E-Newsletters: A No-Brainer

I was going to start this column with a snappy lead-in: E-newsletters are the killer app of B2B email marketing!

But I decided not to.

Think back to 12-18 months ago, and you’ll recall that “killer app” was a phrase thrown around with abandon. It meant the newest, breakthrough Internet technology application in a particular category, whether it was a Web-based calendar (for personal productivity) or live chat (for CRM — customer relationship management).

Sigh. Those heady, silly days are gone. What’s left, however, is not all that bad. We’ve got all the pieces of the online and offline marketing puzzle laid out in front of us. The challenge now is more mundane. It’s not to think up the next new thing.

It’s to use the Internet and the Web (in conjunction with other marketing channels) to save money or to make money — the two fundamental business objectives.

A No-Brainer

This is where B2B (business-to-business) email newsletters come in. They’re a no-brainer, really. You’ve already invested budget and resources to acquire your in-house list of email addresses. Now, at very little cost, you can communicate with your prospects quickly, easily, and systematically.

It costs just pennies to deliver a retention email message, compared with dollars per message for an acquisition email campaign — or even more dollars per piece for direct mail. And if your list is big enough, you can sell sponsorship ads (text or banners) in your e-newsletter, thereby creating another revenue stream.

The sales cycle for high-end technology products and services is long and complex, requiring numerous touch points to convert a prospect into a customer. Email newsletters are ideally suited to doling out small, digestible doses of information — about your product, your industry, your Web site — and thereby moving your prospects, step by step, along the path to purchase.

The problem is this: Your prospects are inundated with e-newsletters. They may not open, much less read, the ones they’ve signed up for.

What Works

How do you break through the deluge? What kind of content has real value for your reader? How do you use an e-newsletter to turn prospects into customers?

There are no hard-and-fast rules (and if anyone says there are, don’t believe it). But a few folks out there are consistently delivering high-quality e-newsletters that are truly readable. Let’s look at a couple of them to come up with a checklist of what works.

For the purposes of discussion, I’ll divide the checklist into two parts, one for text-only e-newsletters and one for HTML (which I’ll take up next week).

Text E-Newsletters

A number of B2B e-newsletters are still being delivered in text-only versions. And that’s just fine. Remember, there are some clear differences between B2B and business-to-consumer (B2C) email marketing. One of them is that business readers are looking for information; they’re almost always in a hurry, and they may want to read the e-newsletter on their personal digital assistant (PDA) or other digital device. Text is just easier to receive.

(In addition, some say that text is warmer and more personal than HTML, because it looks as if it’s coming from a person and not a corporation.)

The basic rule for a text e-newsletter is to use a consistent format. This means starting with a table of contents and, if possible, ordering it by departments (From the Editor, Top Story, New Tools, etc.).

That way, your readers know what to expect and can easily skim down to what interests them.

“What’s new on our Web site” is not a good topic, but linking to a landing page on your site is important for two reasons:

  • First, doing so gives you a way to measure who is reading your e-newsletter and clicking through to your site.
  • Second, a key objective of your e-newsletter should be to pull prospects back to your site, where you can continue to engage and educate them about your products or services.

Wrap your lines at 60 to 65 characters, include plenty of white space, and use ASCII characters (slashes, asterisks, etc.) to set off paragraphs.

Always include (easy) unsubscribe instructions and a phone number and the name of a (real) contact person with a title. The editor or director of marketing, for example.

Why a phone number? As you know, B2B sales are almost always made offline through a one-to-one connection between your prospect and your sales exec. Don’t be afraid to include a phone number!

A Couple of Examples

Although they’re a content product in and of themselves — and not a promotional marketing tool per se — Anne Holland’s MarketingSherpa text e-newsletters (“Practical news on Internet marketing”) are a pleasure to read.

Sign up for a couple to get some ideas. She uses great subject lines, and her content is consistently “gotta read” (versus “would be nice to read”).

If breaking through the clutter is one of your primary objectives, use that editorial distinction (“a must read” versus “if I get around to it”) to guide your choice of what to include in your e-newsletter.

Another good source for ideas are The Industry Standard‘s e-newsletters (several come in both HTML and text, so you can compare).

Bottom line: Make your e-newsletter as user friendly as possible — in format and tone. Don’t write in corporatespeak. Always put yourself in your reader’s shoes. Would you open the e-newsletter, given the subject line? Would you think warmly of your company after reading it?

Put a lot of thought into your e-newsletter before launching the first issue. If your recipients determine that your e-newsletter is worth opening, skimming, and even saving, you may, over a period of months, be able to measure some real business results. (You can read an interesting article on MarketingProfs.com about measuring the return on investment — ROI — of e-newsletters.)

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