Email newsletters generally feel like a necessary evil for most marketing teams that produce them. Yes, they generally take longer to produce, are more labor intensive and perhaps most importantly don't generate the specific ROI that more promotional emails achieve. However, on the recipient side they are often preferred due to their less frequent nature and overall look and feel to them. Content companies have long championed email newsletters and monetized them in different ways. But the holdouts appear to be many organizations who use emails as primarily a revenue generating tool. That means etailers and traditional retailers often ignore this format and stick with promotional emails for their campaigns. This deserves some reconsideration.
The Nielsen Norman Group has reported the positive emotional aspect of newsletters is that they can create much more of a bond between the end user and the company than a website can. The negative aspect is that usability problems have much stronger impact on the customer relationship than they normally do. The opportunity is to harness that customer relationship and ensure it is a truly a positive one. That is why e-newsletters can be so much more powerful and accomplish different goals than a promotional email.
Why should you utilize e-newsletters?
- Build the relationship, don't burn it. e-newsletters primary goal should be enhancing the relationship you have with your current customers and prospects. This is more difficult when you have sales goals to achieve and email is a primary sales channel but you must provide a reason for your audience to not unsubscribe and believe there is value in proving permission to receive email communications from your company. With that in mind….
- Provide unique value of being a subscriber. While special email only coupons are of value (and great for acquiring new opt-ins) retaining their permission and interest is a different challenge in and of itself. A newsletter can help remind them that there is significance in being a subscriber. Remember, especially for retailers, after a user completes a purchase, they might not have a need for your emails, especially if they are offer heavy. However, a newsletter that can offer product or service usage insight, industry and product news and tips, surveys and general lifestyle contextual content will help keep them on the list.
- Soft sell. You don't want to hammer away at one of your most valuable assets (your mailing list) with constant offers, "news" and irrelevant sales propaganda. This is a way to communicate various messages without being overly promotional in nature. You can still promote your services or products but have that as the secondary aspect of the email.
- Cross promote. e-newsletters, when designed properly, provide a powerful venue for cross promoting, upselling and marketing your additional capabilities and products as well as sister brands and partners. Whether text or images, there are many ways to skin this cat. Use the right layout and messaging and you can achieve targeted cross promotional goals. Even better you can quantify these results and optimize in future editions.
- Reduce your frequency (but not your Marketing messages). Using many of the best practices mentioned here and getting cross departmental involvement, one of the major benefits of an e-newsletter is that it reduces the need for unique emails from every department within your brand or company. One BrightWave Marketing client even used this rationale in pitching the concept to their company (it worked and they recently launched a very successful newsletter). While this is a tough battle to get buy in on, the user wins when they get less frequent email messages but more valuable content. Remember, your sales and marketing team may not view it this way but the user will thank you by not unsubscribing.
- Get paid. Revenue for advertising and sponsorship of newsletters is an additional income stream after you have built up an audience, content and have the metrics to back it up (and sell it). Many newsletters exist solely for this reason but to the user this is not known (when done right). Especially for niche newsletters that attract a loyal audience, an advertiser may love the targeting and economics of exposure to your captive audience. As long as the sponsorship/advertising is CAN-SPAM compliant and done properly, the user may find this beneficial while your investment begins to pay off and your boss tells you what a great idea it was to start a newsletter.
Key areas to consider when creating or reviewing your e-newsletters
- The Nielsen Norman Group research has stated e-newsletters that are informative, convenient, and timely are often preferred over other media. However, their study found that only 11 percent of newsletters were read thoroughly, so the right layout is key. This means the newsletters must be designed to facilitate scanning. Of course, you will need to spend the extra time on the upfront design, coding, testing and tweaking to see what your users prefer. This should not be an email version of your Annual Report but one that places an emphasis on brevity and a compelling and easy to read layout.
- Tease the articles and link back to your site, whether you are a content or retail oriented company.
- Your headline copy is crucial here-- test out some copy on Google Ad Words or through a small test on your list.
- Monitor the stats and see what sections are the most clicked on and how it compares to your sales oriented email campaigns.
- Test different subject lines, the layout and potentially even a text only version against an HTML version.
- Establish a set frequency-- whether it is monthly or quarterly, let the user know and don't change up the publishing schedule for each edition.
- Let the user know what they are subscribing to-- the sign up form should articulate what the e-newsletter will entail and how often it will be sent.
Best of luck in this endeavor and feel free to send your picks on who has the best e-newsletter and it may be included in a future column.
G. Simms Jenkins is Founder and Principal of BrightWave Marketing, an Atlanta based Email Marketing and Customer Relationship Services firm. He has extensive relationship marketing experience on both the client and agency side. Jenkins has led BrightWave Marketing in establishing a large client list, including marquee clients like GMAC Insurance, CoreNet Global and The Atlanta Journal - Constitution. BrightWave Marketing has become a leader in the Email Marketing outsourcing space by using their expertise in strategy, design, list management, segmenting, delivery and analysis. Jenkins has been recognized by many media outlets as an Email Marketing and CAN-SPAM expert. Prior to BrightWave Marketing, Jenkins was Director of Business Development at two high-tech start-ups and headed the CRM group at Cox Interactive Media, a unit of media giant Cox Enterprises.