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The News is in the Mail

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It's safe to say the e-mail Inbox has become the ultimate staple of communications of our time. As you develop your online business strategy, consider putting together a newsletter for your business. It is an excellent way to establish a closer relationship with your customers and ensure your brand and products are at the forefront of their minds.

Over time, an effective newsletter may create a community of readers who will offer benefits back to your business. You might begin to hear from them about what new products they would like to see, what difficulties they had in using your products, or what tips they have that you can share with other customers. But before you get started, follow these five steps to ensure success.

Step One: Set Your Goal

E-mail newsletters can serve various purposes. First consider why you want to do one in the first place. Here are a few reasons for starting a newsletter:

  • Spreading the Word. An e-mail newsletter is an excellent way to let existing customers know about products that can complement products they have already purchased from you.
  • Keeping in Touch. Maybe there are customers who have visited your physical retail or online store. They might not want to purchase now, but could be purchasing later. An e-mail newsletter is the perfect way to maintain that relationship so that they follow through and ultimately buy.
  • Customer Goodwill. Another reason for an e-mail newsletter is better customer relations. Get your customers involved with your brand here, by inviting them to send you their real life stories of how they have used your products, or how your service has helped them.

Step Two: Know Your Audience

Understanding your audience is essential to the success of your newsletter effort. Tailoring your newsletter to your audience's needs, interests and circumstances will ensure that your goals are met.

Maybe your newsletter is called "The 60-plus Vacation Guide." Your own eyesight is fine, so it can be easy to forget that you are distributing to seniors who might need a slightly (if not significantly) larger font. You could risk your relationship with your audience if you don't keep such specific needs in mind.

Some general questions to ask yourself might include the following:

  • How fast is your audience's Internet connection? Should the newsletter be full of graphics that will slow the download time?
  • How much time does your audience have to read your newsletter? Do they want a 30-minute read on the train or a 5-minute scroll on their computer screens?
  • Does your audience want just the serious facts, or would they enjoy some light-hearted humor in the newsletter?

Step Three: Consider Your Content

What you put into your newsletter is critical in determining its success. Let's look at some newsletters' decisions on what to include to see what works and what doesn't. Marketingsherpa.com, a Weblog with daily updates on information for marketers, publishes a newsletter containing two- or three-page case studies. Since Marketingsherpa's audience wants to get information with rich insight into how to market their products better, a longer read is welcome.

Other audiences are looking for smaller bits of information. Daily Candy publishes a daily newsletter with essentially one story or item per day. In this case, it reflects with the name, which implies quick, frequent bits of information. Other newsletters may contain more information, but the newsletter publishers will simply include blurbs about the stories or offers, with each blurb linked to the full articles on a Web site. These newsletters are meant to be quick reads and if you want the entire story you click the Web link to get it. A newsletter I receive from PalmOne is full of graphics and captions on the latest Palm products and accessories and targets those who want to know the latest software or hardware for Palm PDAs its works. (Inc.com newsletters also offer an example of this strategy.)

Once you've determined what will go into the newsletter, it's time to pull it together. If you don't have time to write a newsletter and/or do not know how to get content, you could hire someone to write your newsletter for you. Or you could try one of these approaches (though some of them may still require a bit of legwork on your part):

  • Ask customers to send in relevant articles/stories for publishing.
  • Ask your vendors if they have free content you can use.
  • Tap third-party publishers. Many Web publishers will let you use their content for free, as long as you attribute the source (get permission first).
  • Compile a list of news items or other content, summarize each item, add your own unique perspective and point to the full online article or story.
  • You could purchase content from syndication sources (such as yellowbirx.com or contentfinder.com) or use services like Freesticky.com to get free content.
  • Ask your staff to take turns and volunteer to be "editor of the month."

One last fundamental tip on newsletter content strategy: Keep in mind that the latest version of many e-mail programs can read e-mail in "HTML" format, but some programs can only read e-mail in plain text. An e-mail newsletter delivery service can automatically detect which type of e-mail program a person has and send them the appropriate version. These same services will let your subscribers select whether they would prefer to receive your newsletter in HTML or plain text.

Also: You might want to include a link to your site where people can read the latest issue online.

Step Four: Plan the Delivery

By this point, you've determined who your audience is and what content will meet your needs and their needs. Now, how are you going to get it to them? Some businesses have been known to e-mail the newsletter to their reader list from their personal e-mail programs. This method looks unprofessional.

Instead, use an e-mail newsletter management service like ConstantContact or Cooleremail which can help you put together your newsletter, provide templates, manage subscribers and send your newsletter to your readers.

Many e-mail delivery services are Internet-based "hosted applications," which means they handle everything for you and the files and delivery mechanism resides outside of your business. But there are other solutions that are computer programs, although these are often complex, less sophisticated and time-intensive. To make your job as easy as possible and for flexibility in accessing the service, use a hosted service and not a computer program unless you really know what you are doing and have specific reasons for doing so.

Step Five: Establish Plans for Marketing

Once you've built your newsletter, the next question will be, to borrow from "Field of Dreams," how will you get them to come? The easiest way to increase the readership of your newsletters is to let your existing customers know about it. Do not automatically add them, but get their permission. Some other marketing tips include:

  • Mention your newsletter in all your marketing.
  • Use your newsletter as a sales tool.
  • Encourage people to sign up to be an informed consumer.
  • Add a form on your web site inviting sign up.
  • Ask your partners to invite their customers to sign up.
  • Encourage your vendors to recommend that their customers sign up.
  • Everyone in your company, especially your sales team should encourage sign up to the newsletter.
  • With each received business card get permission to add that contact to the newsletter.



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