Because e-mail newsletters are so effective at engaging readers and attracting advertisers, publishers can get carried away. “You have to be careful because, in some industries, audiences will get hit three, four or five times a day,” said George Fox, president of Advantage Business Media. “As soon as you start to bang away at people, you see a decline in open rates and an increase in unsubscribing.”
While it can be valuable to serve vertical subsegments of markets with e-newsletters, “you have to steer away from creating new e-newsletters just because advertisers see your market in a certain way. This can snowball out of control very quickly,” Fox said.
“You've got to create some ground rules, and we're in the process of doing that. Since we are putting the priority on the importance of the content we send out, we are going to tie the editors' compensation to the metrics from e-newsletters.”
Although editorial e-mail newsletters are clearly different from e-mail marketing messages, publishers need to be careful about the total number of e-mails they are sending out. There will always be a certain percentage of people who will stop opening e-mails or unsubscribe, Fox said. “The drop-off is very low for our editorially driven, regularly scheduled e-mails, but you have to watch out with direct mail,” he said. “You get drop-off if you do too much and it crosses over to the editorial products.”
Sean Griffey, president of FierceMarkets, takes a similar view. FierceMarkets doesn't have a traditional print media history; from the beginning, it distributed content primarily by way of e-newletters. “The core of our business is sending e-mail newsletters that are rich in content and highly valuable,” Griffey said.
This strategy helps ensure that FierceMarkets' communications are welcomed into its audiences' e-mail boxes. “It's no secret among publishers that a dedicated e-mail blast is the easiest way to generate leads, but I tell people [that relying only on e-mail to generate leads] is the nuclear option,” Griffey said.
For pure lead generation, there are things publishers can do besides direct e-mail, Griffey said. “We use extensive SEO/SEM practices to build audiences for our newsletters,” he said. “We create targeted content around niche topics as a way to drive audience to our sign-up pages. As we qualify new subscribers, we dynamically serve them relevant lead-gen offers. This allows us to fulfill campaigns without relying on an e-mail.”
For leadgeneration, Griffey doesn't see social media overtaking e-mail anytime soon. “E-mail is a tool for business. It is the most effective lead-generation vehicle in b-to-b, and it will be for a long time,” he said.
For driving website traffic, though, social media is closing in on e-mail newsletters in some vertical markets.
Greener World Media, another b-to-b media company without a print heritage, has a family of websites that track the sustainability movement. Because of its focus, Greener World likely serves an audience of digital early adopters, said Hugh Byrne, senior VP-product development and marketing. While e-mail newsletters are still an important component of the company's media strategy, they have become less essential as a means for drawing traffic over the past 18 months as social media has grown in importance.
“We have one newsletter for each of our sites,” Byrne said. “They're weekly and really basic right now.” He said he started analyzing e-mail newsletter metrics to determine whether to launch more frequent or more targeted products and discovered “an evolution” in where Greener World draws its traffic. “We've been very active and aggressive in promoting ourselves through various social media channels, and that has evened out how our site traffic flows,” he explained. “We still get a traffic bump on our newsletter days, but it's not as important a tool for driving traffic as it used to be.” M