B2B Content Hall of Fame: how CB Insights created a God-tier newsletter

From pointless pie charts to accusations of vampirism – Kieran explains why he’s nominating the CB Insights newsletter for our Content Hall of Fame…

B2B Content newsletter

As a B2B technology copywriter, I regularly part with my email address in return for the chance to look at a research report, eBook – whatever I need to add depth and credibility to the content I’m writing.

The result is an inbox swimming with newsletters from every tech field and industry. (Yes, I know I should systematically unsubscribe. Just like I know I should make myself lunch, instead of hitting Nemo’s.)

Unless they’re relevant to what I’m working on at the second they arrive, most of these newsletters are terminated on sight. But there’s one exception. The newsletter from CB Insights.

I’ll leave that newsletter be. And then, when a brief gets delayed and I find myself with a spare ten minutes, I’ll go and find it, and open it up. Sometimes I’ll even right-click and download the pictures. And then turn my screen towards my colleague, and show them an Amazon patent for a flying distribution fortress. Or a wildly inappropriate data visualisation.

And occasionally, even though I’m far from the company’s target audience, they’ll be something of genuine use to me – or anyone working in the tech sector. Like a neat little guide to Bitcoin and blockchain.

It seems I’m not alone in making an exception for CB Insights’ newsletter. Six times a week, it goes out to nearly 370,000 people – a six times its circulation in 2014.

Here are a few things that, IMHO, the CB Insights is getting very right…

It’s not afraid to be edgy.

CB Insights’ subject lines are short and rarely sweet. Here’s a selection from the last few months:

  • your analysts are wasting $25K
  • depressing bar chart
  • 🐶 Silicon Valley petting zoo
  • deathless cars
  • 86 page report – FinTech deals boom
  • 😳 Slack is a waste of time
  • Zelda – sooo popular
  • an IoT butt plug
  • AI kills 10 million jobs
  • Peter Thiel loves millennial blood

Make no mistake: CB Insights wants your attention. It’s more important than taste, decency, and sometimes, even relevance.

That said, the newsletter will rarely serve you up clickbait without delivering something at least slightly nutritious in return, even if it’s just a lesson in how not to conduct a survey:

CB Insights’ boldness is understandable, when you consider every bit of frivolity is underpinned by cold, hard a-b (and in this case, c) testing. And that post – go on, click the link, but come back – leads me to another of their strengths…

It shares genuinely useful stuff.

Remember that blockchain guide I mentioned before? It’s far from the only useful content I’ve received from CB Insights. And I’m not even in the company’s target audience.

If you’re a startup or a venture capitalist, you’ll find predictions, patents, and insights into who and what are being mentioned on public company’s earnings calls.

In addition to this home-spun content, you’ll get a well-curated set of articles from around the internet, all teased in the house style – i.e. with lovingly crafted headers such as ‘Tortoises against bot abuse’.

And, if the edition’s attributed to CEO Anand Sanwal, you’ll always receive something even more useful – the reassurance that someone loves you.

It ropes its readers into making the content.

When you’ve an engaged readership in the hundreds of thousands, you’ve a ready-made research group. CB Insights’ newsletter regularly contains bracketed competitions, designed to gauge reader opinion on hot topics. This provides the company with:

  • Fresh newsletter content for a number of consecutive weeks
  • Another reason to open – will your contender have made it into the next round?
  • Fascinating results…

It’s at a massively unfair advantage. The scoundrels…

As professional a producer, aggregator and analyser of data, CB Insights is in an enviable position when it comes to creating compelling newsletter content.

But that doesn’t diminish the company’s achievement. After all, it’s the tactics it uses – its braveness with tone, its faith in testing and optimisation, the way it expertly mixes the valuable with the laughable, the way it weaponises its readership…  – that make its newsletter game so ridiculously strong.

Oh, and the clever bastards have also made sure it’s staggeringly easy to sign up for. (Yes, you probably should.)

Every month, a different Radix copywriter will nominate a piece of B2B writing for our Radix B2B Content Hall of Fame (essentially a compendium of projects we wish we’d worked on), and explain what makes it work. If you’d like to suggest an inductee, please do get in touch.


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