Doing an Email Newsletter Right

Email newsletters can be great customer-retention vehicles — provided they’re done right. This means sending out an attractive message, communicating useful information, not bombarding your customers with mailings, and so on.

Whether you’re beginning to develop an email newsletter or simply fine-tuning your current offering, take a look with me at the biweekly email newsletter from MobilePlanet, a multichannel reseller of mobile computing products and services. With the help of the permission marketing firm Responsys.com, MobilePlanet has put together a model offering.

Why model? Here are some of the reasons.

But wait! Before I get into analyzing the newsletter, I want to answer a burning question that always seems to come up. We all seem to know the answer to it, but when asked to justify our response we sometimes stumble.

    Does HTML outperform text?

In this case, yes. MobilePlanet used to send out the commercial message in text-only format, and when the company switched to offering HTML last summer, it saw a 40 percent increase in response rates.

“It was so significant that we said, ’OK, we’ll stick to HTML when possible,’” says Tracy Keller, customer marketing manager at MobilePlanet.

Now on to the analysis:

The look. Looks may not be everything, but they surely count for something. The MOBILENews has a nice balance of text and graphics. Of course, this is purely subjective, so I recommend you click here to see for yourself.

The featured product. Toward the top of each newsletter sits a featured product. The company works with product managers in its three departments; together they look at sales and market analyses, and the product managers help determine what will be that issue’s featured product. Keller notes that when MobilePlanet tracks orders that come about as a direct result of the newsletter, a significant portion — she estimates anywhere between 35 and 45 percent — are for that week’s featured product.

Other products. The company offers seven product categories, such as personal handheld devices, notebook computers, and accessories, and each category is represented in the newsletter by a product. A short teaser and a photograph of the device entice readers to click through to the Web site. Interestingly enough, the company tells me that the higher-priced products get a higher percentage of clicks than the lower-end products. The purchase rate isn’t overwhelming, though. The reverse is true for the lower-end products: Lower-end products tend not to garner an extremely high click-through rate, but once someone has clicked through, the conversion rate is relatively high. One theory is that the newsletter prompts the customer to think, “Hey, I meant to pick up that _____________.”

The poll. At the bottom of the newsletter you’ll find a poll that asks questions such as “When traveling on business, which mobile computing device do you rely on most?” or “What are you most likely to use a digital camera for?” A pop-up window thanks users for their answers, and results are posted in the next issue. Started as a way to foster interactivity, the polls have become a valuable feedback tool. They help MobilePlanet understand which products its consumers are most interested in. And when one customer said that she’d like to see a link to the home page in the thank-you window, the company added one.

Appropriate links. Speaking of links, the newsletter is packed with clickable links. At the top are links back to various portions of the site, including the home page, the Mobile Solutions Center, and the Pocket PC Store. The newsletter is more than simply an announcement of certain products; it’s an entry into the site. Plus there are the standard “Send to a friend” and “Update my profile” links.

Feedback responsiveness. Each week users can click a link that asks them what they think about the newsletter, what they’d like to see in future issues, or any other comments. The staff reads through all comments and uses them to tailor future newsletters.

The company says the newsletter has been so successful that it is beginning to work on other sorts of email campaigns, including sending out product updates to customers who have expressed interest in particular categories. If the newsletter is any indication, I predict MobilePlanet’s future campaigns will really go places.

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