The Rules of Engagement, Part 2

Last time, I talked about building a good, strong subscriber base for your e-newsletter, with an eye toward segmenting your database for highly personalized and custom communications. This week, I’ll discuss the next step: building a strong content vehicle that keeps you in touch with your readers in a regular and timely manner.

Building From the Ground Up

With your subscriber database in place, you are now ready to develop five to eight separate, specific content categories that appeal to your readers. Create buckets such as new or updated product and services releases, technical and user tips, market trends and analysis, case histories, and customer testimonials. Then find resource pools or information sources that can provide you with the content on a regular basis for each bucket. Good sources are people in your company with expertise on an industry, product, or service and third-party sources and publishers that can provide market data or relevant articles. In addition, you can have content created for you.

Think carefully about your content buckets because they will help build respect and demonstrate leadership in your marketplace.

Package the Goods

Now it’s time to decide how you want to package your content. Build a graphic template that is consistent with your corporate branding but gives your newsletter an identity of its own so your readers will recognize it visually over time. Be sure the newsletter’s cover page does not extend below the browser window. Use a headline and an opening paragraph for each article, with a hierarchical presentation of your content categories so the most relevant articles are first. Link the opening paragraphs to a companion microsite where you can host the entire article. Designed in this manner, your cover page presents your full table of contents to your readers in a short, easy-to-read format.

A Story for You, and One for You….

Remember the more targeted your content is, the more you can distinguish customers from prospects, time wasters from interested parties, and those with the big bucks from those without. I can’t stress this enough: Use the data in your database to segment your newsletter. Walk in your readers’ shoes and really get a sense for what each segment wants to hear from you. This simple step may take a little extra time, but in the end it will nurture budding relationships and make you smarter and richer.

Keep a Pulse on Your Audience

The email relationship you have with your subscribers gives you the ability to continually take the pulse of what’s going on in the world, as it relates to your products and services. Use these opportunities often and wisely. Offer interactive surveys on relevant topics or quick polls on how readers are using your products. Encourage subscriber feedback through emails or letters to the editor.

Then share the information. Give it back to your subscribers in articles surrounded by your company’s marketing-speak. You’ll look like whiz kids who know what they’re talking about.

Consistency, Consistency, Consistency

From your format to when you deliver, consistency is the name of the game:

  • Except for an act of God. Set up a schedule that only changes if there’s a natural disaster. Make your newsletter become expected and, even better, anticipated by delivering it at the same time of the day, week, and month. We send our newsletter out once a month on a Tuesday morning, so our subscribers know when to look for it. For business-to-business (B2B) marketers, it’s best to deliver during the week — on any day except Mondays (when people are returning to work). Consumers read more during evenings and weekends.

  • Same old format. Though a consistent format may seem a little boring to you, resist moving things around within your template or changing your buckets because as your subscribers become familiar with your newsletter, they’ll be able to navigate more easily and know where to find areas of interest. Familiarity and easy navigation means more reader mind share and more click-throughs. You’ll begin to have a better understanding of how your newsletter is being used — which articles are read first and last and the pattern of how people read. This will help you serve up better, more customized and personalized content in your next issues.

Find Out What Works

Remember, interesting and well-developed content is key to increasing not only your number of readers but also how long your readers spend with your newsletters and articles. I’ll be speaking more about how to keep tabs on how well your newsletter is being read in my next column, so if you’re not already doing this, stay tuned.

In the meantime, email me your thoughts and comments at

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