Message & Media: Opt In to the Inbox
As a direct marketing copywriter and avid reader, I’m a big fan of e-mail newsletters. They are the perfect combination of medium and message.
For the reader, e-newsletters cover topics of targeted interest, delivered in a timely fashion and easy-to-read format. For the direct marketer, they are an effective CRM response-generator—a gateway to your Web site, an interactive branding tool and an instant credibility-booster.
Whether you’re already publishing an e-newsletter online or considering launching one, here are some things to think about from a direct marketing perspective.
• Opt-in: Because e-newsletters are opt-in publications, your readers have a prequalified interest in what you have to offer. They see you as a credible source of new ideas and reliable updates. Keep this in mind as you develop your content calendar. Also remember that disappointed readers can opt out at any time.
• Subject line: Unlike traditional ink-on-paper newsletters that often arrive unannounced and unwanted with a “we-me” focus, an opt-in e-newsletter must immediately answer the question, “What’s in it for me?” It starts with the subject line that needs to encourage opening.
This means you need to: 1) pretest subject lines to increase open rates; 2) learn how to fine-tune subject lines to introduce the value of each issue more effectively; 3) test different subject lines to different audience segments; 4) create engaging subject lines by using numbers, such as “3 Tips for Saving Hundreds on Groceries” and “Save 40 Percent, Get Free Shipping,” which places the focus on the offer; and (5) add the word “why” to create curiosity: “Why Nine Out of 10 Small Businesses Fail.”
• Table of contents: While your e-newsletter format may not require a table of contents, test the value of adding one if it’s appropriate. Here’s why: For many readers, a well-written TOC is a time-saver. For marketers, it’s a tool for snagging scanners and getting them involved.
I receive two daily e-newsletters. In both cases, I glance at the TOC, make a split-second decision about whether or not there’s something of interest, then click to read on, or delete and move on. I’ll quickly add that not every e-newsletter I receive includes a TOC, because they aren’t always appropriate.
However, in the case of a monthly newsletter I write for a client, the TOC presents a bulleted summary of reader benefits. It allows the reader to pick and choose topics of interest from article titles such as “Tips for an Affordable Vacation” or “The Best Way to Get Out of Debt.”
• Content: One of the biggest challenges for editors and writers is creating and maintaining content that’s relevant and engaging. While it’s dangerous not to map out an editorial calendar for the months ahead, you also need to remain flexible and nimble enough to change topics to remain timely. That’s especially true in today’s ever-changing consumer and business environments.
Quality content starts with defining an objective for your e-newsletter, then creating an editorial calendar that supports it. For example, if your goal is to generate clickthrough traffic to specific pages on your Web site, your writer needs to know this. Corresponding content can be developed that provides immediate value to the reader, with links to learn more at your Web site. An example of a newsletter that does this is Weight Watchers’ QuickBites. It’s generously peppered with links to eating tips, success stories, meeting locations, recipes and coupons. (At the other end of the spectrum is the Robert Genn Twice-Weekly Letter. It looks and reads like a personal letter with few, if any, links until you reach the P.S.)
• Reader interaction: As a reader and a writer, I appreciate the two-way nature of e-newsletters. Instead of being static and one-dimensional, e-newsletters provide plenty of opportunities for interaction. It may be as simple as e-mailing an article or issue to a friend or colleague, providing requested feedback, or downloading a valuable resource to use and share with others.
• Segmentation: All customers and newsletter readers are not alike, so why treat them identically when you can target and segment?
Test segmenting starting with your subject line and above-the-fold feature articles. As a direct marketer, you know to test those elements first that are most likely to leverage response. In this case, that’s the open rate and clickthrough. Track response; then plan future issues accordingly.
• Frequency: How frequently should you send your newsletter? What makes sense for your objective(s), content focus and audience expectations? I have e-newsletters I receive daily, twice-weekly, weekly, monthly, even intermittently. Frequency is another factor to test. The question to answer is, “What do our readers want?” You may be surprised by what you learn.
• Visual format: While I’m a reader/writer, not a designer, I know that how you visually present words—everything from typeface and placement to backgrounds and surrounding images—affects if words are read and how they are read.
To borrow three words from Jakob Nielsen’s recent Alertbox on Web site architecture mistakes, you don’t want your e-newsletter to be clumsy, complex or inconsistent in how it looks or navigates.
E-newsletters that are easy to read promote involvement. Simplicity increases understanding. And consistency encourages brand recognition and anticipation for the next issue to arrive. It all adds up to more readership and more response.