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Newsletter or Snoozeletter?

Earning the customer’s attention the old fashioned way: with valuable content

Marketers know that email newsletters provide an economical way to keep a brand at top-of-mind. They also know that email newsletters provide customers with a simple response vehicle: Make an offer. Get a response. It’s quick and easy.

Members

Email newsletters can also generate leads, establish thought leadership and expertise, or create demand for new products or services. With the right approach, an email newsletter can do wonders at a fraction of the cost of other media.

But there’s a pitfall. It’s called UNSUBSCRIBE. It’s always worth remembering that an email newsletter is only as good as the audience that chooses to receive it.

Delivering Value Comes First

The most important factor in email newsletter strategy relates to content: do you have valuable information to share? If there’s one mistake that marketers make, it’s to create email newsletters that serve as thinly (or not so thinly) disguised marketing pitches. Nothing will cause a newsletter subscriber to unsubscribe faster than an email puff piece. If you remain focused on your marketing objectives, you won’t make that mistake.

What are some reasonable marketing objectives for an email newsletter? They vary. Some organizations simply want to build a large opt-in email on which to piggy back subtle marketing messages. Other organizations set specific goals for qualifying leads and driving a desired number of responses. Others want to maximize brand awareness or thought leadership without concern for follow-up through the email newsletter program. All of these objectives are reasonable, as long as the email newsletter serves as a channel of trusted communication; that is, as a medium that respects the recipient’s time and intelligence.

Your Mission, If You Choose To Accept It

The first step in creating an email newsletter is to establish the newsletter’s mission, i.e., its theme and what will it do for customers. You can start by crafting a statement of intent, for example:

“My newsletter is intended to help my customers and prospects [do what?]”

You can then differentiate your content and your expertise:

“Our experience in [field] gives us a unique perspective [on topic].”

From there, you can give your newsletter a name, using your company name or brand and an indication of the mission. For example, if your company is called TaxMin Accounting Corp., your email subject line could include the title and the issue’s main topic:

TaxMin Tax Saver: Home Office Primer

If you get past this stage of email newsletter planning, you’re in good shape.

Format Follows Function

When thinking about the format of your newsletter–the number of articles and the length of the emailed text–just remember that customers and prospects are busy just like you. You want your emails to be clear and concise. You want executive summaries and a choice whether to click for more information. You want to be in control, instead of deluged with rivers of text and graphics.

Consequently, successful email newsletters provide a brief summary of a feature article, and just two or three additional sidebar headlines and summaries. Use your feature article to show off the depth of your expertise and use the sidebars for complementary information. Avoid introducing additional major concepts in the subheads. (You’ll be successful if you can make just one idea stick in the customer’s mind.) Instead, use the sidebars for time-sensitive content such as event listings, seasonal messages, or an invitation to participate in an online poll, which is a great way to engage customers in a dialogue and to provoke a response.

Marketing 102

Now back to marketing: While we advise strongly against making your email newsletter a marketing pitch, that doesn’t mean that you can’t include commercial messages. The explanation for this apparent contradiction is this: as long as you deliver valuable content the recipient will accept brief commercial messages, such as graphical ads (banners or buttons) or brief calls to action (using text hyperlinks). Using the earlier example of TaxMin Accounting, these might include messages such as:

Need help slashing your tax liability, click here for details.

You could also include tie-ins to promotions, for example:

“Win a free book: TaxMin’s Top 50 Tax Tips. Just click to enter”

Keep it short and include a call to action to trigger a response. If you include ads, you’ll want to use a newsletter service provider that can track ad clicks. (A professional media company would typically use a dedicated ad server.)

Decisions, Decisions

Now that we’ve addressed your newsletter’s mission, title, and format, we can talk about other important decisions. For example, when a prospect signs up do you ask for an email address only or for a full name, contact information, and contact preferences (for example, to allow a marketer to call)? If your sales organization depends on outbound telesales, asking for a phone number and permission to call could be critical. Just be aware of the trade-offs: the more qualifications you require, the fewer subscribers you’ll have. Response rates will vary depending on the nature of your business, so test multiple approaches.

You also need to determine frequency. Will you mail the newsletter weekly, monthly, or daily? Consider the effort required for producing valuable content. Then consider the timeliness. If your content is “evergreen,” then send it monthly. If your content is more time-sensitive, send it twice a month. If you have urgent content, consider sending it weekly. If you can provide some kind of near-real-time data – such as daily interest rates or variable price quotes – then daily frequency might be appropriate. Just consider that the length of an email newsletter should be inversely proportional to its frequency. The more frequently you mail, the shorter your newsletter should be.

Conclusion

Delivering valuable content is the key to successful email newsletters. It’s not enough to just “grab” the customer’s attention with slick graphics or marketing gimmicks. You have to earn the customer’s attention by delivering useful content. Once you’ve earned that attention, you’ll have an ongoing customer relationship that allows you to establish your thought leadership, make offers, collect feedback, generate leads, and more. END

Sidebar: eNewsletter Mechanics and Production Tips

In the “old days,” (sometime before the year 2000), if you wanted to produce an email newsletter you had to develop your own mailing application and code each newsletter manually. You also had to maintain your own database of opt-ins/opt-outs and it was generally a pain.

Today, you can use any number of Web-based services to handle newsletter composition and emailing (such as Emma [www.myemma.com] or Constant Contact [www.constantcontact.com]). Regardless of your email newsletter service provider, the key to a successful email newsletter is still valuable content.

Consider using your email newsletter as part of an integrated program that involves multiple media, including print, Web, and events. Developing and managing an integrated strategy lets you reuse content in multiple contexts, supports cross-promotions, and gives you a balance of “push” and “pull” media, where in some cases you send content to the customer (“push”) and in other cases the customer or prospect “pulls” content from you. – David M. Kalman

David M. Kalman is the president of Terrella Media, Inc.