E-Newsletters: Your Relationship and Sales-Building Tool

Thinking about starting an e-newsletter? It may be just the marketing tool you need to reach customers and prospects. Done well, it can keep your name in front of your customer base, enhance your image, build friendships and solicit direct sales.

E-mail newsletters work by building confidence in you and your company as providers of valuable information and insights. Add some fun, excitement, perhaps some animation, too, and you've got a winner.

Like any marketing tool, the e-newsletter is right for some companies, but not for others. If you're looking to increase business quickly and don't care about long-term relationships or providing a compelling service, maybe an e-newsletter is not the way to go. A straight solicitation might work better. There's nothing wrong with that. It's simply a different approach.

Because I create e-newsletters for my own agency and for my clients, I have a vested interest in the medium. But I'd rather talk you out of a misguided decision than see you start an e-newsletter and give it up. For example, starting a newsletter takes work and commitment. You may have other priorities.

Plus, your newsletter will have to stand out in a 200 e-mails-a-day world. Not an easy challenge. Spammers have done so much damage to this new medium. The renegades make it harder for all of us. But that's a fact of life.

Here are some guidelines to stimulate your thinking:

1. Identify your target market. This may be DM 101, but it's still true. E-newsletters are great for building client loyalty. Newsletters can be a tool for regaining former customers. Thinking about your target market and what they'd like to see or play with will help define your content.

To prospect, you'll have to rent names, do a list exchange or creatively enlarge your universe somehow. This is well worth doing, though. Test one list and move on to another until you hit pay dirt.

2. Develop compelling content. I know — easy to say, harder to do. To get something, give something. Great content requires thought and continuous commitment. You may have other priorities. But if you're in it for the long haul, this is a great medium.

Don't start a newsletter simply because you think it'd be a cool thing to do. You'll have to please many people most of the time. That takes work. Plus, you'll become a publisher. That means you need good content.

Your editions cannot be just about what's happening at your company, unless you intend it for an extremely limited market. Your stories should not be just news releases about how your company bought a new Humongous 9000 machine and how proud you are of its ability to collate, spray logos on City Hall and mix dessert toppings.

Content is the real McGuffin. It's what you've got to have or why bother? That means be useful and relevant. This is hard to do well consistently, especially if you are appealing to multiple markets with different interests. But it can be done. Here's a principle I find works: Give people something of value. Then they just might start to remember you, like you, trust you and do business with you.

3. Be visually solid. Aim for consistency of welcomed appearance in people's in-bins. Perfection can kill you and stall your production schedule. Be lively, good to look at and make improvements along the way.

4. Don't publish too often. Who, me? Yes, you! Your e-mail can appear in customers' in-bins way too often, driving them away. My own e-newsletter is a monthly. I think monthly or quarterly is a good schedule to start with. This applies to large and small firms.

Don't publish just for the sake of being there. It's like calling on a client unannounced — rude and disrespectful. If you have nothing to say, why are you calling? Assume you have to earn their respect and confidence each time you appear in their in-box. Even your friends don't want you to overdo it.

5. Try to delight them. Just being interesting won't cut it in a busy world. I believe in charm marketing. Charm people into reading your words, enjoying your images or involvement devices and eventually buying from you. It's easy to say, harder to do, but worth the effort.

6. Publish regularly. Frequency matters. The third or the 19th time you provide information of value may be the time a prospect becomes a client.

Frequency requires planning. You may want to produce one-story newsletters, to ease the burden on you, your staff or freelancers. Stay in front of your audience. Regular, welcomed contact from you over time will yield results. Try a twist on the Golden Rule: Send unto others as you would have them send unto you.

7. Use a format that works on any platform. Your e-mail should be easily opened on any platform. Use software that detects which browsers people are using. This way, you can send a text-based version of your html newsletter to those who can see only text.

8. Sell — directly ask for the order. Once you provide substance that people like, don't hesitate to sell directly. Do it with style, but remind people of what you sell and why they need it. Begin with classic advertising: get their attention. Add response: frequently ask for their business.

Your exciting e-newsletter will deliver a power assist for your other efforts: phone calls, direct mail, ads and other media. In the long run, it's your ticket to top-of-mind prominence and sales. What more could you ask?

Albert Fried-Cassorla is a direct response copywriter and president of Fried-Cassorla Communications Inc. His e-mail address is [email protected]

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