How to compose an effective email newsletter

One of the key elements in building relationships with clients (and prospective clients) is constant contact. But as plain a concept as it is, simply keeping in touch can be a tricky feat. By now, surely every modern business has at least a basic understanding of the potential impact of electronic communication, but how effectively do they use it? This article outlines a few of the foundational elements of building a successful email newsletter campaign.

We’ve all experienced it – an inbox full of junk, crap and otherwise unsavory intrusions into our lives. Of course it’s easy to screen out all the shady “personal enhancement” ads, but as our eyes glaze over and we hit the ‘delete’ button, how many potentially legitimate or even personally relevant offers are thrown out with the bathwater? Now flip that around… how many of your emails to clients are filtered out as spam or just plain ignored? As more and more people join the ranks of bulk email campaigners, it becomes increasingly important that YOUR message is tailored in such a way that it is not only read, but contains the right elements so as to be actionable by your target audience.

An email newsletter campaign accomplishes many things at once. A successful campaign will:

  • spread the word about your services
  • distinguish you from your competitors
  • drive traffic to your website
  • showcase your creativity
  • share your knowledge
  • build credibility
  • rebuild connections with old clients
  • prompt recipients to act (driving sales)

Your List

Your email list should only be composed of those contacts who you know you, or those who have agreed to receive your messages. Cold-calling is not a wise approach for legitimate businesses on the internet. The most valuable recipients to have on your list are those qualified prospects who may one day pay for your products or services, so make sure that anyone who has expressed an interest in your work is included on your list.

But where do you start if you have no opt-in list set up? Well, you can start by sorting through your own email inbox and offline Rolodex, and pick out clients, colleagues and friends you think may be interested. Make sure you pick people who already know you or will at least recognize your name. And as you make new contacts, send a follow-up message shortly afterward asking whether they would like to be on your contact list. When talking to anyone about your work, whether in person, on the phone or by email, be sure to offer to keep in touch by adding them to your list.

Your Content

Coming up with fresh, useful, relevant content can be the most challenging part of a newsletter campaign. But if you start with a simple strategy, it will be easier to squeeze into your already packed schedule. Your potential approaches are almost infinite, but we’ll start with four basics:

1. Show off your work. This is the most obvious strategy. Customers love to see results, but they also like to see how you got there. By showcasing work you have done for other customers by way of an entertaining and informative case study (thinly disguised as an engaging story), you can show them how another customer came to you with a problem just like theirs, and then describe how you solved it. The logical progression is apparent… the customer relates to your case study, and if you did such a great job for that client, then surely you could do even better for them! Even better, the recipients feel that you respect their intelligence enough to discuss case studies with them on an even level.

2. Educate your audience. This approach has a similarly multifaceted effect: your audience looks forward to receiving your newsletter because they are assured of learning something new from it. Knowledge is a hot commodity. The campaign also simultaneously positions you as an expert in the field. Once readers see how much you know about the topic, they are more likely to think of you first when shopping for products or services related to that topic.

3. Offer tips on a topic of interest to your clients. Closely related to the “educate your audience” approach, this campaign method takes a more simplified and targeted view on audience engagement. This option not only provides education and new information, but gives items your audience can actually ACT upon to improve their own personal or business processes. Simple tips are easier to read than an extended dialogue, not to mention easier to write, and still position you as a specialist in that area. Think Cole’s Notes rather than Shakespeare (though having Shakespeare available on request is also a good idea).

4. Keep it personal. For email marketing to be effective, it needs to be personal. To retain or improve readership and loyalty, your audience needs to feel a personal connection to you and your business. The purpose of email newsletter campaigns, and sales in general, is to build relationships. So, it makes sense that the content should give your audience more information and insight into who you are as a person or as a company. Find topics that you find interesting, and share them with your customers.

Your Presentation

How you present the information you provide is almost as important as the information itself. As Marshall McLuhan prophetically professed, the medium is the message. Now, is your newsletter showing up at your customer’s door in sweatpants and a stained t-shirt, or a designer suit?

Without plugging my profession TOO much, it just makes sense to invest in developing a professional delivery for your message. Professional corporate designers don’t just draw pretty pictures; they also have backgrounds in consumer psychology, marketing and brand standards, and bring a unique understanding of the relationship between aesthetics and sales. Teaming up with a corporate design expert in crafting your email marketing campaign can improve your readership and conversion rates.

Getting The Word Out

There are bucket loads of options for distributing your email newsletter… some good, some not so good. If you have a relatively small list, you can do it yourself using your own email software (Outlook, Thunderbird, etc). If you do choose the DIY approach, make sure you are familiar with your Internet Service Provider’s bandwidth and email recipient policies before proceeding. As your list grows, you can opt to use a free online distribution service (Yahoo and Topica both offer free services, though they will include ads in your messages which may flag your message as spam) or a more functionally rich and ad-free pay service such as MailerMailer, WebValence, SparkList or ConstantContact. Whichever service you choose, make sure they offer some sort of client tracking service as well. You can learn a lot about your audience this way, and better target your marketing messages.

But Does It Actually Work?

Measurement/tracing for different marketing campaigns is a cumulative process. The end-result is a product of all of your marketing and sales efforts working together, building on one another until the prospect picks up the phone. There are a few results that can be traced back to email marketing campaigns, however, the most tangible results can include:

  • New Clients
  • Publicity
  • A Bigger Network
  • Audience Knowledge

In the end, you are keeping in touch with your customers, offering them something of value, and keeping your company at the top of their mind when they think about topics covered in your newsletter. All of these things encourage conversion. And you will have a system in place to keep in touch with old customers, to attract new ones, to encourage dialogue and increase recognition for your brand.

Sage Media is an international corporate design firm based in Ottawa, Ontario.

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