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Newsletter Content: Time for a Fresh Start!

  |  April 2, 2003   |  Comments

Newsletter spring cleaning: eight tips for fresher content.

Some of you probably live in very mild, even tropical, climates, so you didn’t experience the freezing cold, snowy winter we did in the Northeast. It was a tough one, with huge snow banks, icy roads, and chilling temperatures, keeping us stuck in the stale indoors. Not any more -- it’s springtime!

There’s something about spring that makes us want to start cleaning. In the spring, people clean out their closets, basements, and gardens, creating room for new things to grow and expand. It’s a good idea to do the same with your newsletter. Today, I’ll suggest some ways to take a fresh new approach with content.

What’s Stale?

First, find out what no longer works from a content point of view. There are three ways to do this:

  • Use analytics to find out what readership trends are from month to month. What types of articles repeatedly get attention and which collect dust balls?

  • If you don’t have a sophisticated set of analytical tools, you can run a survey to find out what people’s favorite articles are.

  • If you don’t have that capability either, call a few customers to get their feedback. It’s old-fashioned and somewhat intrusive, but it’s imperative to know what your subscribers read and what they value.

Throw Out Whatever Gathers Dust

If you have articles no one ever reads, month after month, guess what? It’s time to get rid of them. Cut the cord! Delete them from your editorial list! If you can figure out why nobody reads them, great. If not, just break free of the excess baggage.

Fix What’s Important

If those articles you consider to be most important for conveying your message are the ones read the least, don’t quite throw them out. For example, if your product updates convey critical information but no one’s reading them, perhaps you need to repackage them. Instead of a long-winded, boring article, try a sidebar with a bulleted list of bare-minimum facts and a link to a microsite containing the nitty-gritty details. That way, people will find what’s important to them in a quick, convenient way.

Add New Energy!

A couple of ideas to get people reading again:

  • Get your executives to talk. Your customers want to know your company is real. If you have a column each month that’s a personalized insight from the CEO or company VPs, customers will get a sense of what your company is all about. Don’t worry if your executives don’t have time to write themselves. You can hire writers who can conduct quick interviews and write the columns for you.

  • Provide an industry perspective. Your customers will be grateful for a quick update on the latest developments in your market. They don’t have time to figure out what’s going in your industry, so help them out. Create surveys with trend questions, then publish the results. Seek articles and/or research data from industry pundits on the Internet.

  • Let your customers speak up. Full-blown testimonials must often go through lots of legal channels, but newsletter articles in which customers voice opinions about your product’s usability usually don’t have to go through an extensive approval process. It’s easier getting a few paragraphs approved than a whole story. Combine a few different customers’ thoughts in the same story, and you’ll have a tale to tell!

  • Create your own experts. Every company has people who are thought leaders. Find one who can tackle a tough topic every issue, and give her a column of her own. This is a good way to test this person’s ability to lead a forum. Who knows? Perhaps she is an ideal candidate for a future corporate blog!

What are you struggling with in your newsletter strategy? E-mail me your thoughts about what’s gone stale. I’ll offer some advice on how to give it a fresh perspective.

Meet Kathleen at ClickZ E-Mail Strategies in New York City on May 19 and 20.

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Kathleen Goodwin

Kathleen Goodwin is the former CEO of IMN (formerly iMakeNews), specializing in customer acquisition and retention through permission-based e-newsletters. For nine years, she was vice president of marketing for Ziff-Davis' publishing division, where she oversaw the marketing of all print publications and their early online siblings. She also serves as an advisor to early-stage companies and has been responsible for several successful new-business launches.

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