Why you really need a Newsletter

Practical Marketing Part 21

A whole industry has built up around the discipline of ‘search engine optimisation’. Some very clever people are spending a lot of time (and quite a lot of their clients’ money) to improve results in web searches. It may well be worth looking at what they can do for you … but first, think about what you can do for yourself – with the help of our Ten Top Tips for improving your search engine appeal.

To maximise your opportunities, there are two key points to keep in mind:

•  Focus content on what is beneficial to the reader. Good newsletters include a combination of information aimed at educating readers, sales messages and client kudos.

•  Spend time on the newsletter’s design and copywriting. Your newsletter design is a branding and image opportunity for your company or organisation. Correct grammar and spelling are also important. Mistakes detract from your message and image.

What’s a newsletter actually for?

The big question has a simple answer: it’s a marketing tool. It probably won’t get you any sales directly – but it will help to make your selling easier.

A newsletter is a form of contact, just like a phone call, visit or direct mail postcard. Your business and any messages you want to get across will be in front of your current and prospective clients each time you send out a newsletter.

 
You can use the newsletter as a selling tool, promoting products and services very explicitly and including a coupon or some other call to action … but then it’s more like a sales flyer, and your customers may become fed up with what they see as junk mail.

People are also more likely to read a newsletter than a sales letter because they see it as less threatening and more likely to tell them something that might be useful to them.

The thing is, people have different and largely predetermined reactions to what they perceive as different marketing materials.

A sales letter is Ïeasily regarded as junk mail -it’s personalised (hopefully) so it has a head start (someone is talking directly to me about something that will be of value to me) but because of that it’s also wide open to disappointment.

Newsletters are all about building relationships with your customers. Crucially, newsletters can help build brand recognition and keep your name in front of your existing and potential customers. The newsletter should reflect the branding messages you want associated with your business – key descriptions such as friendly, informed, comprehensive, professional, and so on.

A flyer is likely to be seen as more trivial, with lower expectations on the recipient’s part.

And the newsletter fits somewhere inbetween – with a reasonable expectation of value, but without the pretensions to personal contact of a letter.

What’s in the newsletter?
The basic content could include …

• Product information: Especially for new products – and especially if they can be supported by independent assessment (your own comments in the case of new phones you’re stocking, for instance, or perhaps reports from customers)

 
• Promotions: Including short-term money-off and deals
 
• Awards received by you: (maybe by your major customers and suppliers too)
 
• Forthcoming events: Key dates for your business such as open days and ETAs for new products, but also forthcoming industry exhibitions and maybe business/sporting events
 
• Staff profiles: It’s always good for the customers to be able to put a face to a name, and it personalises and humanises the business. Don’t leave out the receptionists. Delivery drivers, cleaners etc.
 
• Reader surveys: Home in on their opinions about you and your products, but try throwing in an attention-getting question about the current government or whether smacking children should be illegal.
 
• Jokes and anecdotes: It’s entertaining, breaks up the heavy fact-packed content, and again puts a human face on the newsletters. But go easy on the humour – you aren’t as funny as you think you are, and a funny story usually sounds better
 
• Answer questions: If you don’t already have a questions-and-answers file, try noting down six questions that you have frequently been asked by customers. Answer each of them in a short article. (And if you really can’t think of any questions, send all your current clients/customers a quick e-mail, asking them what topics they’re most interested in learning more about.)
 
• Repeat information: You don’t have to reinvent the wheel: pass on any gems of advice you’ve learned elsewhere (but give them full attribution). Or you could comment on that piece of information; readers will appreciate your frankness and your insights. Have you learn anything neat lately from an industry conference, workshop, seminar, or even an article in the press?
 
• Offer a list of your top five or ten tips: It’s much easier to bang out a list of tips than to put together a real article. Of course, the tips can evolve into an article if you wish! List your best tips first.
 
• Recommend books and resources that you use, and include extended commentaries or reviews on them.
Much of this information can be reused on your website, which is a convenient way of keeping the web content fresh.
 
Be warned though – you have to maintain the regularity and the standard. The first couple of issues shouldn’t be too hard to fill with meaty, interesting material; but it’s all too easy to run out of steam and for content standards to slip.

Producing the newsletter
The newsletter can be produced on your own inkjet or laser printer, but that is not recommended – the results can look amateurish. It will difficult or impossible to print on two sides of the pages, you’ll have to staple sheets together or leave them loose, there will probably be too many copies to justify the cost of ink, and you’re almost certain to run out of ink and/or paper at the most inconvenient time.

Far better to produce the newsletter yourself using something like Microsoft Word or Publisher and save it in a form that can be sent to a jobbing printer. It’s worth installing Adobe Acrobat and outputting as a PDF file; there are low-price alternatives to the pukka version of Acrobat that will do the same job. Most print shops will be able to take PDFs, some can work directly from Microsoft Publisher documents, and a handful are prepared to work with DOC files. (But don’t try to save your text in JPEG format and send that – it won’t reproduce well.)

This will get you a professional job, and most printers seem willing to advise you about layout tricks and cost-cutting ideas.

Newsletters on a shoestring

 
Printing can be relatively expensive, especially if you look at the cost per item printed. How to save money? Print fewer copies – but this won’t save much money, because most of the cost is in the printer’s setting up charges Cut back on the number of pages – the saving here is in the effort of trimming, assembling and stapling rather than the amount of paper Reduce the quality of the paper used – especially the weight (ask the printer if there’s some good quality paper going spare because it’s left over from a previous job) Minimise the number of pages that need colour, and use as few colour photographs as possible. Black and white printing is the cheapest option, and you can use shades of grey at no extra charge. Using solid colours for emphasis and for clip art images is more expensive. And running what’s called full colour, to provide the graduated tones for a photograph, is the priciest option. You might print colour on some pages, including for instance the front page with your logo, and then have just black and white on others.

Emailed newsletters
Sending newsletters by email is another cost-saver. You have a few options here:

• Send all recipients a message containing the whole newsletter in plain-text format. It makes for a long message (so warn them in the title line that this is indeed a newsletter rather than a conventional message) but the absence of formatting and colour means it’s easy to do (though you do need to be a little clever to avoid ending up with a dull-looking screed of solid text).

• Send a message containing the whole newsletter in HTML format. This means the newsletter is produced using a web page editor, so you get the full range of web formatting options – columns, tables, colours, changes of typeface and so on. The downside is that some email readers can’t cope with HTML, so they just see a messy plain-text version. Others have set their email programs to reject HTML messages, because they’re so often junk mail.

• Send a short message with the newsletter included as an attachment. In this case the format doesn’t really matter – it could be a PDF, a Word document or even plain text. You just have to be sure that the recipient will have some software that will be able to read the format you send. The slight disadvantage is that the viewer doesn’t get to see your newsletter immediately, and they may well put leave it till later and then forget to open the attachment.

Send a short message telling the recipient that a copy of your latest newsletter is available to be read at your website. There it’s held as just another web page. This is the shortest, least intrusive option; it’s also the one that’s least likely to result in your carefully crafted newsletter being read.

Next month: More about emailed newsletters

TOP TIPS
What you can do with a newsletter:

• Promote your credibility. Provide relatively unbiased and reliable information, and your readers will come to associate the quality of the information you provide with the quality of your products and services.

 
• Keep yourself on your toes. The discipline of producing a regular newsletter to fixed deadlines forces you to analyse your current position, identify immediate opportunities and fine-tune your marketing strategies – all of which you might otherwise be tempted to postpone.
 
• Open a pipeline of influence. If you remain an independent source of knowledge and information ? resisting the temptation to bombard your subscribers with ads and promotions ? readers will be more receptive to your messages about your products and services.
 
 • Attract new customers. If your newsletter is a success, people will pass it on colleagues and others. This is a more important option for emailed newsletters, since forwarded is so simple, but it can work well for paper-based newsletters too – especially if it has a competition or a time-limited offer.
 
• Build your customer service proposition. Reflect your customers’ concerns, answer their questions, invite their comments. Find out what they need to know, then give them that information.
 
• Demonstrate your approach to customer service. And a good newsletter is evidence that you care about your customers. Make them love you just as you love them.
 
• Sell to existing customers. Tell them about deals, discounts and less well-promoted products. Improve the response rate by limiting the offer to newsletter subscribers.
 
• Be the expert. Make a point of your knowledge and professional competence so that customers feel confident about dealing with you. And spread the word – send a copy of your newsletter to the trade magazines in your field: all the mobile phone mags are keen on using anecdotes and quotes.
 
• Educate. Tell people what’s going on, how to differentiate products and services, how to identify the good buys. It adds to your image and makes for an easier sell.