Read It or Delete It?
Admit it. Your inbox is clogged with e-mail newsletters every week, and at best, you only read about a third of them. Why is this? Maybe the newsletter is no longer relevant. Or worse, the newsletter is from an unknown source. Whatever the reason, those unread publications serve as a reminder that the effectiveness of e-mail newsletters is based solely on the reader’s reaction to them.
E-mail newsletters can be powerful vehicles for conveying messages, sharing news and promotions, and ultimately, attracting customers and prospects. Let’s look at some best practices for keeping your customers engaged and review troubleshooting tips to get a wayward newsletter back on track.
Content Is King
One way to make sure your e-newsletter gets read is to include tips or advice related to your product or service. For example, a spa might include tips on relaxation, or a Web hosting company may offer suggestions on traffic generation.
Your content should also be relevant to your customers. Help them see the relationship between their patronage and your business by thanking them for their feedback or letting them know about changes you’ve made as a result of their suggestions. This shows them they are an important part of your business and not just another e-mail address on your list.
Bob Corlett, founder and president of Staffing Advisors, has had tremendous success with his e-newsletter. He’s been sending out business newsletters since 2004 and attributes at least half of his revenue to their success. Corlett believes that if you offer your e-mail subscribers something they value, they will come to you when they are ready to do business.
Promotion vs. Newsletter
Since newsletters can contain promotions, it’s important to understand the difference. An e-mail promotion is a one-sided communication with one or more calls to action designed to achieve an immediate result, such as “click here to buy now” or “sign up today.” E-mail promotions are typically reserved for retail or hospitality businesses whose customers are interested or accustomed to receiving such information.
On the other hand, e-mail newsletters are regularly scheduled communications that foster a two-way conversation. They may contain promotions but are designed to accomplish the long-term goals of customer retention and loyalty.
Corlett’s approach is a great example of interactive e-mail content. “There is nothing ‘salesy’ in any of the newsletters. I share the best thinking and research I can find and include links to whitepapers I have written. If someone agrees with my view point, they give me a call.”
You may have a fantastic newsletter chock-full of information, but if you send it to the wrong people, it will be deleted or, worse, labeled as spam. One way to ensure you’re on target is to manage subscribers’ expectations by allowing them to select the type and frequency of their newsletter subscriptions. This way they know what to expect and when, and you know what to send to whom and how often.
A great example of segmentation is performed by Girls Learn to Ride, an organization that offers snowboarding, skateboarding and surfing clinics for women and girls of all ages. In order to send his 10,000 customers information that is relevant to them and their interests, owner Mark Sperling segments his list into groups based on age, region and sport. Segmenting his list allows Sperling to easily and effectively communicate with each group.
How Often Is Too Often?
Frequency is tricky, as it depends largely on your business and the type of newsletter you send out. For example, a florist may send monthly newsletters with information about the flower of the month, but it may also supplement that newsletter with special holiday issues. For most businesses, once or twice a month is a good target, but often you’ll learn what is the right frequency based on the percentage of people that are opening your e-mails.
Frequency also comes into play if you send your newsletter too infrequently. If it’s been six months since your last mailing, there’s a good chance many of your subscribers will have forgotten they signed up to receive your communication and hit the spam button. Generally, once per quarter is the minimum recommended frequency.
Onward and Upward
It’s time to take a look at your existing program. Make use of your delivery reports to understand the effectiveness of your newsletters. Review your open rates, opt-out requests, spam complaints, clickthroughs and specific feedback from your subscribers. Chances are there’s room for improvement. The following tips will help you identify weaknesses with your current newsletter and help you get back on track.
1. Use your own permission-based list. Permission is not transferable, so you should never use purchased lists or lists that you have swapped with another business.
2. Communicate about the type and frequency of your newsletter. When people sign up to be on your e-mail list, allow them to select their areas of interest. Specify what they will receive and when they will receive it.
3. Keep your list up to date. Check for inactive subscribers, and either remove them or send them a one-time e-mail asking them to confirm their interest.
4. Determine the optimal frequency. Ask yourself how frequently your customers think about or use your product or service, and send communications accordingly.
5. Keep your content fresh. Provide useful, relevant information such as tips about your product or recent research about your industry. Remember, your newsletter should be about your customer, not about you.
Annette Iafrate is the senior director of the regional development program at Constant Contact. She can be reached at email@example.com.