The pros and cons of Newsletters

NewsletterThere are two ways to look at newsletters – whether they arrive in the post or, more likely, in your inbox – as the sender or as the receiver!

It’s interesting that people who complain about the amount of spam email and post they get still send out newsletters to their contact list without due consideration of whether the recipient will find it useful.  If you suspect that you may be guilty of this (even a little bit) it’s time to step back and see things from the receiver’s perspective.

Ask yourself some leading questions:

Does the subject line or main headline encourage people to open it?

‘Acme Widgets Newsletter August 2014′  isn’t exactly exciting – or enlightening; any people will delete this unopened.  To get attention and improve your chance of people opening your email or starting to read your publication you need something intriguing, engaging or something that people want to know about.  To make your newsletter successful and be consistently opened issue after issue you’ll want to develop the art of writing brilliant ‘Open me’ statements.

The one that just landed in my inbox – and made me open it had a subject line that said:

44% of businesses do NOT have a Social Media Policy or Guidelines

That was something I wanted to know more about, so I opened it!

NewslettersDoes it look fresh, attractive and interesting?

If, when people open your email or the envelope your newsletter has arrived in, it looks boring people make the assumption that the content is boring too.  Whilst I’m not suggesting a rebrand, even if you have a fairly conservative brand image, the layout or template you use can lift the look and feel of your publication.  Most of us are influenced by visual perceptions so how it looks it really important.

That doesn’t mean it should have every colour of the rainbow and feature lots of coloured boxes with information in, but it does, at least, need to look fresh and modern, not tired and old-fashioned.

Magnifying valueDoes it lead with value?

If your first article is all about you (or your business) and what you’ve been doing, then don’t expect to keep your reader’s attention for long.  Most of us are too busy to invest time in anything that doesn’t add value – so ensure that you open with your main article and give the reader what you’ve led them to expect in the subject line/headline.

Once you’ve delivered value people are usually open to other information such as promotions or offers.

Something to think about …

If people have signed up to your list voluntarily they’ve done so for a reason.  These days this is usually because you’ve offered them an ethical bribe – a document that provides them with information they’ve identified as useful.  You need to continue that if you are sending these same people a newsletter.  It’s likely that they’ll be interested in the same kind of information around allied subjects.  Your newsletter is about relationship management, and you’ll only build a strong relationship with your reader if you keep delivering what they want.

If you’ve put people on your list because you’ve met them networking, you should really get their permission first.  Giving you a business card does not constitute permission!  The problem with creating a list from random contacts is that their interest spectrum is likely to be vast.  If, for instance, you are an outsourced HR service, many of the contacts you may have met are sole traders and don’t have staff.  That means they are probably not going to be interested in your areas of expertise so your general newsletter is likely to be seen as spam.

However, if you create a specific newsletter for networking connections to share useful information that is a very different situation and can be a really valuable resource.

Is your newsletter short and punchy or long and tedious?

Long blogs are fine – in fact, the latest research indicates that people like longer blogs – but long newsletters are unlikely to get the same level of attention.  When we’re opening the post or checking our email most of us are in ‘skimming’ mode.  If we see something that interests or intrigues us, we’ll give it a quick once over, but it has to be good and easy to consume to keep our attention.  What’s your reaction when you receive something that looks lengthy?  At best – maybe ‘I’ll read this later’.  How often does it then disappear into the heap of things that might be vaguely interesting – to be completely forgotten?

If you’ve got lots of valuable information to share write a blog and then share the opening paragraph and link to it.  If your opener is good enough people will click through to read.

… and don’t forget …

You do need to provide a means for people to unsubscribe – and a way for you to ensure you don’t add them back to the list yourself when they’ve already taken themselves off it.

When you’ve created your newsletter – take a step out of your own shoes and ask yourself ‘if this landed in my inbox (or on my doormat) – would it attract me enough to open it and how would the content really add value for me?’

You know what the answer should be!


What makes a great newsletter?

This is very subjective – everyone has a different view of what they want in a newsletter, but we all get so many these days that those that are read consistently have to offer real value, consistently and repeatedly.

If you’re like me, you’ve signed up to various reports or giveaways at various times or given your card to people at networking meetings and now you’ve on their list. This means that you almost certainly get the occasional (or frequent) newsletter. If you’re not too busy and in a generous frame of mind you’ll probably read the first one you receive – but after that they simply get deleted if that first issue didn’t impress you with the value it provided.

You have a choice, you can find the newsletter’s ‘unsubscribe’ link and get off the list or you can just delete them as they come in. Most people I know delete rather than unsubscribe.

So what would get you to keep reading the newsletter, week after week, or month after month? For most of us it’s one of three things:

  • Valuable information that helps me in some way or makes me think about things that will move me forwards
  • Offers that are targeted to my specific needs/wants and offer excellent value
  • Entertainment
  • A typical reader does not want to know about you or your business’ progress; they want to know something that will help them to do something they can’t, or something that provides a solution for a problem. Information of value to the reader is right at the top of the list of things that keep people opening your newsletter. This means that you really need to know your readers very well indeed.

    I read about ten newsletters reliably – these are some of my favourites:

    Expert Gold by Gihan Perera Expertise about marketing online
    The Media Coach by Alan Stevens Great entertainment and lots of useful tips on media interviews, speaking and social media.
    Corporate Soul Tips by Molly Harvey Short tips that make you think about how you do business
    Nigel Risner’s weekly newsletter Always manages to come up with an unusual spin on everyday ‘stuff’.
    Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox Tells you when Jakob has written another fascinating article
    TGI Monday by Peter Thomson A short web-based weekly newsletter with a really clever viewpoint on how we behave – and how we could do better.

    Whilst these are not the only newsletters I read, they’re a good selection of widely varying formats and styles. There is no magic formula, just great value issue after issue. Are you up to the challenge?
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    13 tips for successful newsletter

    Good newsletters are great; but very few newsletters are really good. Most are average and many are a not very well disguised sales pitch. Newsletters are marketing tools and writing for the reader is the key to success.

    Here are my thoughts on newsletters – check your own newsletter out against these and I guarantee it will get better.

  • If you’re expecting your newsletter to work as a sales tool you’ll be disappointed; they’re for relationship marketing.
  • Don’t expect people to sign up for a newsletter, we all get too many of them, offer them a free tips sheet or report to get sign ups.
  • People get lots of newsletters, to get yours read it must be consistently good value for the reader, the primary focus should be useful info, not a sales pitch.
  • The subject line of a newsletter must make your reader curious or interested enough to open it, ‘Acme Widgets newsletter August 2010′ won’t do the job!
  • Every issue must be good enough to get people to open the next one, so every issue needs to be consistently brilliant! The best newsletters share information that helps the reader.
  • ‘Read more’ items often don’t get clicked through; short, concise and great value is the key to success, unless you are very good at dangling an irresistible ‘carrot’ in each introductory paragraph.
  • One nugget of information is worth far more than lots of bits of trivia. A newsletter is an opportunity to demonstrate your expertise and knowledge. A single article with really useful information will get your newsletter opened and read next time too.
  • If your newsletter will be read online, stick to a single column presentation, two columns are hard work for the reader as they have to scroll up and down – however, a narrower right hand column with ‘News headlines’ or ‘Special offer’ buttons can work.
  • Tips style newsletters work. Share your knowledge in bullet point tips – this works well for busy and impatient readers.
  • Ask your readers what they want in a newsletter, don’t assume you know. Use their responses to create a newsletter that they will want to read.
  • Read other people’s newsletters and identify what it is that you like – and hate – about them. Ask other people which newsletters they read regularly and what they like about them.
  • Post the main article from your newsletter on your blog, split it into tips on Twitter, and save it for the book you’ll write!
  • Instead of sending a newsletter out every month, send a list of the blogs you’ve written with hyperlinks to each one.
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