What’s a Newsletter Good For, Anyway?

After browsing our newsletter subscriber numbers, I found that a relatively small proportion of our newsletter subscribers open their newsletters and click through to the featured articles.

I can relate. I get a whole bunch of newsletters. A number of them disappear into my spam folder; I have labels for others–and I never jump into the trenches to actually read them. I generally don’t unsubscribe because a) I’m too lazy, b) I think the newsletters might be useful some day (hoarder mentality), or c) the marketing software behind the newsletter makes it impossible to opt out (the diabolical strategy).

I do read a couple of newsletters. One of them only comes quarterly, but is so rich in useful information that I feel like I’ll be missing something if I don’t read it. Another has essential resources for my field, and comes every two weeks. Another one I open sometimes, because I know exactly what to expect from it, and I read its information if I feel the subject is something that could be useful.

In online marketing, newsletters are seen as valuable tools, yet in my experience the minority of people use them right. Why are companies so excited about their newsletters? We already know what they do wrong, but what works?

Why Companies Want Newsletters

“Newsletter guru” Jim Palmer writes that:

1. Newsletters increase brand awareness.
2. Newsletters help build relationships with customers and potential customers.
3. Newsletters are an awesome way to introduce new products or services.
4. Newsletters can enhance your reputation as an expert in your industry.
5. Newsletters have a longer shelf life than other types of marketing have.
6. Newsletters are often read by multiple readers.
7. Newsletters are a great way to differentiate yourself from larger businesses, which typically don’t do a customer newsletter.

Sounds decent enough. But what makes consumers actually open newsletters? How do you harness them?

Online marketing expert Bryan Eisenberg, who has excellent input on the topic, says that “the real value of a good list is the participation it stimulates between the subscriber and your business…Worthwhile interaction truly engages your audience.”

He also writes:

* When people opt in, treat it like a sacred trust. Their time (and yours) is extremely valuable.

* Be transparent with your list. A list is an opportunity to build customer relationships based on open, honest interaction, not an opportunity to strut and posture before prospects.

* Offer true value: to your subscribers; relevant content and meaningful offers. No fluffy content or gimmicky offers. Not sure what readers perceive as value? Ask them!

* Let go of unengaged subscribers after a reasonable amount of time. Sometimes, prospects lose interest. It happens.

* Stop pretending you have control. Give customers more choices of how they get and use your content.

* Ask yourself: would you want this e-mail in your inbox? Be brutally honest.

He also says to set up expectations right away. Send a welcome email to every subscriber making it very clear how often you send the newsletter, and what you write about. He says to kick unengaged subscribers off your list periodically (send them an email to re-opt in if they haven’t been active in 3 months or so). That way, you cultivate a newsletter that’s useful to your most engaged readers, who are the ones you really care about anyway.

Does the Business Pundit newsletter measure up?

We do a summary newsletter, which Blue Sky Factory says provides “attention generation hub if your source content is valuable.” It’s basically a sum-up of what happened in business this past week, plus our best tips, humor posts, interviews, and book reviews from that week.

Would I want to read it? Yes, I love good news summaries, because I don’t have time to catch every major detail during the week (not for business, but in terms of international politics, science, and other topics that we don’t focus on here).

Is there fluff? Nope, unless you consider the stuff that’s on the blog fluffy. The missing link here seems to be letting go of unengaged subscribers, and giving existing subscribers more options on how they receive their emails.

We’d also like more feedback on the kind of newsletter that works best for our business-minded audience. I provide you with what I would want, but I’m not 100% certain that’s what you’d want, too. Please leave feedback in comments below so that I can get a better idea of how to create a newsletter that you’ll love.

Written by Drea Knufken

Currently, I create and execute content- and PR strategies for clients, including thought leadership and messaging. I also ghostwrite and produce press releases, white papers, case studies and other collateral.