Build Your Audience With E-Newsletters

By Matt Hilburn

Direct e-mail newsletters can be a marketer’s dream come true, and it’s easy to see why. According to Eric Thomas, the creator of LISTSERV¬© software and founder and CEO of L-Soft, a leading company in mailing software, the advantages are numerous.

They include click-through rates that dwarf banner ads, easily measurable results, the ability to quickly test and adapt e-mail marketing campaigns, enhanced and more personal relationships with customers, increased loyalty to a site or product and the ability to get a message to millions in a rapid way.

“E-mail newsletters allow you to touch your users on a frequent basis,” says Shawn Moran, the regional marketing manager for Citysearch.com. “In most cases, your users have asked to receive the information provided in your newsletters, therefore you have an extremely qualified audience.”

Short, sweet and simple

Anyone sending out e-mail newsletters should take the following principles into account, experts say.

For one, don’t make the newsletters too long. No one likes scrolling through endless pages of text to find what they’re looking for. “Quick teaser headlines with a link is all it takes,” says Moran. “You need to give the user a reason to click.”

Research reports demonstrate that people prefer to receive coupons, gift certificates, discounts, promotional offers, free samples, order status, product updates, event and service reminders, company updates, and newsletters with relevant information, Thomas says. “Offering people a way to save money works the best,” he says. “Mixing these promotions with product and company information should result in a worthy newsletter.”

People also respond to personalized content. Personalization can be as simple as adding people’s names to the beginning or as complex as breaking down your users into different interest groups and targeting each group with more specified contents. “Personalizing the message makes it more relevant and thus more effective,” Thomas says.

The right format

Considering the format of the newsletter is also vitally important. Many people don’t have mail clients that allow them to read HTML newsletters, and while HTML offers stylistic advantages over plain text versions such as allowing the newsletter to maintain the look and feel of your site, make your newsletter available in a format everyone can read or offer various options.

“Plain text is the best in my opinion, as it can be read by everyone, regardless of e-mail package, in can include links and be properly formatted,” says Mike Booker, a partner in M B Web Design, a U.K. based firm. “Rich Text is great but uses at least twice as much bandwidth, and HTML is not only bulky, but is insecure and can contain viruses.”

Attracting subscribers

Once you’ve sketched out the outline for a useful new newsletter, it’s time to consider how you’ll attract readers. If they hope to attract newsletter subscribers, a company must make potential subscribers feel as if they’re going to be missing out by not getting the newsletter.

One useful ploy is to make the archives or samples of your newsletter available to non-subscribers. That way they can see what they’re going to be getting.

“To attract people to sign up for your newsletter, marketers need to offer valuable and relevant information,” says Thomas. “They should clarify the service that they will provide. How often they will send messages and so forth. This will make it more likely for them to collect a solid list of people who are interested in what they have to offer, and therefore be more receptive.”

Thomas recommends going one step further to establish the validity of your list. “Always reconfirm subscription requests,” he says. “In other words, marketers should have their software automatically send a re-confirmation e-mail that new subscribers have to respond to in order to complete the sign-up process. This prevents third parties from joining someone to the list, and re-verifies registration requests.”

It’s also important to make users feel comfortable giving out their e-mail address. “Always have a privacy policy,” Booker says. “This should let people know that you will not divulge their e-mail address to other parties.”

At risk: your customers

Companies that don’t take care to get permission for e-mail messages run the very serious risk of alienating potential customers forever.

One common sight on Web sites is that little check box next to which is written something to the effect of “yes, I would like to receive e-mail updates.” Many companies opt to check that box as a default, and many users, failing to read the fine print, start getting e-mails they never realized they signed up for.

“There are some sites that go as far as to automatically recheck the box again when for some reason you have not properly completed a questionnaire and have to return to that page,” says Thomas. “It is something that we do not agree with and marketers adopting this strategy can be sure that they are not collecting worthy names.”

Even if your users request a newsletter, it’s also important to easily allow them to unsubscribe. “Many companies don’t make it easy for a user to unsubscribe,” says Moran. “If you make it impossible for a user or continue to send newsletters to those who unsubscribe, you’ll only anger that user and risk the chance of losing them forever.”

Devising an effective e-mail marketing scheme is lot of work, and it’s hard to balance the desire to deliver your message with the real need to respect the customer.

Fortunately, there are plenty of flexible software solutions out there that automate many of the above suggestions and that offer a wide variety of other customizable options for managing your mailing lists. If you want to get a newsletter started, have confidence: you can make it happen.