With the right tools and strategy, e-newsletters can help convert leads and boost sales
Recent months have seen a historic boom in online marketing expenditures. Forrester Research categorizes it as a “resurgence” and predicts that overall online marketing spending will top $26 million by 2010. With all the emphasis on banners, sponsorships and search engine marketing—all lead generation tactics—direct marketers need to be sure not to neglect lead nurturing activities, or they will risk low conversion rates and poor ROI.
E-newsletter marketing is an ideal tactic to nurture leads and convert them to sales. It is relatively easy to implement and can build relationships, move leads along the sales cycle, and uncover leads ready to buy.
By following some easy best practices, you will give your e-newsletter marketing program the best chance for success.
Choose the Right Tools
You could pay a Web development company to develop and manage your e-newsletter program for you, or you could hire some internal programmers to do it. Frankly, that’s probably overkill, given that there are good tools available to let you easily develop your e-newsletter without the overhead. There are many tools to consider, including off-the-shelf desktop software and Web-based tools. A quick Google search on “create HTML e-newsletters” is a good place to start. Your minimum requirements should include:
1. A wizard-driven interface that will help you build and publish your e-newsletter with minimal design skills and zero HTML programming; and
2. List management tools that let you handle subscribe and unsubscribe functionality automatically for anti-spam compliance.
Get the Analytics You Need
We’re talking about direct marketing, so make sure your e-newsletter tool can deliver the analytics that will make you successful.
E-newsletter marketing can provide a wealth of metrics that let you understand your subscribers, test messaging and offers, and identify serious sales leads.
The key is to make sure your e-newsletter resides on a microsite. This homepage should include a table of contents and synopses of all the different articles in a given issue, and each full article should occupy a separate HTML page. This means your e-newsletter isn’t simply a static message sitting in a subscriber’s inbox; instead, as readers are clicking around your e-newsletter and reading the articles, they actually are navigating through a microsite.
Why is microsite architecture important? The answer is tracking. With a microsite, you get more than open rate tracking; you can track each individual subscriber’s behavior as he or she digests your e-newsletter. Did the subscriber open your e-newsletter? What articles did he or she read, and how often? Did he click any external links that took him to your corporate Web site? Did he forward an article to a friend? This information—and more—is trackable, if your e-newsletter service supports a microsite architecture with robust reporting capabilities.
This knowledge can be very powerful. For example, I recently spoke with the marketing manager of a company that provides antivirus and intrusion prevention software solutions. She developed an e-newsletter to build credibility with her sales leads—busy IT managers who have little time or patience for marketing spin, and who want to be sure they’re dealing with a company that has vision and expertise. As the marketing manager reviewed reports on subscriber behavior, she realized those active readers were pretty good sales leads; by reading and re-reading articles about her products, they were exhibiting behavior that indicated they might be ready to buy. Now, each time she sends out her e-newsletter to her more than 30,000 subscribers, she can pass along 200 to 400 solid leads to her sales people for appropriate follow-up.
This is known in e-newsletter parlance as “informative marketing.” Find out what your subscribers are most interested in, and react accordingly—e.g., write more articles on the most popular subject matter, plan marketing campaigns based on offers that generate the most reader interest, or follow up with contextually relevant sales activities.
Compel Readers to Action
As with any good marketing program, the objective is to get your audience to react. In most cases, you are trying to get it to escalate its level of sales engagement. Here’s another example: An Internet sales manager at an auto dealership publishes an e-newsletter to build relationships with prospects and customers, with the overall objective of selling more cars and service. He uses several mechanisms to compel readers into action. For instance, he carefully has designed his e-newsletter to prominently feature links to his dealership Web site—the inventory page, the test drive request form, the service coupons page, etc. He has found that roughly 2 percent of his Web site visitors ultimately convert to vehicle buyers, so if he can increase his Web site traffic, that increased traffic will correlate to increased sales. Since starting his e-newsletter campaign, he has observed that his Web site traffic doubles and triples in the two weeks following each e-newsletter send.
He also gets his readers to react through good copywriting that delicately balances hard- and soft-sell articles. On the hard-sell side, he provides articles on financing promotions, dealer incentives and service specials. He also includes vehicle reviews, with links to the Web site test drive request forms and inventory pages. It’s common sense that subscribers interested in reading a vehicle review might also be interested in test-driving that vehicle, so he makes it easy for them to take that next step. These articles are precision-engineered to compel readers to click to the Web site and escalate the sales engagement with the dealership.
Auto dealerships know that 45 percent of deals occur within two weeks of the lead’s first contact with the dealership, so their sales force is trained to hit prospects hard for the first couple of weeks. However, that means 55 percent of the eventual sales occur after two weeks—and a full 25 percent of sales occur after eight weeks, according to Kain Automotive, an automotive Internet and business development consultancy. Therefore, if dealerships can use lifestyle articles like driver safety tips, vehicle maintenance advice, or write-ups of local travel destinations in an e-newsletter to keep these tire-kickers engaged, they stand a better chance of reaping sales from them when they’re ready to buy.
The Power of Rich Media
Incorporating rich media in your e-newsletter is another effective technique to engage subscribers and get them to pay attention. In the same way that rich media banners have reinvigorated online banner advertising, e-newsletter service providers are supporting rich media to enable their clients to make a bigger impact with subscribers.
Podcasting is one of the latest rich media innovations benefiting e-news-letters. Podcasts allow e-newsletter marketers to provide audio content in their newsletters via MP3 files. There are many ways marketers can use this technology. For example, many
e-newsletter authors provide a brief “letter from the editor” to lend a personal touch to their e-newsletter. A podcast provides a natural evolution of this concept in an even more personal and compelling way. Also, technology vendors might provide an audio Q&A podcast where an expert is interviewed about a product or strategy. This is the same concept as a whitepaper, but is far more dynamic and engaging.
Flash also can be used to deliver compelling, animated multimedia messages—and the use of streaming video is becoming more viable every day. These formats are ideal for presenting product demos and other content in a highly impactful and memorable way.
The best thing about rich media in an e-newsletter is that it’s trackable, just like any other content. You can see the aggregate viewership of your rich media content, and which individual subscribers viewed it. You then can react accordingly, with follow-up sales and marketing activities that ultimately can convert your leads to sales.
The bottom line: E-newsletters aren’t what they used to be. They’ve evolved into highly interactive communications vehicles that leverage the best of Internet technology and direct marketing techniques. By choosing the right tools and following best practices, you can use e-newsletters to convert leads to sales, and new clients to lifelong customers.
Bob Hebeisen is director of marketing at IMN (iMakeNews Inc.), an e-communications service provider based in Waltham, Mass. He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com