Using E-Newsletters to Maintain Contact - dummies

Using E-Newsletters to Maintain Contact

By Jonathan Kranz

E-newsletters (or electronic newsletters) have emerged as a popular format for frequent communications with customers or hot prospects. Like print-based newsletters, e-newsletters contain news, tips, and information of interest to an organization’s target base. But e-newsletters have important distinctions that allow you to do the following:

  • Avoid printing or postage costs. You can and should spend money for top-notch design, but saving money on printing and postage is one perk of moving to electronic publishing that your wallet will thank you for.
  • Collect data about reader behavior. If you have the IT capabilities and will post most of the newsletter content on the Web (connected to your e-newsletter with links), you can track the clicks-through to measure the popularity of your material. The more sophisticated tracking technologies can even record the length of time readers spend on each article! With this kind of feedback, you’ll know where to invest your time writing subsequent issues, be it to create tips, stories, case studies, new product descriptions, and so on.
  • Take a “here today, gone tomorrow” approach. When you get a printed communication, the quality of the paper and the way your content is printed are part of the message. Yes, e-newsletters speak through graphic design, but that design no longer has the material heft of print. E-newsletters are short-lived. On the downside, they communicate less commitment on your part than print newsletters; on the upside, they can be much more casual in tone, allowing you greater rapport with your readers.

Understanding the function of e-newsletters

With e-newsletters, you have two broad categories of potential readers: current customers and prospects with whom you’ve made substantial previous contact. Their needs (and your place in the mix) are different enough to merit some thought.

  • Current customers: They’ve already bought something from you, but you still have plenty to sell — from additional products and services to maintenance of their existing orders. The desires of current customers take different shapes:

An emotional attachment to your brand: Some products — such as motorcycles, collectible statuettes, luxury cars, or recorded music — really get people fired up. For those audiences who just can’t get enough information about the objects of their devotion, an e-newsletter builds loyalty and serves as a terrific way to introduce related products and services.

A need for current, industry-specific information: Many purchasers of complex business products, like enterprise resource planning software or benefits management services, yearn for accurate, up-to-date information about your product or about their industry. Your e-newsletter can meet their educational needs and reinforce your position as a wise advisor and trusted resource.

  • Prospects who have been previously contacted: For those purchases, especially in a business environment, that are expensive or require approval from several people (or both), the sales cycle between contact and closing can take as much as a year or more. The initial lead becomes one part of a long process that may require numerous meetings, proposals, and other efforts. In this context, the e-newsletter can be an excellent way of keeping your prospect informed and maintaining the lines of communication.

Good e-newsletters represent a serious commitment of time and talent. If your product is simple or doesn’t inspire a desire or need for in-depth information, the e-newsletter is probably a waste of your resources.

Developing content for e-newsletters

The content for e-newsletters can be similar to print newsletters. But the speed with which you can produce and distribute the e-newsletter gives it a whole new level of timeliness, allowing you to respond forcefully to current trends and late-breaking developments in your business or industry.

Many of the most successful e-newsletters build each issue around one lead article (frequently used as the basis for the subject line) and fill in the holes with shorter, subordinate material.

Stepping out with lead articles

Your lead article is your e-newsletter’s big story, both in content and in length. Here are a few ideas for material:

  • Latest industry news: Write about a hot topic or breaking story involving your customer’s industry or interests. For example:

UBettaLot Acquires Lotza Lotteries in Stock Swap

SparkleMatic Introduces New Line of Rhinestones for Crafters

  • Advice or analysis: It can be a cruel, competitive, and confusing world out there. Dig deep into your organization’s expertise and produce material that can help a busy businessperson or befuddled consumer; your efforts will be appreciated. For example:

Controlling Workers Compensation Costs with Statistical Modeling

Understanding the New Model Rocket Licensing Regulations

  • How-to: Similar to the advice article, the how-to gives explicit information on solving problems, facing challenges, or just having fun. A how-to article is an outstanding way to encourage customers to try alternative uses for your products or services that they may not have considered before.

Five Ways to Expand Your Market Reach Without Busting Your Budget

Turn Your Spring Nursery Into a Winter Herb Garden

  • Case studies: The next best thing to reading about yourself is reading about people like you. Case studies, brief reports about how someone used your product or service to solve a problem or improve her business or life, give you a chance to build real-life drama into your e-newsletter while demonstrating how your business works in action. For example:

Pizza Express Saves Millions with Delivery-Tracker Software

Lancaster Patterns Help Pamela Winchester Take Quilting Blue Ribbon

Filling in the gaps with additional material

Round out your e-newsletter with shorter pieces that accompany the lead article. Consider these options:

  • Customer features: They keep you in business, so make your readers the stars. Create a regular feature that profiles one of your customers in each issue. In addition to flattering the people you write about, you’re showing your customers and prospects how important they are to you. For profile subjects, ask your sales people to identify happy customers who would be willing to cooperate.
  • Product updates: Tell your readers when they can expect to see your latest products or newest services. Similarly, you can write about new features appearing on your Web site, new regions or areas in which you’re doing business, or important new clients.
  • Events, conferences, and seminars: Let readers know about your organization’s upcoming appearances at events, speaking engagements, association meetings, conferences, and other gatherings. Even if readers choose not to attend, announcing appearances reinforces your company’s status as a significant presence in its field.
  • Reminders and general information: Don’t forget the nitty-gritty —reminders of how people can contact you, make orders, contact service support, and other mundane yet important info that deserves repeating.
  • Teasers and forwards requests: You build anticipation for your next issue by telling readers what to expect in the previous issue. For instance:

In next week’s issue, “10 Tips for Streamlining Your Product Development Process.”

And if you’d like the recipient to share your newsletter with colleagues or friends, say so:

Please forward this newsletter to other members of your organization.

Like any other e-mail communication, permission is crucial. Promote your e-newsletter by creating opt-in subscription opportunities on your Web site or within your e-mails. And don’t forget to include an opt-out option (that would discontinue the subscription), with each issue.