Effective Newsletters Today - Part 1 - Getting it There
Back in the days before compters and networks became mainstream - in fact back before most people had access to a computer at all, businesses used to create newsletters to keep in touch with their customer base.
The newsletter was created and printed, typically by a professional service, and stuffed into an envelope along with maybe a few coupons or other items, and mailed via 3rd-class or sometimes first-class post to the customers whose address you had. Prior to the computer revolution, the addresses might have been kept on metal plates that were used to imprint the address on the envelope - and might also be used to address invoices and statements.
Returned mail was checked and someone went through and tried to get in touch with those who had moved - by telephone (we're still in the communications age - just not the computer age)
If you wanted to send out something to non-customers, you "rented" a mail list based upon either a geographic location or demographic slice, you did a "postal walk" mail drop for X$ per house, or you paid the local kids or newspaper delivery person a few dollars to add your message to their route.
Thank goodness we're over that old, mechanical and labour intensive method - right?
The Problem - Lower Costs Lead to Lower Standards
One of the things that having such a lot invested in address infrastructure and having such a high cost of mailing in the past did was to ensure that the quality of the information in the newsletter and the list it was sent to were high - high enough to garner a good return on the investment - or the marketing manager and/or boss wanted to know what happened.
Click forward to today and what do we have?
The addresses are kind of kept in electronic form - like a spreadsheet or Word document - and maybe we've added a few we got from somewhere other than direct customer interaction. Hey - maybe we've added a lot we got from somewhere other than direct customer (or web visitor) request.
The newsletter is created using some form of desktop publishing program by whomever can run it - or worse, by someone using Microsoft Word or other word processing system that may or may not allow reasonable layout control.
Layout - hmmm... maybe we've adapted to electronic mail - or maybe we're still expecting our customers to print our newsletter out (at their expense, on their color printer) in order to really see and appreciate it.
The content is maybe written by someone who knows something about marketing - but then again, maybe not. Hey, maybe different people at different times. Style? Whatever comes to mind.
There is also the possibility that the newsletter is still done professionally and created in a PDF file that is attached to the basic mail piece. Of course this pre-supposes that the recipient really wants to either print it out to get the full effect, or scroll around it with the typical cumbersome PDF reader because the file is larger than the viewer's screen.
The mailouts are done frequently because it is so easy (and cheap - hey, email's free isn't it?) and "more is better" - right?
The bounced addresses may be removed automatically by the mailing software - or maybe not - but nobody does any follow up to figure out why someone has fallen off the list.
All in all, not a very pretty picture when the objective is to keep in touch and impress the customer. We've lost the concept of quality and taken on technical facilities without really thinking about what the impact is on the final customer experience.
There are better ways. There are more successful ways. There are reasons to do it differently.
I've written previously about what is happening to email and how there is a movement to shift to different delivery mechanisms for some things like RSS feeds from a web site. That's just half of the problem. The other half is that people are generally innundated with information and are starting to develop a real resistance to even looking at things that previously they'd read religeosly. You have to raise your customer newsletters above this "noise" of spam and poorly created pieces and too-frequent and repetitious offerings of others, not only in your chosen market slice, but against all the other slices out there that are competing for your customers' dollars.
How do you do this? Well today we'll talk solely about delivery - how to get your piece to the customer/viewer in a fashion that at least ensures they are likely to open it and take in that first key item that will determine whether they read any farther; getting their brief (maybe a second) attention as they winnow through today's pile of electronic cruft that has found its way to their desktop.
Quality is the Key, Not Quantity
Today the key to getting and keeping a customer's eye (and wallet) is to bring them quality and ensure they get value for the time they spend with your newsletter. The quickest way to lower your uptake on offers or your click-through rate or however you're measuring your newsletter's effectiveness (you are measuring, aren't you?) is to wear your viewer out with stuff that is repetitious and/or bland.
Not only do you wear out your viewer, you'll lower your acceptance at the ISP level if you send too many things that are of low enough quality that your viewer clicks the "this is spam" button instead of unsubscribing. Repetition on its own can also lead to being black-listed as many of the anti-spam packages today check for repeated paragraphs from one send to the next; more hoops to jump through.
Presentation Quality Criteria are not Obvious - Maybe You Need to Give Your Viewers Choice
Today's media viewer has choice. They'll read email that intriges them - even if it is spam (hmmm... maybe we can learn from the spammers) and they'll go looking for key words on Google or Yahoo or Bing, and read the pages they find there. They'll browse through YouTube and watch videos of someone blowing up their barbeque or hanging from a ceiling fan, and they'll keep a list of their "favorite" web sites that they visit when they have time. Some of their habits are carry-overs from their past. The viewing habits of Gen-X are totally different from those of Gen-Y and the latest, Gen-Z (babies of the Gen-X people) are so connected that they're a completely different marketing problem from those of us born earlier.
If your target market was working before the internet revolution, then maybe a return to snail-mail newsletters makes sense.
If your target market grew up during the internet revolution and are in their 20's and 30's now (Gen-Y) then maybe email is still working.
If your target market is the newest generation then you'll have to go with the flow and embrace social networking - all but giving up on specific newsletters and going with the network equivallent of "sound bites" - twitters, video comments, blogs and such.
This is not to say that you're likely to get away with just a single marketing vehicle for the mass of your marketing - just what direct customer contact is going to make the most sense for a specific target age demographic. There are all manner of other circumstances that will likely push you to eventually embrace any/all of these and more.
So let's talk about an integrated approach from the beginning. When you think about contacting your existing customer base you should do so with the eye to using their favorite medium to get their attention and then possibly using a different medium to deliver your message. If planned in advance and done well, this can do wonders for your program. If done haphazardly it can backfire.
The first thing to do is choose your major delivery medium - web page, PDF file, blog post, Facebook group, YouTube video, Podcast or something else. This should be created professionally, or at least the basic format (colors, layout, fonts, titles/section headings, etc.) should be done by someone who knows the medium so you just have to "fill in the blanks". In this way you'll put your best face forward in the most meaningful way possible, and you'll have consistency between messages which goes to making your customer feel more confident and trusting in your company. Consistency and trust are the things that many of today's viewers are looking for - don't disappoint them.
The second thing is to create the messages in the other media formats that will drive your viewers to your primary message. Again, you probably should enlist the help of people who know and understand each of the delivery vehicles - snail-mail, email, twitter, social networks, etc. There again should be some consistency from send to send within each of these delivery methods - and some consistency across the various ones and with the target message format.
The major thing is to keep these other methods short and to the point. By all means, include the meat of the message, but do it in a minimal way compared to the main offering. Keep the floral speach down, lose the superfluous adjectives and get to the point - and refer to the major offering for details.
And don't forget to include your Point of Purchase and Vehicles in this promotion. Adding something to your vehicles takes a minimal amount of time (magnetic signs are great for this.) Point of Purchase, customer invoices/sales tickets, all of these are great places to put your lead-in message, and they don't have to cost the earth to use!
We'll get into what the individual messages in each medium might be in the next part.