If my in-box is any indication, most of the business world is hot on e-newsletters. I receive half a dozen every day. Some are thinly masked advertisements; most, however, provide some degree of valuable information.
E-newsletters provide a relatively easy and low-cost way to accomplish a number of business goals, including:
? Maintaining connections with current and past clients
? Demonstrating expertise in a particular field
? Sharing resources and building an active network
? Educating clients and prospects about products, services and how best to access them
As a communication professional, though, I review the newsletters I receive with a critical eye; many of them leave much to be desired in their planning and execution. Luckily, it isn't difficult to make the leap from adequate to fabulous, if a newsletter publisher is willing to take a close look at the purpose, audience, content and execution of the project.
What's the Point?
E-newsletter publishers often confuse the tool with the purpose. An e-newsletter is a tool used to achieve some greater business purpose, yet novice publishers often forget the greater purpose in the effort to put out the newsletter on something resembling a regular basis.
Knowing the point of the newsletter within your business context, though, helps you make better decisions on everything from content to frequency. It's critical to your success ? and your sanity ? to understand up front what the purpose of the newsletter really is.
Newsletters always address one or more of the following three purposes:
1. Serve the needs of current and past clients
2. Position in front of prospective clients
3. Build a base of repeat business
In other words, e-newsletters, like all business communications, have the core intention of creating, sustaining or deepening a business relationship. As a newsletter publisher, you have to know what kind of relationship you are asking your readers for; what do you want from them? Loyalty? New business? Referrals? Increased business? Believe it or not, most of your readers are perfectly willing to give you what you want, as long as your wants are clearly communicated. Most publishers don't communicate clearly enough.
Which of the three purposes is most important to you? Are you helping current and past clients improve some aspect of their work on an ongoing basis? Are you demonstrating your skills to prospective clients? Do you offer a wide range of services that could lead to repeat business if your clients only knew about them all?
Naturally, some overlap exists between the three essential purposes, but one may emerge as the primary purpose. Know what it is, and plan your content to satisfy the requirements of that purpose.
Make Your Point
Once you have a clear idea of what your purpose in publishing your e-newsletter is, you will find it easier to make decisions that help you maximise the benefits of publishing in a digital medium, while overcoming some of the obstacles.
Chief among the obstacles is the notoriously short attention span of online readers. A writing style that engages readers emotionally as well as logically is a must. When your e-newsletter arrives in their inbox, the very subject line must capture their attention. Then, in the body of the newsletter, use compelling headlines, short sentences, action verbs and a story-telling approach to draw readers in.
Headlines are of particular import because readers make nanosecond decisions on whether to delete or keep reading based on headlines. Try these suggestions to come up with effective headlines for your e-newsletter:
? Solve a problem. Examples:
o Spend More Time Providing Value than Hunting for Information.
o Don't Make Your Business Vulnerable to the Taxing Authority
? Use a statistic. Examples:
o Most Companies Lose 30 Percent of Their Mailing Lists Each Year
o Office Workers Waste 6 Weeks per Year Searching for Lost Information
? State a quote or adage. Example:
o Whoever Said "Ignorance is Bliss" Didn't Know a Librarian
? Ask a question. Examples:
o Is It Possible to Get Through Divorce with Dignity?
o What Do Your Clients Really Think of You?
? Create a mystery. Example:
o What Is the Real Agenda of Google?
Unlike print media, e-newsletters offer the opportunity for two-way communication with your readers. This capability can be one of the biggest benefits of publishing an e-newsletter, so make creative and strategic use of it. Build the expectation of interaction into your newsletter, and you create the opportunity for meaningful engagement with audiences of all kinds.
For example, you can incorporate links in your text inviting readers to send immediate feedback or questions on your content. Live links embedded in the text are more effective than relying on the "reply" function of e-mail, for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that readers often need to be reminded that you really do want them to respond in some way. By including the link (which handily shows up in an eye-catching blue amidst a plain-text message), you reinforce the suggestion that you are inviting discussion and response.
Where do these links lead the reader? If you have a web site, the links can bring readers right into your site to fill out a form, join a discussion forum, or complete a registration for a program. Be sure to create a back-end automated tracking system that will capture information about how many visitors arrived by clicking a newsletter link, what they did when they arrived, and other data points that will help you deepen your relationship with them individually and en masse.
Quality e-newsletters take time to create and manage. Expect to devote time each issue for planning, writing, editing, layout and production, distribution, and database management. A monthly e-newsletter will require human and financial resources; I usually counsel clients to start with a quarterly or bimonthly newsletter, as it is preferable to increase frequency than to create the expectation of more than you can consistently deliver.
As you create and distribute your newsletter, think carefully about what specific result you want for each issue. What do you want a reader to say, think or do as a result of receiving the newsletter? Your desired outcome might be for readers to:
? Visit your web site
? Request additional information
? Sign up for a class or seminar
? Use a particular tool/resource
? Refer you to others
? Give you feedback
? Feel they can't live without you
All but the last of these desired outcomes are measurable and relatively easy to communicate to readers. When reviewing your newsletter content, ask yourself if what you want is clear. Put your "call to action" in no uncertain terms, and make it easy for readers to fulfil their side of the bargain by placing live links, contact information and other next steps right in their path.
Within the context of your e-newsletter, your words can shape opinions, behaviours, business decisions and profitable relationships. Make your efforts pay off by understanding your purpose and how to work toward it in every single issue.
Robin Neidorf is the author business books, articles and reports and the founder of Electric Muse, a research and communications consultancy. Go beyond ezine basics with Robin's full-length report: E-Newsletters: A Guide for Publishers (http://www.freepint.com/shop/report/enews/), published by Free Pint.