Effective electronic newsletters

This is a surprisingly easy question to answer, but I warn you it can often be a brutally tough one for businesses to follow through on. Why? Because most SMBs find it more natural to focus internally on their services and product offerings while ignoring the true needs of the reader.


e-newsletter is not about you

Simply put: stay away from corporate chest thumping. If you focus on the recipients’ needs, you have the start of a winning e-newsletter.

Before jumping in, you need to clearly answer the following questions: Who are the subscribers of this e-newsletter? What issues are most relevant to them?

While your personal benefits will flow from the ongoing communication with your subscribers, this e-newsletter is not primarily about you or your company. Your ongoing relationships will fail if you turn this into a promotionally focused vehicle.

View your e-newsletter as a relationship-building tool. It will never replace face-to-face selling, but it can be an invaluable supplement to bridging the gaps between visits and calls. E-newsletters are wonderful builders and maintainers of brand if part of your brand essence includes being recognized as a trusted authority in your specific industry sector.

How to determine winning content

Here’s a simple question that will help you select your e-newsletter content: what issues are your readers being judged on in their year-end performance reviews? Every top salesperson keeps that question in mind 24 hours a day. If your e-newsletter content can deliver ideas to help readers receive a better assessment in their performance reviews, it suddenly becomes a tool that they anxiously anticipate.

If your message also happens to coincidentally relate to your own product and service solutions, then you’ve hit the jackpot.

Areas to explore as potential topics include: industry updates; technical developments likely to impact their business; legislative issues; business-building tips; competitive issues; education; and personal growth topics.

Your salespeople, customer service reps and market research staff can all tell you what your some of your customers’ and prospects’ burning issues are.

How to deliver that relevant content

The immediate reaction an e-newsletter recipient should have when he clicks open your e-newsletter is: this is relevant to me.

How do you achieve this? Include a table of contents – one that leads with that important “”what’s in it for me?”” material. This allows the reader to make a quick “”yes/no”” decision on whether to pursue the remaining content. Believe it or not, I’m content to have readers delete the occasional issue, having quickly decided it’s not relevant to them. The alternative is to make them work too hard at determining relevance, risking an immediate unsubscribe.

Any of your own company detail is secondary. Your customers would never go out of their way to subscribe to a newspaper or magazine that contains nothing but incessant sales pitches, but they are accustomed to being sold in print, as long as it doesn’t interfere with content delivery. Think of your own e-newsletter in the same way.

As for the stories themselves: make them easy to digest: use sub-heads that allow the reader to quickly assess the content. Short paragraphs are good. It’s even better if they can scan the headline and a blurb, then clickthrough to get the full article elsewhere.

Guaranteed, continued success

Measurement and feedback are your guarantees that your readers continue to welcome your e-newsletter.

You need to measure e-newsletter delivery and open rates, specific article clickthroughs, repeat opens, forwards and unsubscribes. All of these are critical ongoing measures of whether you are fulfilling the e-newsletter’s promise – or wearing out your welcome. Each subsequent issue must be fine-tuned to continually improve upon these metrics.

Reader feedback also needs to be a component of editorial direction, and it can even be used as content.

Remember: keep it relevant to your subscribers. If you do, you’ll be welcomed back into their in-box time and time again.

Daniel G. Wiest is president of Wiest & Associates Inc., The Customer Acquisition and Retention Company, which offers a free quarterly newsletter on direct marketing and online developments.

Got a question for our experts? E-mail [email protected].

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