Creating An E-mail Newsletter: Getting Started
by Alf Nucifora
It's time to stop procrastinating. I've been promising an email newsletter to clients and prospects for some time. Now is that time. An email newsletter makes good sense to help me promote my consulting and speech practice. The four direct mail drops that I normally send out each year are costing me a fortune and a large percentage comes back undelivered. It's a frustrating and wasteful exercise.
Email seems to be the way to go. Jupiter Communications predicts that spending on commercial email (development and distribution) will grow to $7.3 billion in 2005, up from $164 million in 1999. Spam will be a problem, however. In 1999, the average consumer received 40 pieces of spam-mail annually. By 2005, Jupiter estimates that number will grow to 1,600. AOL currently estimates that spam accounts for more than 30% of all email that its member receive... 24 million messages a day.
Last year, I purged my ACT database file (some 5,600 names) and got it down to 1,200 contacts with email addresses. These are the lucky souls who will get my first email newsletter by July 30th this year.
Go to the Expert
I got in touch with touchMarketing.com, a leading Internet-based, e-marketing service and resource provider. Based in Renton, WA, touchMarketing will help me create, select, deliver and analyze my program which involves sending a marketing-oriented, e-mail newsletter once a month crammed with important news, trend information, hard-to-find data and valuable resource and networking sources.
What I want touchMarketing to do is provide strategic advice, help me design the template and distribute the newsletter each month. Once we've developed the design format, my own webmaster will lay out each subsequent issue according to the template.
Ask Before You Design
There are a number of important considerations and instructions that touchMarketing has made me address before we get to the design phase:
- Clean up the database to purge duplicates and verify contact information
- Segment the database according to e-marketing purpose (title, industry, preferred products, region)
- Prepare the database to send to the outsourcer, in this case touchMarketing; convert ACT, Excel, Access databases to meet the outsourcer's specifications
- Snail mail a disk or upload the database file to the outsourcer
- What's the purpose of the newsletter? Who is the audience? What do they commonly receive?
- What types of email will be sent, e.g. newsletter, news articles, post cards, catalogs, web pages, etc.?
- Who will be responsible for creating the e-vehicle?
- How much text per communication?
- What graphics, logos, product visuals, color schemes, audio files, video files are already available?
- What do I want the recipient to do? Read the email, forward it to a friend, provide more data, buy a product, etc.?
Writing Style and Content
- Use the subject line to tease the recipient... make them want more without overstatement or hype.
- Front-load major points and response triggers at the head of the message.
- Make it easy for the reader to perform the desired task (click here!).
- Personalize the communication. Keep it simple, short, direct and use recognizable terms and phrases.
- Don't bore the reader with details. Provide that information via links or auto-reply buttons where appropriate.
- Repeat the offer and the response trigger at the bottom of the message to reinforce the call to action.
Additional Tricks of the Trade
When it comes to content and writing style, the email pundits are already establishing some hard and fast rules based on quantitative results. touchMarketing recommends using the recipient's first and last name in the subject line. One of their clients achieved a 10% increase in opened email with that one simple change. Another company tested a version with or without "save" in the subject line. The "without" version did significantly better.
touchMarketing also warns against translating traditional print direct mail technique to its digital counterpart. For instance, while longer text often out-performs shorter copy in traditional direct mail, that's not the case with e-marketing. Keep the message short and keep the details above the fold (scroll line). In that space, list the benefits, provide the call to action and cite the hyperlink. touchMarketing also recommends including your hyperlink three times in the copy... once above the fold, the other two spread throughout the message.
Internet copywriter, Robert W. Bly, recommends the following additional tricks:
- At the beginning of the email, put a "from" line as well as a subject line. This shows the recipient that the email is not spam, but rather a communication from someone whom they already know.
- In the first paragraph, state the offer and provide an immediate response mechanism such as clicking on a link connected to a web page. This appeals to Internet prospects with short attention spans.
- After the first paragraph, present expanded copy that covers features, benefits, proof and other information that the recipient might need.
- Don't put "free" in the subject line. Some Internet users are employing spam-filtering software that screens for the word free.
- Always reprise your offer and response mechanism in the close of the email.
- Use wide margins... limit of 55-60 characters per line.
- Go easy on all-caps. They give the impression that you're shouting.
- Always lead-off the message copy with a killer headline.
- In general, short is better. Email is a unique environment. Readers quickly sort through a bunch of messages and aren't disposed to stick with you for long.
- Always include an opt-out statement to prevent a negative response from recipients who think they have been spammed. Make it easy for them to get off the list by typing "unsubscribe" or "remove" in the subject line.
Copy coach, Kim MacPherson, adds the following advice:
- The message becomes your salesperson. Give it the appropriate personality and make it work for you. If it sounds like its being shouted from the rooftops for all the world to hear, something's probably wrong.
- Leave plenty of white space in and around the text to make it easier for prospects to read.
- Single-space within paragraphs, double-space between.
- Use one-line paragraphs to emphasize certain points, but don't overdo it.
I plan to meet with touchMarketing next week. We'll review strategy, training, implementation, list generation and management, hosting and template design. I already have material scoped out for the first issue. My one-time set-up fee will be somewhere in the range of $1,000, with a customized design template costing approximately $500. Email distribution of my limited database of 1,200 names will be negotiable given that touchMarketing prefers to handle assignments with a minimum of 50,000 messages per month.
There's one potential problem. My newsletter, which will be no more than 2-3 pages per issue, will be riddled with color, visuals, photographs, etc., a mini-USA Today. I don't want it to be dull and boring like the majority of text-only email newsletters that I currently receive. Unfortunately, not all recipients can receive a graphics-laden email message. AOL subscribers are in that boat. No problem, they'll get it in text version instead. In fact, with the first newsletter, we'll send out a text message that will automatically sense whether or not the recipient can receive a graphic file.
In the next column, we'll talk about design issues and implementation tactics. Stay tuned.