Launching your own email newsletter or ezine is good fun and can help you build customer loyalty and break into new markets. E-newsletters are ideal for reaching a niche audience – you can easily launch a few variants on your core e-newsletter, to appeal to different types of reader.
Plus you get the thrill of instant, quantifiable audience feedback. With commercial email management software you can see who’s responding to your content and which links they are clicking on. So with each new issue you can improve the editorial to meet your audience’s needs. A year into your e-newsletter it will have evolved into a welcome and useful information source for your readers.
Make your e-newsletter relevant, personable, helpful and entertaining and you’ll find it really helps potential buyers to decide to buy from you. The trick is to get your authentic tone of voice in there – really relate to your readers and listen to what they want.
You’ll need to do some up front thinking – preferably collectively – to ensure you deliver a really useful publication to your customers, and to ensure that preparing each issue is fairly straight forward for you. Here are 9 steps to getting your e-newsletter launched:
1. Step Into Your Reader’s Shoes
If you work in property the mantra is ‘Location, location, location”. When writing an e-newsletter, think ‘reader, reader, reader”.
A carefully crafted e-newsletter can create a relationship with your audience. But before you can do that, you need to make some tough decisions. Who exactly do you want to reach? And what’s in it for them – why should they bother reading your copy? How can you create pleasure in their life or save them from pain?
If you’re writing for a business audience:
1. What sector exactly are they in?
2. Who in that business would you be working with – what department, location and job title?
3. What are their goals in their job?
4. What sorts of information do they need regularly in their job?
5. How do they prefer to get that information?
6. What business lingo do they use?
Whoever you’re writing for – whether they’re in work-mode or off-duty mode, ask yourself these questions:
1. Roughly speaking what’s their demographic – gender, education level, geographic location? What’s their personality type/values?
2. How time-rich or poor are they? How good are they with computers/technology?
3. How might they be feeling when your email arrives in their world? How can you cheer them up, put a spring in their step?
4. And how formally would they prefer you to talk to them?
5. What problems do they have that you can solve?
Don’t worry if you can’t answer these questions off pat. But do some research before you launch to get answers to some of these questions. Can you think of a real customer who is the archetypal reader you want to reach? if so, consider buying them coffee or treating them to lunch and asking them these sorts of questions. It’s informal market research – but it will give you a lot of insight into how your e-newsletter will work best.
2. What Business Results Do You Want To Achieve?
* What do you want from your e-newsletter? Eg, entice in new customers, win back old customers, or stay in contact with regular customers? This determines the messages you want to shine through, the headlines you use, etc.
* What measurable results do you want – eg more phone calls asking about a particular product/offer? Or more traffic to the e-newsletter landing page on your website? Think about how you can measure conversion rates, etc, so you can track the return on your investment
* What kind of relationship do you want to develop with them? Do you want them to see you as their adviser/expert, best friend, perfect host, entertainer, social secretary? This helps you decide the tone of voice and the content slots you want
* How do you want your readers to think, feel or act differently, once they’ve read your newsletter? Use this mood info to set the right tone of voice, and to brief your web designer on the look and feel.
3. Build Your List
Take every opportunity from now on to collect email addresses of customers and sales leads, and input these into your customer database. Make sure you include an e-newsletter sign-up box prominently on your website. And design your e-newsletter so there’s a ‘send to a friend’ option near the top of the page. This means that if a reader likes a particular edition they can pass it on to someone they think would be interested too.
Don’t send out your e-newsletter to people without first getting their permission. No one likes their email in-tray clogging up with spam. So, consider sending out a one-off email to names on your database, asking them if they’d like to subscribe – and linking through to your sign-up page.
The gold standard is called a ‘double opt in’ – whereby as part of the subscription, the reader gets a confirmation email with a link to click on. If you cater to a wide market with varying interests, you’re best to target your e-newsletter pretty tightly and launch further variations of the e-newsletter on other types of customers later on.
4. Fill Your Content Larder
Plan themes for each e-newsletter for the six months to a year ahead. Focus on quality, not the quantity of content for your editorial calendar. What new and exciting info you can give your e-newsletter subscribers?
* Be topical/seasonal. What big diary dates are coming for you and your reader? For a consumer, think about Christmas, Valentine’s Day or St Patrick’s Day? For a B2B newsletter, this may be a big conference for your reader’s sector/profession.
* Solve problems or answer common questions. Ask customer-facing staff what areas do your customers most often want help or advice with. Formats might include frequently asked questions, top tips, problems and solutions, how to guides, opinions and analyses on current affairs issues, trends spotting, disaster stories with useful lessons, case studies, competitions, reviews of products/services.
* Cream off the best ideas and slot them into your editorial schedule. Keep a note of the rest for your slush pile for a rainy day.
For best results, get a copywriter in to help you develop the concepts for your newsletters – and to select the best ideas from the bunch. Help at the strategy stage is more beneficial than bringing a copywriter in once you’ve already decided the concept and had the designs done. Once you’re set up and have a good plan, and possibly have had the first edition rewritten for you, then you should find the issues easier to write yourself.
5. Prepare Your Raw Ingredients
They say the secret of great cooking is in the preparation. And the same goes for writing. Research your ideas a bit to make sure they’ll work, to help you decide on newsletter frequency and to brief the designer more fully. Preparing materials will also take the stress out of publishing the newsletter nearer the time.
Bank up source material such as contact details and précis of potential case studies, details of promotions you’ll be running and relevant photography.
Think about what content slots you want for your e-newsletter – and rough out how these might divide up the page. Examples of slots might be:
1. Main theme – eg opinion/interview Q&A/case study you helped.
2. 2nd slot – eg a tips summary if you’re trading on your expertise
3. 3rd slot – Exclusive offer or featured product
4. 4th slot – eg a testimonial.
6. Decide How Often To Publish
Remember each issue needs to say something exciting – from your target audience’s point of view. Putting out fewer higher-quality newsletters is better than spamming their inbox with lots of irrelevant, trivial verbiage.
If you’ve got three distinct target audiences, then you’re better putting out 3x quarterly newsletters than bunging all your readers into one group for a 1x monthly newsletter. Try to only give the recipient stuff they’ll be particularly interested in – weed out the rest.
Draw up an email marketing schedule – for each issue specify a date of publication, copy deadlines and what your main theme will be and what ideas you’ve got for the other content slots. Also, specify who’s responsible for getting the information for you to fill the slot.
7. Use A Professional Email-Out Service
You may want your e-newsletter to drive traffic to your website. With a distribution service, you can track which of your subscribers opened your e-newsletter and which links they clicked on to enter your website.
To get the most value from your e-newsletter, you keep the email text short and put the rest of the story on your website. This means you need to create an area of your site just for your e-newsletter content. Create a button (navigation bar) on your site for an e-newsletters archive, so visitors can check whether they like it before they sign up. You should include a sign-up box prominently on your website.
8. Get A Template Professionally Designed
For the most control over the look and feel of your e-newsletter, it is best to get a web designer to create an HTML template for you. Choose someone who specializes in e-newsletters because technically they are quite tricky, and they need to work across various email clients including hotmail, etc.
Show the designer your editorial schedule, brief them on your target audiences and the concept for your e-newsletter plus some ideas for content slots. This will help refine your ideas.
Alternatively, many email distribution services have DIY newsletter builders – these tend to be rather fiddly to use to set up the design (could take you a day to get the colours and slots structure you want), it’ll tend to look clunky and won’t mirror your website look and feel.
9. Tips On Writing For E-newsletters
Like radio, and unlike websites, email is a strangely intimate medium. Your relationship with your reader is a bit like a radio presenter’s with their audience. Think of BBC Radio 2 presenters Terry Wogan and comedian Russell Brand – when you’re listening to them how do you feel?
* What’s in it for your reader? Don’t vomit your message over them – tell them in your headline and intro how reading this can help them. Be specific.
* Keep the tone friendly, conversational.
* Write as you would talk, but in full sentences.
* Use the magic word ‘you’ – speak to them 1-to-1.
* Think about your reader’s mood and how you’d like them to feel afterwards.
* Once you’ve written it, find someone else to check the grammar and spelling and to cut the copy by half. Halving your word count helps your reader take in more.
* Put your first draft by a real customer in your target group if you can – and get their ideas to improve it. When you’re writing your newsletter, imagine you’re writing specially for this person.
Now that you’ve read this article and you know what your customers want to read, it’s time to get serious about creating a newsletter that will bring you rewards for all your efforts!
By Kath Burke
Trained journalist Kath Burke has worked as an online content consultant for the past 9 years. Kath advises clients on their web content strategy, how to write readable content, devising content that’s a magnet for search engines, and organizing the site so readers can find their way around easily.