How to hit the mark with your e-mail newsletters

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It's no surprise that e-mail has become the primary vehicle for b-to-b communications. Low cost, immediacy, trackability and convenience make it the preferred method for almost half of our business correspondence, compared with 39% for the telephone and 3.5% for postal mail.

With such a high acceptance level, it stands to reason that e-mail should also be the medium of choice for b-to-b newsletters. Targeted campaigns boast 10% to 15% response rates. There are, however, tricks of the trade. Before you launch an e-mail newsletter, a little planning is in order.

•Set objectives. Is the purpose to generate sales? Change or reinforce brand image? Position the company as an industry expert? Knowing your goal will strongly affect content.

•Develop a calendar. Planning editorial and promotional content in advance ensures a logical flow of information and a focus on objectives.

•Determine how results will be measured. Realistic expectations and agreed-upon measurements will circumvent second-guessing and strategy overhauls.

E-mail newsletters are ideal for brand reinforcement, product testing, promotional offers and customer surveys. Whenever possible, content should be customized to targeted segments and personalized to individual recipients. Above all, it must pass the classic marketing test of being compelling, relevant, timely and valuable. Techniques for capturing attention include:

•Order content by department (e.g., Hot Topics, In Your Neighborhood, Knowledge) so readers know what to expect from issue to issue.

•State benefits early in articles and offers.

•Market through education; use industry terms and intelligent language—don’t talk down to your subscribers.

•Keep articles short; use lots of bullet points.

•Use a conversational, newsy tone; hire a writer who understands Associated Press style.

•Keep length and style consistent from issue to issue.

•Use "factoids" or quotes from industry experts to reinforce subject matter.

•For more "pop," use HTML over text (unless directed at technical people, who typically seem to prefer text). However, make sure your e-mail software has content "sniffing" capability, so you can send both HTML and text and let the subscriber decide which to view.

Data that delivers

For most companies, the best place to start collecting subscriber names is from their own sources. Existing marketing and credit lists can be supplemented with names generated at points of customer contact, such as point of sale (in-store and online), satisfaction surveys, customer registrations, Web site, direct mail, tech support and customer service communications.

In-house lists are typically the most valuable because customers know the company and are more likely to opt-in to receive e-mail. However, highly targeted lists are also available from brokers. Questions to ask when shopping for an external list include:

•Were names gathered in an opt-in manner?

•How has the list been used? What companies tested it? Did they use it again after testing?

•How often is the list updated? When was the last update?

•Finally, data can be collected via one-time e-mail, direct mail or telemarketing campaigns, and through broadcast and print advertising.

It’s tempting to collect every tidbit of customer information imaginable, but too much raw data can be overwhelming. Vital information should be collected first, then enhanced using criteria unique to the business. Initial lists should include: full name (separated in data fields by first and last), gender, city, state, zip code and e-mail address. Lists should also include need-to-know information such as department, budget and what time of year capital expenditures are made.

Michael Pridemore is CEO of Socketware, makers of Accucast ( e-mail marketing software and services. Contact him at [email protected] or (404) 815-1998.

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