed and missed during such a strange time.” Today, Hop Burns & Black offers three subscription box options for beer, natural wine and hot sauce, which continue to enjoy great popularity.

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Hop Burns & Black
Quote: “The newsletter gives us the opportunity to highlight what we are doing and why”

Audience growth has mostly come about organically, albeit with some help from online advertising. The team is obsessed with customer loyalty and created their Beer Miles customer loyalty program to keep shoppers coming back. Today, customers earn points that they can redeem for rewards like t-shirts, glassware, and discounts on their next purchase. “It gives us a huge database to access,” adds Ferguson.

A weekly newsletter was introduced in 2015 to support the Beer Miles scheme. It’s a labor of love for Ferguson, who takes notes throughout the week to remind her what to include before sending it out via Mailchimp every Thursday morning. “In the beginning, our motivation was to communicate the personality behind our company,” she says. “We see ourselves as more than a shop that sells beer, wine and hot sauce. The newsletter gives us the opportunity to highlight what we are doing and why.”

In addition to new products, favorite brewers and shop news, Hop Burns & Black also commissions professional beer and food writers like Matt Curtis and Claire Bullen, who each contribute a monthly column. Ferguson makes the newsletter manageable, with bold headlines and color photos, and makes everything clickable, giving readers many ways to go to the site. “And once they’re there, it could lead to a sale,” she says.

The newsletter was also useful in other ways, for advertising vacancies for employees or challenging subscribers to find a suitable location for a new business. That was before the duo secured the Deptford store in 2018. “We offered a finder’s fee and got a lot of good leads,” says Ferguson. “It was a nice little ego kick to hear how many people were happy to have a branch close to home.”

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plaque at Hop Burns & Black;  a selection of beers on the shelves

The newsletter subscribers also enjoy the close connection to the brand. According to Ferguson, many customers will mention they’ve read it when they walk into the store, or respond via email with supportive comments. It also has a big impact on sales. “We see an increase in online sales and web traffic once the newsletter comes out,” she says. “We didn’t go out with a defined brand voice or strategy. We just write about what we feel and what interests us.”

It’s these personal relationships with customers that Ferguson believes will benefit the brand as the cost-of-living crisis begins to take hold. The company is currently working on identifying former customers in order to send them offers to lure them back, as well as promoting the web shop and delivery service to the loyal customers who may have turned away from the physical store.

Hop Burns & Black also uses Mailchimp to send subscription customers monthly details of what’s in their boxes or to offer special rewards to top-spend VIP buyers. “We devote a lot of time to customer retention,” says Ferguson. “I think it’s easier to keep than to acquire.”

Above all, she would advise other small businesses to focus more on conveying authenticity through a newsletter. “New products, special offers, giveaways, all well and good. But what really connects people to a small business is the opportunity to relate to it on a personal level,” she says. “You don’t have to be a storyteller to tell stories – just celebrate your team and your values. If you speak with that authentic voice and give people a glimpse of what makes you tick, they will be interested.”

Mailchimp is the #1 email marketing and automation brand*. With plans that fit any business size and database, marketers can send the right message at the right time to attract more customers, get AI-powered suggestions to make content more engaging, and set up automated workflows to cross-sell products . Recover abandoned carts and help drive more loyalty and sales.

*Based on publicly available data from competitor brands on global customer numbers in 2021/2022.

The views, information, and opinions expressed in this article are those of the individuals interviewed and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Intuit, Mailchimp, or any of its principal brands or employees. The main purpose of this article is to educate and inform.

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