Readers Respond to Targeted Email Newsletters

  |  November 9, 2000   |  Comments

Sure, they both like books, but is the science fiction aficionado that interested in what the romance novel reader fancies? Borders didn't think so, and thus decided to develop email newsletters targeting these audiences and others. What do the newsletters share? Great content and a growing number of subscribers!

Building a brand, increasing customer loyalty, creating personal bonds with consumers: We all know how important it is for the long-term success of a business to meet these goals. One way to help achieve them is with email newsletters, so this week we'll take a look at what I think is one of the best efforts out there.

The Borders Group, composed of Borders stores nationwide,, and other properties (including Waldenbooks), is making a strong push to create online newsletters that are attractive and relevant to consumers. Customers are signing up in droves; the newsletters number subscribers in the high six figures. Here's why I think the emails are drawing in such a large audience.

First, they are highly targeted. Sure, the flagship newsletter, The Borders Newsletter, is targeted to -- who else? -- book, music, and video lovers. The bimonthly newsletter provides an overview of recent releases, contests, events, and more. But the targeting goes much deeper than that. Right now, Borders offers eight interest-based issues, including three launched just last month:

  • Borders Alchemy, a look at science and philosophy

  • Borders Arts & Letters, a celebration of literary nonfiction

  • Borders Business Class, a look at markets, e-commerce, personal finance, and other financial info

  • Borders Digital Cinema, a guide to everything DVD and more

  • Borders Lit, an overview of remarkable fiction, old and new

  • Borders Romantica, a collection for the romantically inclined

  • Borders Tractor Beam, a science fiction offering

  • Borders Virago, a newsletter focusing on women and women's history

More newsletters are planned for launch early next year, including ones devoted to classical and Latin music.

Second, the content is unique. Too often, I see newsletters that are merely blurbs to information that anyone can find online, and the editing doesn't distinguish the newsletters from any others. But the Borders newsletters are packed with original content. Manager of site content Rich Fahle says it is easy to convince authors, publishers, and other outside sources to contribute because it's great publicity and Borders communicates to these third parties that it takes the content seriously. The newsletters carry interviews, essays, listings of new releases and old favorites, sample passages, music recommendations, and more.

For example, in the October issue of Romantica, you'll see a Borders interview with romance writer Eloisa James, an exclusive essay from author Mary Balogh, a period primer called Welcome to the Regency, sample passages in the Romance Reading Room, and top-five lists of recommended reading.

Third, the newsletter itself is well laid out. In my opinion, it has the right amount of content; the bulk of the content is contained behind the links to the web site, making the email itself a quick read. The teasers do a good job of persuading readers to click through to the site. Estimates vary according to the specific newsletter and issue, but Marketing Manager Mary Campbell notes that the newsletters have an open rate of about 60 percent, and of those who open the mail, about 80 percent click through to subscribe to more newsletters. The unsubscribe rate is never higher than two percent.

Also, the HTML layout is quite attractive, with color, small photographs, and a distinctive logo. For another example, see the Business Class newsletter.

On the business side, Borders is doing the right stuff, too. You don't want to overwhelm consumers with information, and the mailings are timed so that the flagship newsletter comes out about every two weeks and the interest-based ones are released monthly. Consumers are encouraged off- and online to register, with signs in the brick-and-mortar stores, links throughout the site, addresses collected at point of sale (opt-in, of course), and new kiosks in more than 200 stores for electronic sign-up.

On the back end, the company estimates that it typically takes two people to put together each newsletter, but they're doing so along with their other job duties. Fahle and Campbell said it was a tough sell at first to convince management to devote the necessary resources to this project. But once the executives saw the response, they gave their full support.

What's next? Well, as I mentioned earlier, the company plans to launch other newsletters in the next few months. It also plans to experiment with the look and feel of the newsletter, possibly adding a video element for those who want it.

The one thing that won't change is the company's strong efforts in this area, and that can only be good for business!

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Heidi Anderson

Heidi is a freelance writer who covers the Internet for both consumers and businesses. She's a former editor of the E-mail Publishing Resource Center and coauthor of "Sometimes the Messenger Should Be Shot: Building a Spam-Free E-mail Marketing Program." Her work also appears in Smart Computing, PC Novice, What's Working Online, and Editor & Publisher.

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