Newsletters: A Viable Part of Your Direct Mail Plan?
If you are reading this article, then I don't have to sell you on the value of newsletters. Each month, you turn to this newsletterwe hope, anywaylooking for news, tips, case studies and advice that can help you improve your direct mail efforts. Are your customers and prospects really all that different from you? They may not have a need for the kind of in-depth analysis of direct mail that Inside Direct Mail provides, but they certainly are interested in information that can enhance their lives and their careers.
Nathan Chapman, president of The Marketing Center (TMC), a New Orleans-based agency that focuses on Social Security law practices, finds that to be the case each time he mails an issue of his newsletter, The Strategist, which has been the centerpiece of his direct marketing efforts since 1991.
Focusing on "slice of life" stories about how real attorneys have improved their lives and practices through the use of targeted TV marketinghis company's raison d'êtreChapman attributes the high response his newsletter brings in to its ability to connect with prospects first, and sell his services second. "We started doing profiles about our clients ... and that gives them a reason to spend time with the newsletter. The lead articles are only about us in reflection," he asserts.
Niche B-to-B service providers like TMC are a natural fit for a newsletter because the benefits of their services often can be abstract and anecdotal, but they are not the only ones making use of this ommunication/marketing tool. Products or services with long sales cyclesupwards of 60 or 90 daysare great candidates for newsletters because they keep prospects engaged throughout the process, suggests Joan Damico, a marketing consultant and copywriter.
In a similar vein, newsletters also work well for mailers looking to establish long-term relationships through which to cross-sell or upsell within a suite of products, suggests Carol Worthington-Levy, partner, creative services for San Rafael, Calif.-based agency LENSER. Newsletters from such companies also can be used to stimulate product usage and promote customer loyalty.
Denver Injury, a Colorado-based rehab center, mails a quarterly newsletter to local physicians and lawyers to build trust and brand recognition within the community, which ultimately leads to referrals, states Casey Demchak, a copywriter and author of the book "Essential Sales Writing Secrets." And Demchak doesn't just write newsletters for others; each quarter he sends his own to clients and prospects. "It's a good way to keep my name in front of them," he muses.
This list of uses could go on and on, because newsletters can work for just about any product or service. The important thing is not what you sell, but that you develop your newsletter with a clear marketing objective in mind, attests Demchak. That objective will guide most of the other decisions you makewhat kind of content to include, how often to mail, who to mail to, and how to measure your success.
Content Is King
Newsletter copy is at its best when it is highly relevant for the recipient. Don't bog readers down with self-serving articles about how great your company is or what your employees are up to. Look at every article from the customer's point of view, suggests direct response copywriter Eva Kato. "Everything should have some sort of benefit, some sort of value. Like a direct mail letter, it has to be 'you' oriented," she says.
That's not to say that you can't promote yourselfafter all, that is the whole point of sending out the mailing. What you want to do, however, is temper your self-promotion with valuable content that will involve the reader. As Chapman points out, "The longer you can involve the consumer, the greater your chance of success. And you can still put enough sell in it to connect the dots."
Some involving items you may want to use include: new product stories; customer-focused features; industry news; a message from the president; interviews with industry experts; how-to articles; tips; company news, such as milestones or employee-of-the-month profiles; upcoming events; conference recaps; customer service stories; special offers; and coupons. Again, exactly what content you feature will be determined by the objectives of your publication, but Demchak points out that you should aim for a mix of articles that strikes a balance between longer features, tips, news, image-building and product sales. You also may want to include some interactive components that will compel recipients to spend even more time with your newsletter, such as a crossword puzzle, quiz or contest.
And just like any other direct mail piece, don't forget to work in both a compelling offer and a call to action. This call to action, however, should be a low-commitment response, such as signing up to receive a free white paper or special report; sending in tips, ideas or quiz answers; or registering at your Web site. The idea is to get readers to interact with the newsletter and offer up information about themselves, which you can translate into leads or a response benchmark. The Strategist, for example, develops leads by offering a free CD or video to newsletter readers.
The Right Person at the Right Time
You may want to align your newsletter drops with such events as conferences, industry happenings, annual sales, holidays, product shipments or fiscal quarters. And whether you mail monthly, yearly or somewhere in between, your schedule should remain consistent so that recipients know when to look for your newsletter, advises Demchak.
Kato adds that you should not mail more often than your content demands. "How large your list is and how often you have new information to send out should determine how often you mail." She points out that while many newsletters mail quarterly, one CRM newsletter she produces for a client's frequent flyer program mails monthly because the volume of material warrants it.
The Strategist mails twice a year, with one mailing dropping just before an annual industry conference. According to Worthington-Levy, who has worked with Chapman on the newsletter for a number of years, this timing helps TMC generate new leads: Reaching out to the lawyers on his list just before their biggest networking event of the year helps keep the agency top of mind, which aids in referrals. That word of mouth is part of the reason TMC mails what seems more like an acquisition piece to its current customers as well as prospects. It also serves to remind customers that they made the right decision, which fosters loyalty and keeps renewal rates high.
Whether or not you decide to mail to both customers and prospects will depend on your goals, your budget and the size of your mailing lists. Because of the cost, consumer mailers especially may find that the ROI just is not there for prospecting. Another option is to develop a newsletter for your best customers, then apply models to your lower-tier customer files to find people who, aside from purchasing behavior, mimic your best customers, and mail it to them as well. Again, an offer and a strong call to action will help you gauge the effectiveness of this tactic.
Another alternative to mailing to your entire file, suggests Worthington-Levy, is to invite prospects to register for it, either through a link on your Web site, a post-card mailing or by sending out a sample issue. You also can use that registration to find out a bit more about hand-raisers who are interested in your product or service, but haven't purchased.
Carefully timed drops, a call to action, a strong offer, the right list, a "what's in it for me" focus ... if a newsletter is sounding a bit like a direct mail package to you, that's because it is, and you should approach it as such. "You won't get a compelling newsletter unless you treat it like a direct marketing vehicle," asserts Worthington-Levy.
Some important direct mail lessons to keep in mind when developing a newsletter include:
* Write strong, clear headlines that draw readers in and make them want to see what's inside.
* Use subheads to lead readers through the newsletter.
* Get to the point quickly and keep your copy concise. It's better to have a two-page news-letter that features useful, relevant information than a six-page piece full of fluff.
* Provide visual appeal to make your newsletter as interesting to look at as it is to read. Don't crowd your copy all together, and use bullets, images and color to break up the text.
And if you are wondering just how much difference such elements can make, here's a case in point: In 2003, The Strategist got a full-color makeover, complete with original photography, a more open layout, two extra pages of relevant content, and a more dramatic front page that draws immediate attention to the main feature. The number of leads TMC got from that first redesigned issue was quadruple what it had garnered from previous issues.
Newsletters aren't for everyone. You have to be able to commit the time, money and resources to developing and maintaining the program, and the format has to fit within the scope of your marketing objectives. But for those mailers who can and do make it work, a newsletter can be an involving, compelling, relationship-building marketing tool that readers will look forward to finding in their mailbox.