By Jane & Larry McGrath
Many retailers are changing from print publications to electronic newsletters (eNewsletters)—and for good reason. ‘eNewsletters’ are inexpensive to produce and publish, and they provide a systematic means for staying in front of your customers and prospects. In fact, no other advertising method allows you to reach such a wide base of people so affordably and so quickly.
But beware: Anybody can send an eNewsletter and the flood of unsolicited commercial email (spam) has made readers wary of marketing attempts. For your eNewsletter to work, it must make a strong initial impression and convince readers that you provide useful, relevant information they need.
In addition, you must distribute your eNewsletter on a regular schedule. You can deliver it once a month, twice a month, or once a week. Of course, the more frequently you send out your newsletter, the more effective it will be. But, the important thing is to be consistent.
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There are four popular types of eNewsletters. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages, and its own unique software requirements for viewing. They are distributed to readers in two ways: through email or through a website.
Plain-text email newsletter. This is a very simple eNewsletter without color, graphics, or design elements such as multiple columns and varying text styles. But, limited layout doesn’t have to mean lousy layout. For example, you can use spaces or lines to separate articles and break articles up into easy-to-absorb paragraphs.
Advantages: Anyone who has an email account can receive and read plain-text e-email newsletters. They are extremely easy to compose and send out. They are also quick for readers to download.
Disadvantages: Because plain-text newsletters are plain, readers may quickly lose interest. You must point readers to a website where they can retrieve non-text (graphics, audio, video) materials. If you decide to use your local email application, you may upset your ISP or crash your system as many email applications can only handle a limited number of addresses on each email.
HTML email newsletter. This eNewsletter is distributed through email, but it looks like an interesting web page.
Advantages: You can incorporate color, photos, graphics and other design elements, such as multiple columns and varying type sizes and styles. HTML eNewsletters look impressive and offer interactivity. They are great for people who will primarily read the newsletter on-screen of their computer.
Disadvantages: Only people who have HTML-capable browsers can view these publications, but we assume everybody has browsers these days. If photos or graphics are included, readers must have an open connection to the Internet while they read the email to see the photos. They may be slow to download, which often deters your audience from reading your message. If using photos, change the image quality to 72 dpi to allow a faster download. All articles must be put on the same page, so a newsletter with several articles must be viewed and printed as one long page.
Web newsletter. This type of eye-catching eNewsletter is hosted on a website rather being distributed by email. Readers can easily click a link in the email body copy, which will bring them directly to the eNewsletter.
Advantages: A web newsletter can be redesigned just like any other web page, with color, photos, graphics and other design elements. It is ideal for onscreen reading. If you get your newsletter listed and indexed on Internet search engines, you will increase website traffic and it’s easy to archive back issues.
Disadvantages: It’s not as convenient as an email newsletter because readers must go to an Internet site to read it.
PDF newsletter. This type of eNewsletter looks like a traditional print newsletter and can be distributed as an email attachment or posted on an Internet site for people to download.
Advantages: There are few design limitations with this electronic format and it’s easy to convert most printed newsletters to a nearly identical electronic PDF publication. This is the best e-format for people who will print the newsletter.
Disadvantages: Readers must have Adobe Acrobat Reader, available free from the Adobe.com website, installed on their computers to view or print a PDF newsletter. PDF files are larger than any other type of eNewsletter files, so they may take a long time to download. In addition, some readers may not be able to receive such large files.
To decide which eNewsletter format is best for you to publish, you’ll need to know your target reader’s software, Internet and email capabilities. If your readership is varied, you many decide to publish your newsletter in several formats, so that no reader is excluded. The drawback to this option is resources: Do you have the time, staff and money to develop multiple formats?
Your newsletter’s primary objective is to improve business. But, no one wants to read a newsletter filled with sales pitches and product promotions—and they won’t.
To be effective, it must contain news, thoughtful advice, and knowledgeable opinions with just enough sales information to ensure action. Generally, 80 percent content to 20 percent promotion is a good mix.
While each issue’s content is focused on situations your readers think about or deal with every day, it must be written in a way that holds their attention. The last thing you want to do is send out a terrific newsletter, and not get the kind of action you need to grow your business.
In addition to improving sales, in order to be effective, your eNewsletter must help you:
• Expand your customer base
• Demonstrate your knowledge of industry trends
• Introduce and explain new products
• Inform customers/prospects of newsworthy events
• Increase customer loyalty
Regular features can include:
• Owner column. Comments from you that give the newsletter your personal touch, because no one is more tuned in to what racers need than you. It’s your direct line to your target market where you can tell readers things like, “Here’s what I think you can expect to see next season.”
• Coming events. Keep readers posted on store events such as tech seminars and when you’ll have the sales trailer at the track, but don’t go overboard or the newsletter will look like an advertisement.
• Racing information. Update readers on how the shop car is running, changes you’ve made, and plans for the future. Consider including things like race schedules, association meeting times, and rules updates.
• Problem solving. Try a question-and-answer feature with general-interest questions and answers from an appropriate tech consultant or other expert, or just a “this is what I recommend you do for this common problem” feature.
• Product and technical information. Rather than running a product ad, try a “these guys have experienced great success with this approach and product” article. Also, when possible, give readers early access to new product information.
• Customers and testimonials. Your customers can supply a wealth of material. For example, you can do an article series on your best customers and sprinkle short testimonials throughout the newsletter.
• Special offers. Offer subscriber-only discounts, two-for-one deals, or giveaways. Such promotions bump up sales and help to track the impact of the newsletter.
• Employee profiles. These articles present the human side of your business and are a great way to show employees they are valued and important.
• Links. You can include topical links in your articles for readers wanting more information. In addition, run a “check it out” column with links, and brief summaries to sites you think readers will find interesting.
• Light humor. Some retailers add variety with fun elements. For example, create your own version of a David Letterman Top Ten list. Or, ask a trivia questions such as, “Who was the first driver to…?” or “At what track did…?” and give a discount or prize to the first person who sends the correct answer.
You’ve decided on the format and developed your content. Now, build your subscriber base. Do you want people to subscribe or will you control who gets on the subscription list?
Either way, your newsletter must opt-in, which is permission based. Don’t send the newsletter to news groups or user lists promoting it. It’s not just bad Internet manners: it’s bad business.
If you want an open subscription list, describe the benefits of your eNewsletter on your website and include a “subscribe” button, so visitors can easily register. Or, when ringing up a sale, ask customers if they would like to receive your company’s eNewsletter. If they do, log their email address, and add it to the list of subscribers.
Subscribers should find it very easy to unsubscribe. In addition to new laws cracking down on unsolicited and unwanted email, readers who don’t want to receive your newsletter get a contact reminder that you’re an annoying company.
There are a variety of EDM (Electronic Direct Marketing) management products and providers that can help you manage your list, and handle your unsubscribes and undeliverables. For example, providers like Constant Contact (http://www.constantcontact.com) and Lyris (http://www.lyris.com) can provide software for you to run your opt-in email lists on your own server or host your lists for you from their hosting facility.
The choice of whether to use one of the many do-it-yourself software packages, a web-based service, or traditional list server depends on the degree to which you want to maintain direct control over your list and the amount of time you can spend on managing the process.
Do It Yourself or Outsource?
Creating and sending your eNewsletter in-house has advantages. First, you know better than anyone what needs to be said. In addition, doing it yourself can help you keep your costs low and give you control over the finished product.
However, a poorly written and designed newsletter can result in disaster: readers trash it and lower their opinion of you and your shop.
If you don’t have the time, skills and equipment to design, write, distribute and manage subscriptions for an eNewsletter, hire a specialist.
You write your newsletter to meet your subscriber’s needs and address their interests. To determine if you’re delivering what they want, ask them. Let readers know that you want their suggestions about how to make your eNewsletter a more valuable resource for them. And, give them an easy way to tell you.
Always email a “thanks for taking the time to contact me” reply. When you implement a reader’s idea be sure to give him or her credit. If you don’t have an eNewsletter, you are missing out on one of the most cost-effective strategies available for promoting your business. .