With today's interest in social media it's easy to forget the importance of regularly published email newsletters for customer communications.
They were in fact the first marketing tool that offered sharing (forwarding) capabilities - an early social media tool! If you already produce a regular email newsletter, it's a good time to review it and see if a refresh is in order.
To help you think through the issues to consider in an enewsletter refresh, my interview this month is with Denise Cox who, through the service and advice provided by her company, Email Service Provider Newsweaver, has been helping com
panies deliver email newsletters since 1996, so her specialist advice is well worth listening to!
Key features of a successful Enewsletter
Q1. What are the essential ingredients of an effective enewsletter for different consumer audiences? Please point us at some examples showing good practice.
[Denise Cox, Newsweaver]
It is a clichÃ©, but it is true - content is king. Even the most fabulous looking email has to deliver great content to engage the subscribers. Readers want valuable, relevant content - not marketing messages.
In today's inbox we all scan and make decisions in seconds whether to open, save for later - or just delete. The main things that come into play here to getting opened are: who it is from, the prior value provided by the sender, the subject line, as well as what can be seen in the preview pane.
In the newsletter itself: rather than one long, long newsletter with all content on one page, create summaries that link to the full article or webpage. This will allow you to easily feature a number of your products and services. Keep an executive summary brief, that's under 75 words. Within articles, paragraphs should be between 50-100 words. Help the reader easily absorb the information you're presenting by making use of white space, spacing, bullet points, italics and bolding.
The Call to Action (CTA) is one of the main reasons you are sending your email and the opportunity to incite and engage your readers to take action. Use active language that creates a sense of urgency - instead of "learn how" use "learn now". And make sure you place the CTA near the relevant content. Don't just send them off to a 'contact us' page, or even worse, to the generic home page of your website. Speaking of contact, don't make them communicate only by email - give multiple choices for contact. There could be an immediate sale if you do.
But do think through your key brand messages as well as the CTA, particularly for first time subscribers who can potentially be treated differently through triggered welcome emails.
Good calls to action - for both contact points and conversions
Calls-to-action in left sidebar example
Business-to-business Enewsletter success factors
Q2. What about email newsletters for business-to-business? What are the differences and similarities?
[Denise Cox, Newsweaver]
Business to business marketers generally work within smaller budgets, and are most often marketing products and services with a longer sales cycle to a group of decision-makers involved in the buying process. Retention is also an important aspect in B2B. There aren't the high churn rates that you often find in B2C because each subscriber is a high-value customer. The aim is to keep them, have them renew contracts and/or provide many opportunities to cross-sell.
Since email newsletters are cost effective, excel at customer retention and easily work as a stay-front-of-mind tool during a long sales cycle, they are an absolute must-have in the marketing arsenal of any B2B marketer.
In B2B, content must be selected and crafted based on these unique needs. Frequency will be important to get right. Too frequent can cause a customer - or potential customer - to disengage with the company. Not frequent enough and opportunities can be lost. We advice our customers to match the frequency with the life cycle of their sales and products. Typical mailing cycles are daily, weekly, bi-weekly, monthly and quarterly. Hands down the most popular cycle for newsletters is monthly. Many companies send regular offer flyers/alerts in between newsletters - with content based on newsletter activity. Within a company's mailing cycles there can often be periods where emails are sent more frequently than at other times. Examples of more frequent mailing cycles: around key selling times for the products or services, renewal dates, seasonal activities or holidays.
B2C is often a constant search for volume acquisition, and the mailings are more often one-off offers to big groups of new subscribers. B2B needs content crafted to inform and help the decision makers during the long relationship and sales process. The best B2B content items are usually features on product and/or /services, expert advice, case studies, industry news, white papers, relevant links, podcasts and webinars.
B2B enewsletter example: this is good B2B content, also because this newsletter often offers links to company presentations and videos.
Q3. How important is the layout of an enewsletter. Which issues should marketers consider when reviewing different types of layouts?
[Denise Cox, Newsweaver]
The layout is an essential part of any email newsletter. A good design helps it stand out in the inbox - and makes it easy to navigate, which encourages multiple clicks.
We all view emails in multiple places these days - from desktop clients, such as Outlook, to web-based accounts, such as Gmail. And, more and more are viewing their email on mobile devices such as a Blackberrys or iPhones. (Though most people still use their mobile devices to handle immediate emails - and view newsletters when they're at their laptop.) So, how your email renders in any inbox is a challenge. To ensure your email looks the best, start by designing with the user in mind - and in multiple inboxes. The key is taking the time to test how your template looks in the email clients your customers are most likely to view the newsletter in before actually sending it to your mailing list.
Another consideration is the inbox itself: when designing your email, you should bear in mind that many of your recipients may be viewing your email in the preview pane, and possibly with images disabled. The preview pane provides a 2-3 inch 'above the fold' view of your email. It is the prime real estate for getting across your branding, as well as selling the sizzle (content) inside your email. Make sure it teases your key messages to be found inside the newsletter.
Don't stop using images, just make sure your content and calls to action aren't dependent on the use of images to get the main message across. It is also a good idea to describe the accompanying images in the article text. Give the image a meaningful name - in some email software the image name will show up - even if the actual image is suppressed. This lets readers know what they're missing and encourages them to turn on the images. Do avoid using one big graphic in your email - this can result in one big empty email when the image is blocked! Always include a link at the top of your email letting people click through to see the email in their web browser - which means they'll automatically see all the text AND images.
EXAMPLES: Designing with the preview pane in mind
Business of email was specifically designed to appear without images and maximise the preview page. www.businessofemail.com (see screengrab at top of interview). It has clear dividers which show the value of the enewsletter.
Tips for keeping readers engaged
Q4. Successful email newsletters keep their audience engaged. Could you give us some tips or tactics to keep readers interested?
[Denise Cox, Newsweaver]
Companies often say to me "but our products and services aren't very interesting - how do we create an email newsletter that will be interesting and compelling?" I am a firm believer that every company has the wherewithal to create fantastic email newsletters. Here's the key: If you are communicating with an audience that wants to hear about your products and services they will find the newsletter interesting! Yet another argument for opt-in email marketing only.
You should be passionate about your subject. Passion, expertise and knowledge jump out from the page - and it will get your readers excited as well. Let them know they're making the right choice by listening to you because you know your products and services inside out. You are absolutely certain about the superior beauty and design of what you offer. No one in your industry offers the customer service you offer ... you get my point.
That's the first part. Next you need to assemble a newsletter that delivers compelling content about these products and services. You will never go wrong if it's useful, saves them time and/or money - and helps them make a wise decision in their purchase.
Some ideas for engagement
- Create a tone for your newsletter - sort of a virtual warm yet business-like handshake. Even the stodgiest of stodgy corporate newsletters can open with a pleasant (and sincere) welcome, while still providing the necessary facts and figures.
- Personal perspective - You can make your newsletter come to life by giving the content a personal spin. For example, reflections by the CEO, or thought leader at the company, about a recent speaking engagement - or an event they attended that they want to share with readers. Also, case studies featuring people who have successfully used your products and services.
- Clarity and brevity - Show your respect to us, your time-starved readers, by sending concisely written information that has been checked for spelling and grammar. Get to the point quickly. Practice brevity at every turn.
- Anything other than the written word - Give people a choice as to how they want to absorb your content such as by a podcast or video. Or offer the articles in a format they can take away - such as a print-and-go edition.
Integrating social media with your enewsletter
Q5. Since some audiences prefer to engage with companies through their social presence such as a Facebook page or Twitter profile, how can an enewsletter best be integrated with social media?
[Denise Cox, Newsweaver]
First, take a look at your newsletter to make sure it is of value to share. If you have special offers - offer them to all your existing subscribers and make it clear it's available to anyone reading the newsletter (or perhaps after they sign up). Make sure each newsletter is your best effort every time. Often people share one article from a newsletter - rather than the entire newsletter.
Then, make sure you have a rock solid sign up form. Good description, frequency notation - and easy to sign up process. No point in putting it out there online if you can't capture new subscribers.
Now, ensure your sign-up form everywhere - on every page of your website and in the newsletter itself. Offer opt-in to it in your online sales query processes. Take advantage of any social networking profiles you have in LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc., by including a link to the newsletter in your profile. Look into implementing 'sharing' technology, this allows the subscriber to add it to their own favourite sharing site, such as Digg, Technorati, blogs, etc
Examples incorporating sharing: