Finally, direct marketing is cool because Internet marketers are direct marketers whether they realize it or not. Onliners are just getting hip to “split copy testing” and viewing the Net in terms of a customer acquisition and retention tool. But as you know, there’s more to the Net than response rates and renting opt-in lists. “Content Marketing” is one such twist.
For five years, I’ve marketed myself, my firm, and now other firms’ products and services through a content vehicle called Web Digest For Marketers (WDFM). It features 18 mercifully short reviews of marketing-oriented web sites. Since it was the first online marketing newsletter on the Net, WDFM has had plenty of time to make mistakes and learn from them, and to identify new and unexpected opportunities along the way. I share some of those insights with you now.
- Email can be more profitable than a web site. Click-through rates for ads appearing in email tend to be noticeably higher than click-through rates for banner ads on web sites. Duh! People who have signed up to receive an email newsletter have already taken action. This means they’re more likely to take action again. A subscriber to a newsletter is more committed than someone who’s fallen into your web site, doesn’t know you from a hole in the wall, and passively browses in and out of your site in an average of two or three clicks.
- Offering good information is a relatively inexpensive inducement. WDFM was originally posted only to its web site, until I realized it would eventually be competing with millions of other web sites. Who would remember to go back each fortnight? It’s like trying to find the polka hour on an AM radio station every Sunday morning at 9:30. With email, you can control the time of contact with more precision, assuming you have the recipient’s permission. The information you offer should flow naturally out of what you do. Perhaps it’s a byproduct of what you do.
- Syndicate your content. Online publishers often overlook this. There are teeming hordes of content providers and recipient sites looking for each other. ScreamingMedia.com and isyndicate.com will serve as agents for your content for a split of the revenues. In addition to online venues, look offline. WDFM has been syndicated in DM News, Advertising Age, and Business Marketing magazine. Nothing drives traffic to your website like attribution in print.
- Less is best. “Infostress” will soon be a commonly recognized stress disorder. Help prevent it by offering your information in short chunks, the way this column is written. Have you noticed how magazines feature fewer long pieces in favor of more short pieces? This is why. You can’t hold on to people forever, despite the all-important stickiness factor. People actually appreciate when a web site doesn’t try to convince them they needn’t go anywhere ever again. In short, “Let my people go.”
- Choose not to churn and burn. Here’s a dirty little secret few email marketing proponents will share with you: The mortality rate of email addresses is incredibly high. Why? Because people can more easily abandon an email account (or online job for that matter) than a physical residential address or traditional job. The burn rate can easily be between 30 and 40 percent! This means you’ve got to have a very aggressive acquisition program. If you dont, you’ll find your subscriber database will actually decrease every time you publish, since the bounced emails plus unsubs can easily outnumber new subscribers.
I’ve noticed it’s become harder to acquire new subscribers over the years. There was a time folks came running when you gave away something for free on the Net; this is less so now. Completion rates aren’t what they used to be either, when it comes to filling out those online subscription forms.
Until recently, you had to fill out five fields of information to subscribe to WDFM. In 1995, roughly 85 percent of subscribers completed the fields that asked for Name, Company, Title, Email address, and Where did you hear of WDFM?
Over the years, those rates dropped down to as low as 57 percent completion. Sure, you lose the capacity to datamine, but would you really have used it in the first place? Go for larger numbers that will serve to propagate your good name and eventually earn you money when your list is large enough to support advertising.
- Use your “thank-you” page and confirmation email. Some of the most valuable real estate in cyberspace goes unclaimed. Submission and “thank-you” pages, along with the email confirmation message you send out, are excellent cross-selling and upselling opportunities to include on your site.
If you don’t have physical merchandise to cross-sell, at least offer subscribers the opportunity to register for another email newsletter or recommend another newsletter or two that subscribers may find appealing. Set up relationships of reciprocity with other lists complementary to yours, and you can help each other acquire new subscribers.
- Act now. The longer you wait to start your email newsletter, the harder it will become. Acquisition costs are now skyrocketing compared to what they used to be. This is because we now live in a direct-response universe, where we are all bombarded with messages exhorting us to “buy now, call 800, subscribe free, join today, submit here,” etc.
I suggest you visit http://www.liszt.com/ to search its catalog of nearly 100,000 email newsletters. See what’s out there and how you can improve upon it with your newsletter. There are still a good number of niches waiting to be filled in with useful tip sheets that you can provide based on experiences you’ve gathered from your core business. Good luck.