How to Undermine Your Brand and Tax Resources With an E-Newsletter

Did I mention I received a newsletter yesterday? No, probably not, because I received 18 newsletters. I get about 65 newsletters a week. If I were to dedicate just five minutes to each one, I’d spend 6.5 hours a week reading them all. I doubt very much I’m the only person in the world receiving such large numbers of these things.

My bulging inbox and growing reading duties have led me to wonder how useful and effective any of these newsletters really are. We know how they come about: Some genius on the marketing team comes up with the highly original idea of producing… a biweekly newsletter. The first three issues are well received. There’s lots of interest among the recipients and plenty of appealing content to maintain that interest. Then, it all goes horribly wrong. Internally, the newsletter becomes, more or less, a pain in the you-know-where. Everyone’s run out of ideas for articles, no one’s really interested in writing them, and the publishing deadline is stretched to the very last minute. Result? A newsletter filled with more junk and filler than interesting material.

At this point, subscribers find themselves trapped as well. Having enjoyed a great article or two, clients subscribed to receive what promised to be a valuable contribution to their industry knowledge. That, or they were hijacked into receiving the thing by some sold-to-everybody mailing list. These clients might read the newsletter’s first two issues but will quickly tire of the same old stuff recycled repeatedly, the redundancy of content ineffectively disguised with new headlines (often very compelling headlines). Do reluctant and disillusioned subscribers opt out of the mailing list? No. Opting out seems to take days to take effect. In the meantime, those newsletters just keep coming. The recipients just keep deleting.

Lame newsletters do not build your brand. Of the 50 top Fortune companies I happened to visit yesterday, 29 offer newsletters. Most of those newsletters look the same. And in about four months, their original, enticing quality fades. Yet they keep going and going and going — like a Energizer battery.

Don’t make the same mistakes with your newsletter. Forget about committing to a weekly, biweekly, or monthly schedule. No matter how big your marketing department, the newsletter will become its biggest time waster. Trust me. Your customers are not sitting in front of their PCs waiting for your newsletter to appear in their inboxes. Send news when you have it. Don’t invent news just to have something to say. Unless you really have something important to say, something unique, something you know your customers really would love to hear more about, forget all about sending a newsletter.

If you absolutely love the idea of distributing news via email, don’t refer to the document as a “newsletter.” Come up with another term that won’t repel your jaded readers.

If, despite all this, you do decide to publish a newsletter, here’s how to do it right. First, send a sample newsletter to 10 customers you really know well. Ask for their opinions. You might think this is a lot of work. It is. I’d rather achieve quality content that interests my customers than waste the time of 5,000 of my best clients with junk. If you keep sending material your customers never read, eventually they won’t notice when interesting news arrives. Remember the fable? Cry wolf too often and people become deaf to your voice.

Remove all the links in your newsletter. A couple of weeks ago, I discussed links on your site that make no sense. The same principles apply to newsletters. One or two good links are fine, but recently I received a newsletter containing 21 of them. I hardly knew where to start and where to end.

Producing news on an ongoing basis is a complex business. Newspapers do it every day and struggle to make it happen. I love the idea of notifying your customers when there’s interesting, relevant, mind-blowing news. But wasting their time, continually, is counter to the reason you decided to publish a newsletter in the first place. Branding is about making your product relevant for your customers, ensuring they can’t live without it. A relentless newsletter that inexorably repeats itself, issue after issue, is one of the best ways to disconnect your customer from your brand.

PS: OK, OK, I asked for it. If you read this email via one of ClickZ’s newsletters, you have every right to object to what I’m saying.

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