E-Mail vs. E-Newsletters: Is There a Difference?

Do we really need both e-newsletters and email? At some point, someone decided we do. An email is like a direct mail piece. An e-newsletter is like a newspaper. But online, does the recipient notice, crave, or even desire this distinction?

I showed my mom some of the business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) e-newsletters I was working on. When I asked what she thought, she replied, “They look great, dear.” When I asked if she wanted to see email messages the same companies were sending, she looked at me as if I had two heads. “Honey, you just showed me the emails. Let’s go to dinner.”

That’s when it hit me: The typical consumer may not notice the difference between a promotional email and an e-newsletter.

For the purpose of this column, “e-newsletters” aren’t those sent from news publishing companies. They’re missives from commercial organizations such as Chase and Unilever. Many companies have separate groups working on email and e-newsletters. Often, the databases and messaging cycles are different. In most cases, responses to one never affect the other.

Why? And do readers consciously realize the difference?

I asked 25 people if they consciously chose to sign up for an e-newsletters rather than email (or vice versa) when they want to receive messages from a company. Responses were best summed up as: “An email is an email. If I want to hear from a company or am researching a topic, I’ll give my information. As long as the content is organized and relevant, I don’t care what it’s called.”

I asked 25 marketers the same question, and received responses like: “E-newsletters are tricky. They’re supposed to act like online newspapers: regularly scheduled communications focused on education and relevancy. Many times, though, ROI needs to sneak in, and the e-newsletter is turned into a sales driver. An email is a specific, relevant, focused offer with an intent to drive sales.”

One thought remained consistent across the responses: relevancy. Readers want to receive relevant content. Marketers want to deliver it. So does it make sense to treat e-newsletters differently and separately from email? Or do they ultimately converge into one complete brand experience?

Take a look at these key elements for building a successful e-newsletter:

  • Remain timely. Don’t call it “Tuesday News” if you can’t send it every Tuesday. But do establish a scheduled delivery calendar.

  • Prioritize messages. What’s the key takeaway? Make it prominent, clear, and intriguing so people will click through for more information.
  • Reader relevancy is sacred. Use subscription centers and click-through activity to guide message content and context.
  • Speak with one voice. Content often comes from different sources; make sure the copy tone is consistent.
  • Follow up on downloads and polls. Failing to acknowledge reader interaction can be damaging. Sharing action-based results in future e-newsletters drives loyal readership.
  • Add customer service to your e-newsletter loop. Even information-focused content can wake a sleeping tiger. Ensure that your customer service department has copies of your e-newsletters and is ready to respond to reader questions.
  • Use your e-newsletter as a testing ground. A recent B2B case study focuses on a company that only collects email addresses from its readers. It wanted to enhance its profile. By analyzing click-through activity for vertically focused offers, the company was able to determine the reader’s general position in the company and adjusted the future content appropriately.
  • A simple statement goes a long way. A B2C client of mine adds a simple statement at the top of every e-newsletter. New readers receive a thank-you for requesting the information. Ongoing subscribers are told their patronage is appreciated. It’s simple, effective, and powerful.

What do you think? Let me know!

Want more email marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Reference is an archive of all our email columns, organized by topic.

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