by David Kinard
Newsletters are a great way to stay in touch with customers, prospects and other influencers of your business. The newsletter is a dynamic tool that can be informative, a sales tool and a loyalty builder. However, newsletters are often handled haphazardly by many organizations who fail to plan, develop and implement appropriately. In fact, many newsletters are simply thrown together each time with any odds and ends that the organization has at the time of publication.
With hundreds of thousands of newsletters in circulation every month, it is critical to create a newsletter that communicates and delivers value in every edition. This is the most important goal of any newsletter. Whether it be delivered via fax, mail, email or web site, all successful newsletters have a single goal in mind-delivering added value to the reader.
Four Key Points
Newsletters can be informative and cover a wide variety of topics. Often however, many newsletters are hampered by distracting design, poor space planning and way too much copy. As a key communication piece for your organization, a newsletter can make a huge impact on the readers’ perception of quality and excellence your organization offers. Therefore, it is important to keep in mind the following four points.
Start with a Strategy
This is the step most organizations and individuals skip when beginning their newsletter. They simply just start writing and collecting tidbits of information to include. It is important to think about the long-term strategy of your newsletter. What do you want it to do? How often will you publish it? What types of information are value-added for your prospective readers?
Think about your target audience for the newsletter. What are they already receiving from other sources? How can you make your content rich and unique enough that people will consider it an essential resource? What organizational identity do you want to project to your readers through your newsletter? Should it be friendly, professional, high-class, technical, experiential, authoritative? A combination of all these?
Additional issues you’ll want to consider are if your newsletter should contain related advertising? Should you charge for it? How will people subscribe and unsubscribe? What is your budget for producing it?
How will your subscription database be managed and updated? How will you profile your subscribers if you choose to accept advertisements?
And the ultimate question you need to ask is if this newsletter is a brand-building or a business-building effort? A brand-building effort focuses on gaining exposure and increasing favorability of your product or service in the consumers’ mind. A business-building effort focuses on driving sales to your bottom line.
Design and Layout
While there are a lot of short cuts available here, it is imperative that you ensure your design and layout is consistent with your other published materials. A consistent and integrated look will increase recognition when your newsletter arrives from your organization. It is amazing to see how many newsletters are sent out from organizations which don’t look anything like the other materials they produce.
Be careful not to create a visual disconnect between your newsletter and your organization.
Also, design is more than just eye-candy. Type, photos, illustrations, graphic elements (like boxes, charts, lines, grids) are the four basic building blocks you can use to communicate your ideas.
Thoughtfully gathering, manipulating, and placing these ingredients will create a stronger newsletter.
If you don’t have an experienced graphic designer on your staff who can do your newsletter for you, it may be wise to consider hiring an outside vendor to help you. Professional designers generally have significant training both in design and in the computer applications to transfer your desired look and feel onto paper. If you’re budget conscious, you can always have the designer create templates for you and you print these up in large quantities. Then, you can use this “stock” to put your content on throughout the year(s).
There are different types of newsletters. Some are informational, some motivational, some are designed to give you a little bit of information and drive you to other fee-based resources. It is important, whatever type of newsletter you choose, to plan your content out for the year. This practice alone helps to ensure relevancy of content to your readers and also gives you time to prepare or research if needed.
If you plan on accepting outside article submissions to your newsletter (which is usually a good idea) be sure to also set up some writers’ guidelines. These are the rules and specifications a prospective writer will follow when submitting their materials to you. You may want to specify a minimum or maximum length (in words), format for submission (fax, disk, email) whether a photo is needed, submission deadlines, and your review process. If you do accept outside contributions, it is always nice to send the author a few free copies of your newsletter as a thank you. They’ll often use it in their own marketing which gives you exposure to additional audiences.
Relevant news is always great. But when it is sparse, here are a few other ideas for content: explanatory articles (how something works), customer interviews and profiles, tips and tricks, case histories/studies, industry updates, do’s and don’ts, checklists, letters to the editor, community relations, and financial news. Create a tickler file for story ideas or items for insertion into the newsletter. Be sure to spread the good stuff out so that you have a winner each time.
This is likely the second most important part of any newsletter strategy. (The first is to have a strategy to begin with.) As I wrote earlier, there are hundreds of thousands of newsletters in circulation every month. Yours must compete for the attention of an already overwhelmed and busy audience. To achieve relevance, make sure you identify your goals with regard to your newsletter and clearly identify reader desires for content.
You can verify your readers’ interest by conducting a reader review of your existing newsletter. If this hasn’t happened within the last three years, you should do a targeted evaluative assessment to generate ideas for improvement right away. Remember, the newsletter is only as good as it is relevant to reader needs. Find out what their needs are.
And, measure the success of your newsletter not just on how many subscribers you may have, but on retention and content penetration. Retention refers to what is the length of an average subscription?
Do people only hang around for one or two issues or years before they unsubscribe? Also, content penetration relates to how much of the newsletter are they reading? Only certain parts or do they devour the whole thing? Is only part of your newsletter of value?
Fit to Print
If you have a company newsletter, whether it is internal or external, online or off, take a few minutes today to review it and begin to develop a continuous improvement plan. If you don’t have a newsletter, call some of your customers today and see what information they need that they just don’t get from any other resource. This is a good first step to creating a newsletter that is fit to print.
David Kinard, M.Ed., PCM, (The Marketing Guy) is a marketing expert that speaks professionally, and is the principal of Access Marketing Solutions, a Seattle-based firm that works with associations that want to revolutionize their industries, and their members who want to reenergize their marketing. He can be contacted at 206-525-5501 or by visiting www.marketingguy.com where you can also join his FREE email newsletter MondayMarketing(tm).
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