Recently, I was asked to conduct an e-mail copywriting training session for a large global services firm. The firm's main challenge is well within my area of expertise: creating event marketing e-mail that attracts a C-level audience.
However, like most firms, the firm sends out a wide range of different e-mail messages: e-newsletters, e-surveys, and Webcast invitations. So I sought out experts in each field to contribute their best practices and thought I would pass their successful strategies and insights on to you, as well.
The first topic we'll tackle is e-newsletters. While I've written my fair share of e-newsletters for my B2B (define) clients, I wondered if there were some field-tested design and copy tactics that have been proven to work. Something along the lines of "always put your president's letter in the upper right-hand section of the initial screen."
I've yet to find out those e-newsletter design and content architecture "rules" (though I would be very open to hearing from anyone who can pass along theirs to me).
However, I did get a higher-level perspective on e-newsletter content from Michael J. Katz of Blue Penguin Development, a firm that specializes in e-newsletters for professional services companies.
While reading his book, "E-Newsletters That Work," I found myself nodding in agreement as he revealed his three big secrets to creating an effective e-newsletter. As he says, these secrets are simple, but "they are completely ignored by 95 percent of the people producing e-newsletters today."
Secret 1: Focus on the Content
In an e-mail-fatigued world in which business people scan their inboxes, ready to press the "delete" key, your e-newsletter must be engaging, relevant, and a must-read.
One of the best ways to accomplish this is to write about the questions your customers and prospects ask you about most. Keep a notepad by your phone and when people call you, jot down a list of their most common inquiries. Your answers are your e-newsletter content.
These frequently asked questions should be answered in the same friendly, practical manner you would use over the phone. While we all want to be considered thought leaders, that doesn't mean articles have to be lengthy, academic treatises. If you talk from your own experience about what works in your business, people will immediately get that you're an expert. Once your expertise is established, you're on your way to forging a productive, professional relationship.
That leads us to the second secret...
Secret 2: Focus on the Relationships
As Katz says, "The primary reason that e-newsletters are so powerful is because they provide a systematic means for growing and maintaining relationships. It's not because they're cheap or trackable or clickable or forwardable, although they certainly are all those things."
Your e-newsletter gives you a vehicle for connecting with your customers or potential customers month after month.
He goes on to say, "If you write your company newsletter with a focus on enhancing the relationship between you and your readers, you will stand head and shoulders over your competition, most of whom are missing this point entirely and who (whether they say it out loud or not) view their e-newsletter as an inexpensive way to send direct mail to their house list."
Secret 3: Be Genuine
Your e-newsletter should sound like it's written by you.
If you are a Fortune 500, your e-newsletter should either sound like it's written by your CEO or reflect your corporate culture and brand. It should speak to your customers and prospects just as if you were sitting across from them at a conference room table or, better yet, a restaurant table.
Katz says, "Your newsletter should give potential customers a sense of what you're like, who you are, what you believe in, what you know about your industry, and what doing business with you is all about. For existing customers, it's an ongoing reminder of all things."
From my own experience publishing an e-newsletter and writing this column for ClickZ, I see the principle of "like attracts like" works in e-newsletter writing.
People who like what I say tend to contact me after each column is published. When we get on the phone or chat by e-mail, it's like we're old friends -- and, of course, many of these warm, collegial contacts quickly turn into enduring client relationships.
What's beautiful about this approach is that it also weeds out the clients who would have been a bad fit. I guess they read the e-newsletters that coincide more with their own point of view!
Katz reminds us, "Relationships happen between people (not between organizations) and the more you can write in a genuine, spoken manner, the more it will feel to readers like somebody (i.e., you) is really on the other end. Turn out something that breaks down walls between your company and your customers, and you will be just fine."
In the next column, we'll go over a check list of e-newsletter mechanics and must-haves that Katz recommends.
But here's your assignment in the meantime. Take a look at your current e-newsletter and ask yourself:
If you answer "no" to any of these questions, perhaps it's time for a spring e-newsletter makeover.
E-newsletter experts, especially those of you who write and design corporate e-newsletters, please share your best techniques and samples withKaren for future columns.
Want more e-mail marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Reference is an archive of all our e-mail columns, organized by topic.
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Karen Gedney, an award-winning creative director and copywriter, shared her insights as a ClickZ Experts contributor from 2000 through 2009. She was known for her successful track record of achieving high e-mail response rates for Fortune 1000 companies and leading organizations. She died Nov. 16, 2010.
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