Fine line between added value, spam

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Savvy, big-name marketers, ranging from the National Football League to Procter & Gamble Co., are trying to score points with consumers by sending them e-mail newsletters.

While many of the newsletters offer an e-commerce element, the primary goal isn't to generate immediate revenue but to enhance relationships with customers. However, the proliferation of such e-missives could make them as unwelcome as unsolicited "spam" e-mail.

The NFL uses e-mail newsletters to build on the already passionately loyal fan bases of the league's 31 teams. Creating a more personal relationship through a weekly e-mail newsletter is at the heart of the NFL's marketing game plan.


"The NFL has multiple touchpoints with its fans, including the package of televised games and the Web site, but the e-mail newsletters are the most direct, the most customized and the most critical to fan development," says Evan Kamer, senior director-new media.

The " News-letter" is customized by team, then further tailored to the fan's specific interests in the team, says Mr. Kamer. The newsletter reaches 1.5 million fans.

"The subscribers are the real core NFL fans," Mr. Kamer says. "They are the ones who watch multiple games over the weekend and spend time at our Web site."

While has about 7.5 million unique visitors each month during the season, it's essentially a one-way street. The newsletters, however, allow the NFL to get a firmer grasp on what interests its most avid fans by monitoring their click-through behavior. "We know what pieces of the newsletter they're clicking on," Mr. Kamer says. "It allows us to better tailor the merchandising for the individual fan."

There's nothing nefarious about profiling newsletter subscribers, says Mr. Kamer. Fans are informed when they register that they will be monitored to allow for better-customized information. Readers are invited to visit or update their profiles. The newsletters include a preview of the next game of the subscriber's favorite team and the latest information on trades and cuts. There also are links to and the NFL Shop, a merchandising site.


The newsletters are not yet truly interactive, Mr. Kamer says. "We haven't gone to the full community model where fans can interact through message boards. But we are able to communicate with them by watching what they are interested in."

Package-goods giant Procter & Gamble sponsors HomeMadeSimple. com, a site supporting a monthly newsletter that targets "consumers looking for solutions to easy living," says Monica Collins, P&G fabric and homecare external relations specialist. The site is now a standalone project of P&G produced by Bridge Communications, Cincinnati.

Six leading P&G brands-Bounty, Cascade Complete, Dawn, Febreze, Mr. Clean and Swiffer-sponsor the "HomeMadeSimple" newsletter.

Through registration for the newsletter and other interactions with the subscribers, P&G collects basic personal data, none of which is shared with other marketers.


"The ultimate goal is to build stronger relationships with our customers," says Ms. Collins. More interactive than the newsletters, "HomeMadeSimple" features a monthly poll, an idea forum and a link that allows subscribers to direct comments or complaints to P&G's consumer relations department.

While Ms. Collins declines to say whether the newsletter has helped boost sales of products sponsoring the site, she says the newsletter is an integral component of P&G's holistic marketing strategy that integrates TV, print and online advertising.

But the increasing popularity of e-mail newsletters risks killing the goose that lays the golden eggs. Consumers are tiring of e-mail newsletters and other forms of commercial e-mail, warns Forrester Research analyst Shar Van Boskirk.

"Newsletters can be great relationship builders, but the content should be varied. Otherwise, they become tedious and lose their customer value. People are getting bombarded with them."

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