Growth.Design Case Study #017

The Real Reason Why Morning Brew Grew To

1.5M Subscribers In 5 Years

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Some mornings are tougher than others...

Especially when you're bombarded with newsletters

—but there IT is...

...Morning Brew's Newsletter!

Best way I found to get caught up with business news every morning!

NOTE: This case study is NOT sponsored by Morning Brew.

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FYI, my psych is low since I just woke up and have lots to do...

So the content better be good :)

Great subject line as always...

Plus, the classic coffee cup ☕️ makes the email very recognizable!

Release Rings For High Open Rates

Morning Brew doesn't have one of the highest open rate in the business by chance (~40%+).1

Every day, they A/B test subject lines by releasing batches of emails at different times.2

With their audience, they can quickly see which subjects perform best.

1Morning Brew, Growth.Design interview with Employee #2 Tyler Denk(2019)
2Brian Balfour, How To Launch A Product or Feature To Maximize Growth (2019)
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And somehow they're the only one to have a nice avatar!

Let's dive right in... {TAP}

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Open Loops Increase The Activation Rate

In copywriting, open loops are the equivalent of "cliff hangers" in a Netflix Series. (why you keep watching!)

They trigger curiosity1 and the desire to seek out the missing information, which can be great for activation.2

💎Pro tip: Be aware not to fall in clickbait extremes to avoid reactance.

1Wired, The Itch of Curiosity (2010)
2Backlinko, The Definitive Guide To Copywriting (2019)

...News about climate change

You have my full attention!

The intro is actually one of my favorite parts of the email...

Friendly tone and great open loops...

An Oscar record was broken?...

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I won't lie I'm not a big fan of the Market section...

It's a fairly easy experiment to run:

They'd only need a webpage where you can search/pick your favorite stocks!

...Why not give the option to edit this list?

1) 📉 Not everybody
follow these stocks. 

2) 📌 It removes the possibility of a great article title above the fold when opening the email.

3) 📰 The bullet points aren't always related to stocks. Why not treat them like the other news?

This gets me thinking...

I know it's MB's tagline to be the "WallStreet Journal For Millenials"... but... 

User Investment

By letting people "customize" their experience, you allow them to invest energy in your product for future rewards.1

Ultimately, users that have invested in your platform are more likely to stay loyal vs. switching to a competitor.2

1Nir Eyal, User Investment: Make Your Users Do the Work (2019)
2Nir Eyal, Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products (2014)

Next up... Markets!

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Ha! Nice gif...

Even though it's a banking article, I'm actually tempted to read...

—even the text is structured  (bullet points) so you never get more than 4-5 lines of text to keep it easy to read.

Now, let's quickly grab breakfast before I get going!

Pattern Breaks = Easy reading

Similar to visual design, copy needs hierarchy to facilitate the reading experience. 

When everything looks the same, it's hard to scan the relevant information.

In an email context, where most people have a short attention span, the pattern breaks become critical for retention. 1

1CXL, 4 Ways to Use Visual Hierarchy to Improve UX and Boost Conversions (2019)

Scrolling down...

...and it's no accident.

Morning Brew is famous for its headlines, gifs and funky images—

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Again, a nice pattern break with this graph!

These data insights are actually super interesting.

I wish they had more of them...

And another one...

Which brings me to another experiment:  

A subtle voting widget to personalize your content!

 And to my surprise, after conducting user research with the community... Personalization was the #1 suggestion for improvements amongst MB's readers!

Plus, for MB, this could mean:

1) 📈 Increased retention
due to more relevant content.

2) 💰 Targeted Ads 
through a better understanding of what people are interested in. 

Hmm... Still no sign of that "Oscar record-breaking" story...

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Another attention-grabbing image with a catchy title!

Let's see...

Wow... it's an ad!

The design is so similar to the content that it's hard to quickly distinguish it.

It shows you how...


Moving on...

Before advertising, Build trust

Recommendations from friends remain the best form of advertising there is.1

That's why Morning Brew's ads work.

In a way, through in-depth articles, a friendly voice and recurring presence, they became your trusted friend.

PS: I always read the ad section—it's funny and sometimes I'm even tempted!

1Nielsen, Advertising Trust (2015)

I have an appointment soon.. so let's skip to the fun part—

... great storytelling and a seamless integration, can go a long way!

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 —the puzzle!

What do you think... Which company has the most patents?

Apple? Samsung?

The answer should be right below... {scrolling}

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So what's happening here... Why wait until the end to give the answers?


...So you get reminded of what you win if you share the Brew!

Using Curiosity Gaps to their advantage, but...

Banner Blindness

Users have learned to ignore content that resembles ads, is close to ads, or appears in locations traditionally dedicated to ads.1

1NN Group, Banner Blindness Revisited: Users Dodge Ads on Mobile and Desktop (2018)

Referral Program More Shares

Morning Brew's referral program account for more than 30% of their audience base.1

But if the intent to share content wasn't there, the referral program wouldn't be as effective.

You can think of it as an equation: 

Brand Attachment * Quality Content =  More Sharing

PS: If we get 100+ shares with the #MBRefGrowthD, we'll do a case study on Morning Brew's referral program.

1Tyler Denk, How Morning Brew’s referral program built an audience of 1.5 million subscribers (2019)

 ...That nudge wouldn't do anything if it wasn't for their content quality

Oh... And there's the answer for that Oscar question!

They even switch the images and create different giveaways to keep this section interesting and avoid—

Psych Level

Customer Journey

Finding the Morning Brew's Newsletter is always refreshing in a sea of bland emails.

Every day the intro serves its purpose to the fullest. Just like talking to an old friend, they tease about many great subjects.

Always a bit confused by the Market section. An excellent opportunity for customization!

If your business model is based on Ads, you might as well embrace it like MB does! Great copywriting and flawless integration.

The captivating headlines, beautiful imagery, and organized structure make this newsletter a breeze to go through. 

In the end, the quality of content is the real reason behind Morning Brew's rapid growth.

If you mix that with timely triggers and great incentives, you have a recipe for success.

One last thing for you! 

🌎 How To Build A World-Class Newsletter

Get this free one-pager containing:

  • CHECKLIST: 6 key steps to building a world-class newsletter.
  • INSIGHTS: All of the 7 insights covered here (with screenshots!)
  • BONUS: 2 growth experiment ideas

Yes, I Want My Cheatsheet!

Let's look at the key moments of Morning Brew's newsletter experience...

Experience Score


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"Morning Brew - Newsletter Retention"