Getting the Most Out of E-Newsletters

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E-mail newsletters are one of the best retention tools around. They are relatively cheap to produce and deliver. And, if the content is right, what more efficient way to stay in touch and be top of mind when a customer is ready to repurchase or upgrade?

The secret is in relevance. As with any marketing communication, one person's useful information is another's annoying junk.

A winning e-newsletter is light on the sales pitch and heavy on the "news you can use." It provides content that informs, entertains and solves problems.

One of the best examples is iSource, published Wednesdays by IBM. Now, we all know that IBM is a behemoth of a corporation, with myriad product lines, serving customers of all sizes in every conceivable category, whether business or consumer. So how do they make iSource relevant to everyone?

They let each subscriber customize the 'zine for himself. Very neat.

When you click on, you are offered a choice among 90 interest areas: hardware types, software types, services, industries or geographies. You check the ones that are relevant, and your customized newsletter arrives weekly. Moreover, you can update your selects at any time as your interests change.

ISource also lets subscribers choose to receive press releases and product announcements as they become available, meaning in addition to the weekly newsletter.

According to Dianne Lucca, the IBM executive who oversees iSource, the newsletter has "hundreds of thousands" of subscribers. About half of them have opted in to receive other communications from IBM, and these names are migrated into the IBM marketing database for campaign use.

ISource readers tend to respond several times better than do other database segments, due to their recency and accuracy and to the presence of self-identified interest codes for selection by IBM campaign planners. Lucca estimates that an iSource name generates three times the revenue of a name in the general population of IBM customers and prospects.

ISource content is gathered from 150 sources around the corporation, mainly product managers and marcomm teams who want to promote new campaigns. At first, it was a struggle for iSource editors to get much attention from other IBMers, so in their pursuit of content Lucca's team undertook considerable internal awareness-building.

As the iSource subscription base grew and word of its power got out, the tables have turned. Lucca is even considering imposing a participation fee on IBM content providers, not only to defray her costs, but also to keep the quality of the content high and reduce the chance of overload.

How did iSource get to "hundreds of thousands" of subscribers? The newsletter dates from 1996 and has grown steadily from its origins as a print-based customized communications package available to a few key customers.

Essentially, Lucca's team has harnessed the viral nature of marketing communications. The team requests that iSource be mentioned within the communications of as many IBM products and services as possible. They also conduct subscription campaigns to IBM's opt-in e-mail database. And they operate member-get-a-member programs within the newsletter and at the iSource Web site. Finally, they hook up to certain keyword searches at the Web site.

ISource's success in North America has attracted the attention of other IBM sales territories. A French version has been launched, and a Japanese edition is in the works.

Check out iSource as an example of how to do an e-newsletter right.

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