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How to Write Effective Email Newsletters

E-newsletters have become ubiquitous. General news sites, industry-focused publications, consultants, brokers, trade associations and companies of all sizes and types produce newsletters. “Inbox clutter” (a term that didn’t even exist a few years ago but now generates thousands of hits when Googled) is an increasing problem.

However, newsletters can still be a powerful marketing tool. They enable companies to maintain a relationship with customers, as well as to “nurture” prospects who aren’t yet quite ready to buy. They position your company as an industry expert, are far more cost-effective than printed mail, and are easy to create: using a hosted email service provider allows your team to concentrate on creating great content rather than focusing on more mundane tasks such as writing HTML code or managing subscriber lists. (Need more reasons? Here are another seven.) But they have to be well-crafted to stand out from the crowd.

Writing effective newsletters is an essential part to any email marketing campaign. Here are a few tips for creating newsletters that will attract and retain readers.

Content Tips

  • Provide news that is interesting to your reader. Unless you’ve got a really hot new product to announce, your latest “company news” is likely to make readers hit the DELETE key faster than you can reel off your elevator pitch.

On the other hand, news about industry trends or statistics – buying patterns, inventory levels, employment, products, regulation – is generally of interest. The more industry-focused, the better. Bookmark or monitor RSS feeds from key sites, or use a newsfeed service such as Moreover to collect this type of data.

  • Offer tips and advice. Business readers are naturally drawn to any article with “How to” in the title (assuming it’s actually something useful). Tap the knowledge within your company – engineers, developers, field techs, consultants – to develop these articles.

  • Develop case studies. Stories about how real companies solved real problems are always interesting (Marketing Sherpa built an entire business around marketing case studies). Try to let your customer’s words promote your company rather than being too self-promotional. Make sure the case study also makes your customer look good, of course, and gain their approval by promoting the case study in publications that target their prospects.

  • Make it interactive. Include a quick poll relating to an industry topic (e.g. “How effective is podcasting at generating leads for your company?”). People love to have their voice heard, even if only through a quick vote, and to see how their peers view an issue.

  • Have a voice. Express an opinion about a industry topic of interest, similar to what bloggers do (if your company has a blog, this is a great place to link to your latest post).

  • Make it fun. Business is serious, but doesn’t always have to be humorless. Include a cartoon, a link to an odd (but not offensive) Web site, a trivia question about a completely unrelated topic (e.g. one-hit wonders of the music world, movies, TV, history, etc.), a quote-of-the-day, or something else amusing or off base.

Formatting and Technical Tips

  • Keep it short. Keep the body of the newsletter short by providing headlines and excerpts linking to longer articles on your Web site or blog. This enables readers to scan the content quickly, then link out to articles of interest.

  • Provide both HTML and plain text versions. Most hosted email services allow you to set this up automatically. Some readers prefer the nicer HTML look, while others won’t be able to view an HTML version due to firewalls and filters.

  • Provide an RSS feed of your newsletter content for readers who prefer that option. This site provides helpful instructions on creating an RSS feed from a newsletter or any other content displayed on your Web site, and FeedBurner provides several free tools to help promote your RSS feeds.

  • Use a professional and relevant subject line – the more reader interest-specific, the better. “Here's Your XYZ Company Newsletter” is accurate but b-o-r-i-n-g. On the other hand, subject lines that include phrases such as “How to…,” “10 Signs It’s Time To…,” “Secrets of…,” “10 Successful…,” “_____ Challenges,” “Advice for…,” “Tips for…,” “Trends in…,” “Mistakes To Avoid When…,” “_____ Demystified,” “What To Watch Out For When…,” and “Top Tactics for” are effective at grabbing your readers’ attention. If you can include your recipient’s first name in the email subject line, so much the better.

  • Give your newsletter one owner. To maintain consistency in format, tone, and delivery frequency, there needs to be one person in charge of bringing the newsletter together, even if there are multiple writers. This person may have multiple responsibilities, but the newsletter has to be a high priority.

  • Use a hosted email service (here's my favorite). Unless you have a very sophisticated IT department with time on their hands (yeah, how common is THAT?), its best to let a professional service handle the nuts and bolts of subscribes, unsubscribes, bounces, white-listing, CAN-SPAM compliance, and list management. There are a number of reasonably-priced hosted services that provide all of the basic list management functions, plus features such as allowing subscribers to select plain text or HTML email options, pre-built HTML templates, and detailed subscriber tracking reports.

The bottom line is that email newsletters can still be an effective marketing tool, as long as you use some creativity, and focus on your readers’ needs.


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