Publishing Your Own Newsletter: Part 10

Personalization has suffered from the same hype curve that afflicted mobile commerce. In short, expectations for personalization were so high that few implementations could measure up. Today, the term personalization rings warning bells with privacy advocates. Personalization? How? And where will you get my preferences?

For more information about publishing your own newsletter, check out these other articles from Alexis Gutzman’s ongoing weekly series:

Publishing Your Own Newsletter
Alexis Gutzman gives an in-depth walk-through on how to start your own newsletter. Part one of a multi-part series.

Publishing Your Own Newsletter: Part 2
The second part of a multi-part series on how to publish your own newsletter, Alexis Gutzman discusses how to clean up and perfect your email list.

Publishing Your Own Newsletter: Part 3
Alexis Gutzman discusses the pros and cons of sending HTML vs. plain-text versions of a newsletter, and how to know which one is right for you.

Publishing Your Own Newsletter: Part 4
The fourth part of a multi-part series on how to publish your own newsletter, Alexis Gutzman discusses the ins and outs of designing your newsletter.

Publishing Your Own Newsletter: Part 5
Alexis Gutzman reviews four newsletter-mailing solutions and discusses the finer points of creating and sending a professional newsletter.

Publishing Your Own Newsletter: Part 6
Alexis Gutzman outlines the features to look for when selecting a newsletter service.

Publishing Your Own Newsletter: Part 7
The seventh part of a multi-part series on how to publish your own newsletter, Alexis Gutzman discusses five must-haves for a successful newsletter and how to find content.

Publishing Your Own Newsletter: Part 8
Alexis Gutzman discusses how to manage undeliverable email messages, and the importance of keeping your lists clean.

Publishing Your Own Newsletter: Part 9
Want to know who is reading your newsletter? Alexis Gutzman explains how to track your newsletter, determine who opens it, how many times it gets opened and how often it gets forwarded on to other recipients.

Publishing Your Own Newsletter: Part 10
Thinking about personalizing your business newsletter? Alexis Gutzman discusses what you need to know about your subscribers and their privacy before you implement a personalized newsletter.

Personalization means everything from the not-very-personal, “Hello, Alexis. Welcome back,” to highlighting an item as this week’s special right on the home page, which I coincidentally left in my shopping cart the last time I was at that site. Personalization can also include targeted offers based on the fact that a merchant knows I always shop in the electronics section of the store. In short, personalization is a computer-based way to simulate the “Hi, Alexis. Can I get you your usual?” experience of the visiting the restaurant you frequent.

First Know Something, Then Personalize
Of course, in order to offer customers or subscribers something familiar, you must first be familiar with them. Frankly, not everyone wants to or even can do this. If you are selling something in the newsletter, then it makes sense to try to personalize the offers the subscribers receive. For example, if you sell sporting goods, you probably want the team-logo gear you display to be for the local sports team, rather than for the archrivals of the subscriber’s favorite team.

If you are a retailer or a publisher with many categories of products or news, then you probably want to send subscribers the offers or stories that will be of most interest to them. The alternative may be that they unsubscribe because finding the things in which they are interested is simply too much work.

If you sell ad space in your newsletter, then you should be able to charge more for highly targeted traffic. Of course, you can only know how targeted your audience is if you know something about them. For example, if you publish a health information newsletter, then you can both serve your readers better and charge your sponsors more if you know which readers subscribe for information about diabetes, which for information about cancer, and which for information about nutrition.

What if you publish a newsletter for a floral business? I’m sure there are vendors who will tell you how important personalization is, but I wouldn’t make that argument. There are simply some types of communication where personalization will never pay for itself. You’ll be more likely to antagonize possible subscribers by asking them for personal information when are thinking of subscribing.

When to Collect Information
If you’re starting from scratch with a list, then it might make sense to ask for the bare essentials of personal information you need to personalize – name, zip code, sex, possibly interests – which will depend on what kinds of personalization you plan to provide.

If you’ve already got a list, but you don’t have personal information, then you need to think about what you can offer subscribers in exchange for the personal information you want to collect. The easiest things to deliver for consumers is digital content, such as a screen saver that you’ve had created for the occasion. For business customers, consider offering a white paper you’ve written, a research report you’ve licensed for this purpose from a reputable research firm, or a subscription to a premium service, even if only on a trial basis.

How Much to Collect?
If you think that personalizing will help, then you have to decide exactly how you’re going to do it: overtly (using the recipient’s name or other information he has provided to dictate content); by association (the recipient has behaved a certain way in the past, so we’ll aggregate him with others who have behaved the same way and send them all the same version); or truly personalized to show a unique version of the newsletter based on what we know about him and his previous purchases, behavior, and interests.

Whichever route you decide to take, be sure not to collect any information you don’t need right away. Readers will leave the subscription process, or decide against the premium, if you ask for too much. Also, don’t collect any information you’re not planning to begin to use this month. Information changes. Old information can be as bad as no information.

Next week, I’ll take you through a comprehensive test plan for your newsletter. You definitely want to avoid mailing without testing, because you’ll probably have to send out a corrected version. In the final part of this series, I’ll cover lining up sponsors for your newsletter and valuable resources for newsletter publishers.

Alexis D. Gutzman is an author, speaker, and consultant on e-business and e-commerce topics. She’s the producer of The Online Marketing Report. Her most recent book, The E-commerce Arsenal: 12 Technologies You Need to Prevail in the Digital Arena, was named one of the 30 best business books of this year. For up-to-date information about her research and speaking engagements, visit The Alexis Gutzman Group’s Web site.

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