Krotz Marketing Intelligence / Joanna L. Krotz
E-mail newsletters: Deliver news, not spam

by Joanna L. Krotz

It's talked up and run down by wizards in every silo from software to sales. E-mail communications, say the gurus, will generate cost-effective streams of deeply loyal, consistently click-through customers.

Well, e-folks, then is now. E-mail spending services will crest to a staggering $6.8 billion by 2006, says Forrester Research, while 91% of online households already access e-mail at least once a week.

Marketers surveyed in August 2001 by Forrester were thrilled with e-mail's cost effectiveness and high response rates for existing customers, that is. New customers, however, are simply ignoring e-mail messages.

There's definitely trouble in Shangri-la.
A year ago, consumers and business-to-business (B2B) clients alike signed up in droves for e-mail newsletters to learn more about products and industry news.

Marketers, emboldened by the new, cheap technique, went into overdrive. Customers have been bombarded with offers and e-zines.

The result: "People are overwhelmed,"
says Brian Alt of E-mail Possibilities, an online publisher based in Plattsmouth, Neb. In other words, they're suffering from e-mail fatigue and inbox overload.

From 2000 to 2001, click-through rates for customer acquisition dropped from an excited 3.5% to a ho-hum 0.4%. Forrester's conclusion: "An e-mail marketing crisis looms."

Let's be clear:
E-mail messaging remains an extremely effective and inexpensive marketing tool. Among other benefits, e-mail newsletters can keep your customers more informed and, hence, more likely to buy.

They can strengthen your bond with clients and, of course, to know you is to love, buy from or hire you. E-news broadcasts timely announcements or special offers quickly and cheaply, making your client feel like an insider.


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But given the e-mail overload,
you must get smarter about the newsletter you create and send. "You have only one shot to reach the user and get that customer to sign up or bookmark your site," says Shel Horowitz, who runs, a Northampton, Mass., consulting firm for grassroots marketing.

jaded customers respond only to high-quality e-zines that speak to their specific interests. "All customers are not created alike," says consultant Brian Johnson, managing partner of marketing strategy at Accenture, and adjunct professor at the Kellogg School of Management in Evanston, Ill.

4 don'ts that too often get done
These are the most common mistakes business owners make when launching e-zines:

  1. The newsletter reads like a company memo, highlighting internal news or products as if consumers should care.
  2. Distribution is global and does not target any user or build on client intelligence like the early airline 'zines that had you scrolling through 20 alluring bargain destinations, not one of which departed from a local airport.
  3. The newsletter never changes. Substantial budgets are created for tracking software, rented lists, search engine placements, distribution channels and the like, but no real money is allocated for original or refreshed content.
  4. Instead of integrating the newsletter into a broader marketing strategy, the business depends on it as a stand-alone marketing vehicle.

All very well, you say. But once the research is complete, how does a small or mid-sized business find the time, money, staff and resources to feed such a demanding project? How does personalized content get updated and refreshed? One counterintuitive way: Team with competitors.

What makes an e-mail newsletter work?
To be successful, e-mail newsletters must actually deliver news, not come-ons or puffery. They must be personal and individual in tone and must arrive in the user's inbox with a reliable frequency (weekly works; monthly at least).

Think of how you react to e-mail newsletters: The ones you read undoubtedly carry attention-getting subject lines that cause you to click. Next, there's generally a summary at the top teasers that let you quickly jump to an item you want.

If any copy or design element leads you to put it aside for later perusal, that newsletter is toast. "Must-read" messages are the goal. The means to must-read messages? Research, research, research. Find out as much as you can about your repeat customers, including:

  • Lifestyle and purchasing habits
  • Age, gender and education level
  • Occupation, marital status or family size
  • Cultural or professional interests and background
  • Household location or travel preferences
  • Corporate budget or disposable income

The more you know,
the more you can customize the newsletter's content, look and feel to suit your customer. The more on-target your content, the more you can distinguish likely from risky customers, and decide which ones will give you the best return on your investment.

When life gives you rivals, make allies
For example, sole proprietor Mary Ann Perry, based in Anaheim, Calif., has been selling herbal plants and herbal-themed gifts online for four years via Perry also likes to write and often contributes features to a mid-sized online and print publishing firm in Burlington, N.C., owned by Jackie Carroll.

About a year ago, says Carroll, "a piece Mary Ann wrote called 'Lemonade Days and Blackberry Summer' was so good, it gave me the idea to start an online herbal newsletter. I have lots of other e-mail newsletters, but herbs are not my expertise."

So, slowly, with Carroll handling programming and distribution and Perry as writer/editor, the pair debuted "Early on," says Perry, "we had problems getting the format right.

We didn't run teasers and we lost people." Even so, while they tinkered, "it doubled the hits on my site right away," she says, "and it's sustained that growth, converting a lot of readers into customers."

After another herbal company expressed interest in a promotion, Perry decided to start weekly contests. She asked the companies that linked to ChamTimes to become sponsors and take turns providing a free product to ship to winners. That strategy has also worked well.

A year later, Perry boasts 17,000 subscribers. In addition to linking from the e-mail newsletter to Garden Guides and to Sayit-n-Herbs, the newsletter goes out to customers of four other linked sponsors, including Beagle Ridge Herb Farm in Wytheville, Va.; in Columbia Station, Ohio; in Live Oak, Fla.; and in Milwaukee. A fifth sponsor is in the talking stage. Perry also links to as an associated bookstore, which helps revenues.

Perhaps surprisingly,
the online firms don't cannibalize each other's sales. "A lot of gardening sites went bankrupt earlier this year," says Carroll. "We're all dependent on each other and the newsletter really drives traffic."

Send out targeted news to the right customer,
and e-mail marketing will work for you, too.

About the Author: Marketing Intelligence, E-mail newsletters:
Deliver news, not spam, by Joanna L. Krotz

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