By David H. Martin
A recent poll of 352 marketing professionals revealed that email is today’s most commonly used online marketing tool. The study, by Millward Brown IntelliQuest, found that small businesses (50 percent) and medium-size businesses (54 percent) are more likely to use email marketing than larger firms. Email marketing newsletters, like their printed newsletter cousins, are used by businesses of all sizes to cultivate customer loyalty and cross-sell products and services.
Do you need a business website to market a custom email newsletter? The answer is no. All you really need is online access and a business email address. However, a website provides you with an online means to capture email addresses and solicit “opt in” permission from prospects and customers who have visited your site. In any case, to develop an “opt in” email newsletter list, you will probably need to solicit customer email addresses via traditional as well as electronic means: home show drawing entries, direct mail invitations, self-return postcards, etc.
A ‘leaner’ version to print
If you’re already publishing a conventional printed newsletter, you might look at your email newsletter as an abbreviated electronic version with some important differences. First, less is best.
Information overload is fast becoming a commonly recognized stress disorder. Help prevent it by offering your e-information in short chunks. Four paragraphs are about right. If you write more, no one will read it. Worse, when people glance at a very long email message, they are likely to send it to the “I’ll read it later” pile or delete it. You can’t expect people to spend more than a few moments with your email newsletter. The fact is, people read far less on screen than they do on paper. (And have you noticed how even magazines today feature fewer longer pieces?) In the fast-moving online world, your message is just not worth the time. Period.
Keeping your content mercifully short serves many masters. It relieves stress for your readers and
makes it easier on you to get out regular monthly editions. The good news is, you can increase your readership with a few simple style changes and common sense.
A strong ‘subject line’
The most common mistake people make in composing their email newsletters is opening with a weak or indirect “subject line” message. You only have six or eight words to grab people’s interest and make them open your message immediately. Make every word count. (I can erase a vaguely titled newsletter so fast that the delete key shoots sparks!) Let’s face it, we all skim through the list of subjects appearing each day in our email inbox. If the subject doesn’t provide a compelling benefit to the reader, he or she may never open the message. Since only the first six to 10 words are visible on the screen, you can see the need to be brief and of local interest.
For instance, “Mudville Water News” is better than “Water Issues Include New Contaminants and Nationwide Conservation Concerns.”
Table of contents
A clear, concise table of contents is highly recommended at the start of your email message. If you tell people what is coming, they will be far more likely to make the effort to scroll down and see what is in the body of your newsletter. If they have to wade through it to see what is there, they are more likely to give up and delete it. Don’t make the common mistake of opening with an ad! Like print newsletters, email newsletters need to convey editorial content first. An ad or two can be buried between the paragraphs. (And one or two brief ads are plenty per newsletter.) An example may read like this:
- News You Can Use…
- Mudville water rates rise
- Lead leads local drinking water concerns
- Ten water-saving tips
Carefully crafted content
While water is the universal solvent, you are a local water treatment firm. Build your content around water-related topics of regional interest. Write about a variety of local water issues from prices, state regulations, specific contaminants affecting local water supplies, available water tests, etc. Weave references to your products and services into the text, as part of your natural desire to inform and educate. Include lists of tips. People like to print lists out and save them for future reference. Never put more than two ads in your email newsletter or it will look like junk mail or spam. The first ad should be after the first paragraph of your content. You want the readers to feel they are getting good information value in exchange for their exposure to advertising.
Write like a pro. Email is a text-based medium, subject to the same standards as printed newsletters. Most emails are full of typos, look sloppy or are just plain boring. Write, rewrite and be concise.
It’s about them—not you
Ask them to subscribe to your newsletter for the information and interesting content. Remember, people don’t subscribe to catalogs or direct mail—but they do like magazines. Include items of interest to them, not just a list of product attributes and services offered.
Make it easier for them to read by avoiding HTML code. Many current email programs can’t read HTML email, and many users turn that feature off. (HTML messages look like garbled letters to them.) Keep a text-based format and offer only HTML as an “enhanced option” for those who are able to read it.
Don’t use ‘spam’ words
This is a hard one for dealers seeking to motivate immediate action from readers. Many of the words that work best in traditional mailings and ads—words such as “free,” special offer” and “discount”— have been ruined by spammers. Email messages containing these words are often deleted automatically by spam-blocking systems at Internet service providers or in consumer email programs. If you use these words in the subject line, you may trigger the software that automatically identifies you and your company as spammers. And your messages will be erased before anyone sees them!
Be clear and concise about this. Improper “unsubscribe” instructions are at the top of the list of ways to annoy people online. Follow proven protocol for “op in” email. Here are the rules:
- You must have clear instructions on how to unsubscribe in every email.
- Readers must be able to do it by email and not by going to a web page.
- Offer another way to contact your company if they have problems (fax or phone numbers).
Proper contact information
What good is marketing if no one can find you? Don’t forget to include a link to your website in the header and footer. Consider listing your phone number and the email address of your salespeople in the footer.
Finally, pay attention to how your email newsletter is addressed. Don’t use a return address that is a personal email address. Use a corporate email address that identifies you as a proper publisher of valuable information. (This and the subject line often decide which messages are read or deleted.)
Timing is everything
There are times when newsletters get deleted in bulk. These include Mondays, Fridays and weekends.
People want to clean out their inboxes as the weekend approaches. Mondays are just too busy to read email newsletters. Send your newsletters on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. And never send your newsletter after 3 p.m. (time of receipt). It will get lost in the day-end rush of mail or sit until it’s deleted the following morning. Email newsletters are most welcome during, or right after, lunch.
Email newsletters are e-age, low-cost cousins to longer-format, printed newsletters—long used successfully for maintaining customer loyalty and cultivating referrals. Begin building your list of “opt in” prospects immediately, by capturing email addresses at shows and through other contacts.
About the author
David H. Martin is president of Lenzi Martin Marketing of Oak Park, Ill., a firm specializing in water improvement and environmental marketing that integrates old and new media. He can be reached at (708) 848-8404, email: http://firstname.lastname@example.org or website: http://www.lenzimartin.com.