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Your objective is not to just have a good newsletter, it is to be great at business in part because of the newsletter. A great newsletter program supports your company’s marketing and business goals.
Ambitious, yes. But so are all marketing efforts. Be Great!
The following key considerations will help set up your company for newsletter greatness.
Newsletter Goals & Strategy
The goals and strategy of the newsletter should align with a brand’s marketing and business goals. If the newsletter doesn’t align with supporting the goals, it’ won’t be worth the time and resources necessary to put into producing it.
- Increase revenue.
- Increase purchase frequency.
- Increase consumer lifetime value.
Collectively, the marketing goals aim to influence the business goals above. Two appropriate marketing goals that can be supported by a great newsletter:
- Brand Awareness (meaningful impressions)
- Loyalist Engagement (increase the lifetime value of your biggest fans)
The strategy is to have the brand stay front of mind of loyal consumers by providing value to their everyday life. This, in turn, increases brand affinity and, coupled with amplified brand awareness, will lead subscribers to make more in-store and e-commerce purchases.
With clear goals and a laser-focused strategy, the newsletter manager will have a path to guide the execution of a great newsletter.
Parallel Path recommends a fundamental shift away from a traditional newsletter format (circa 2005) to an email marketing approach (marketing 2016). Your newsletter should be more than a publication of announcements and content. It should be a means for building better relationships with your loyal consumers (subscribers). Leverage your newsletter to nurture your subscribers to have a stronger affinity for the brand and increase purchases.
Be sure to have a newsletter manager who thinks strategically about accomplishing marketing goals and can curate content that is on-brand and on-strategy.
Have a testing culture with your newsletter. Testing programs include A/B split test to optimize towards improved click metrics. Every aspect of your newsletter can be tested to improve important metrics.
Newsletter Measurement & Tracking
You will likely use email marketing software to distribute your newsletter, such as Emma, MailChimp, or Constant Contact. The best email marketing platforms will give you the basics and essential metrics of email marketing activity: open rates, click-through-rates, unsubscribe rates, hard bounces, soft bounces and delivery rate. However, in order to drill down deeper to the performance and value of your newsletter, you will need to measure post-click behavior. If you don’t measure post-click, you can’t optimize your newsletter to metrics that actually drive marketing success.
All clickable events in the newsletter should be tags with custom URL parameters enabling deeper data collection, attribution, and analysis of the marketing objectives. Parallel Path recommends Google URL Builder.
Here are a few example questions you can answer with proper post-click data collection include:
- After a reader clicks on an article in a newsletter, do they make an online purchase or other conversions?
- What other content do they view on our website?
- How does newsletter traffic engage with website content compared to other sources (social media, paid search, etc.)?
Onboarding New Subscribers - A Personal Approach
A real person has taken the time from their busy day to opt-in to your newsletter program. They have given you one of their most important identifiers for personalized marketing; their email address. Clearly, they want to be a part of your brand community.
Before you do anything else, give them a sincere, “thank you!”
Send a personalized, albeit, automated, auto-responder email to everyone who signs up for your newsletter. Have it come from the CEO and include a big “thank you!”. Weave the subscriber’s name throughout the email. Make sure the person gets your “thank you email” within 24 hours of signing up. Include an exclusive “thank you for signing up” offer.
Signing up for your newsletter might be the first personalized interaction your loyal consumer has made with your brand. Get it right the first time. Think of it like dating. They tried your product and it went well. Now they have taken the initiative to ask you for a second date. A second date is hardly the long lasting relationship you want but it’s a good step in that direction. Put your best foot forward and make a great impression.
Unrequited love is not your brand promise. Rejection is hard. Nobody likes it. Don’t be the brand that makes loyal customers experience rejection. They gave you their email address, and a thank you response is a good first step. The next step is to ensure you keep the conversation going with an automated campaign for all new subscribers.
More often than not, when someone subscribes to a newsletter, nothing happens after the automated ‘thank you for subscribing’ reply. Silence. Unrequited brand love. Then, a marketer or sales director says, “let’s announce the new product or seasonal sale with an email blast to our newsletter list” and out of the blue (perhaps months after the initial newsletter sign up) an email is delivered to your subscriber asking them for something “ (buy now!) rather than offering the subscriber something of value. The marketer or sales professional is likely underwhelmed by the conversion rate and the newsletter goes dormant again. Sound familiar? Let’s fix that right away and turn what was initially an infatuation into a lasting relationship.
All new subscribers should receive a sequence of emails that provide something of value to nurture the relationship from initial sign up to enthusiastic loyalist.
- “Welcome, thank you! We value you and here is an exclusive thank you offer.” Signed and sent from the CEO.
- Give something of value to your new friend. “Here is our favorite recipe and a special offer to help you with the recipe. Better yet, make the content as personalized as possible based on the subscriber's preferences (ask them what they like on the signup page).
- Be a good listener; send a short survey asking the subscriber what will make them more satisfied. “What’s your favorite product? “Where do you buy our product?” The value for the brand is in asking the questions. Asking your new subscriber a question makes them even more loyal to your brand because they start to feel included in the community. They take ownership in the brand. Drawing them into your circle inspires them towards being a brand ambassador.
- Finally, after you have provided your subscribers with this personalized and attentive sequence of “onboarding” emails, send the subscriber (your new loyalist) their first official newsletter
Now; what should the newsletter content and format be?
To Sell or Not to Sell - That is the Question
Well, one could say, good marketing is always influencing sales, otherwise, it’s just activity. Your newsletter is about awareness and engaging with your loyal consumers, so the content should be 90% informative & entertaining and 10% promotional/sales. (If not 90/10, shoot for the old reliable 80/20 rule).
Be human and provide value to your loyal consumers. Be like that positive friend you love to be around. You know that friend that always makes you feel good after you spend time with them? Why is that? Psychologists say it’s because you feel better about yourself when you are with them. They give, they draw you in, they see you, they entertain and inform you about things you care about. Being human means the content is not about you (the brand) it’s about them (the subscriber).
Start with sharing great subscriber-centric content.
Content ideas to get started:
- Blog content that entertains and informs
- Events (for the consumers)
- Favorite resources that improve the subscriber’s life (books, bloggers, videos etc.)
- Exclusive newsletter offers just for the subscribers
- New product announcements (VIP announcements, “Be the first to try…”)
- Align newsletter content with seasonal themes
- Cross-brand promotion with exclusive newsletter offers
The Most Important First Step to Newsletter Distribution Greatness
The most important step in the formatting of your newsletter is often glazed over like a bad email subject line. Well, that’s exactly what the most important first step is -- your email subject line.
Take the time to build a quality email snippet and then test your subject lines for open rates. Be thoughtful about the “email from” (how about making your newsletter from your CEO?). Even if the email is not opened, receiving an email is a subtle brand impression. Include the benefit of opening the email in the subject line. Note which subject lines perform the best. Test subject lines to improve your open rates. Without optimizing to improve open rates, your newsletter content won’t get the attention it deserves.
The majority of newsletters are read on smartphones (mobile) because most email is now read while on the go. Mobile-first means designing your newsletter for the mobile reader’s needs. They want newsletters that are easy to read, easy to engage with, attractive and fast loading.
Make it Obvious What You Want the Reader to Do
Create a well designed responsive template that makes is obvious what the reader should do. Pay attention to your information hierarchy.
How Much Newsletter Content is Optimal?
Less is more. Keep your newsletter content attractive, on brand, and limited to a handful of pieces per newsletter. Any more than four unique pieces of content risks information overload in this day and age of the shorter attention span. Some newsletters will even feature just a single piece of featured content. Test and optimize for your audience.
Embed a Taste of the Content.
Be it blog content, recipes, news, or offers (etc), do not embed the entire content in the newsletter. Include an attractive image, a headline, and a short snippet and then a link (don’t forget your tracking URL) to read the whole content on your website or landing page.
There are added benefits of sending the newsletter traffic to your website:
- With a proper data / analytics deployment, you will be able to analyze subscribers website behavior.
- With a remarketing/retargeting pixel deployed, these visitors can be segmented for specific remarketing programs.
There are two primary reasons people unsubscribe from newsletters:
- Lack of continued interest (things just got stale because the content was no longer compelling and relevant)
- Too high of a frequency (you got annoying).
What’s your unsubscribe rate? The right frequency is one that maintains a stable unsubscribe rate (assuming your content is still consistently awesome).
Most subscribers expect an email at least once a month. Daily emails usually fail because it’s hard to keep them interesting and relevant, and can fill up a subscriber’s inbox. Somewhere in between is the sweet spot. If your frequency rate is too low, you’re leaving opportunities on the table.
Parallel Path recommends committing to a monthly email, then test twice a month and then weekly. Watch your unsubscribe and open rates. Do they drop when frequency increases? Only the brave (perhaps even foolish) will go for daily content.
Newsletter Cross-Channel Integration
SEO: When executed well, a newsletter can improve SEO. A good newsletter program drives more traffic to your web pages, thus increasing the page authority. Pages with a demonstrated authority can see an improved ranking and therefore more organic traffic.
Social Media: Encourage “telling a friend” via social sharing. Make it easy for subscribers to become your evangelists with links to share directly from the newsletter and the content landing pages. Include a newsletter sign up option from your social media brand pages.
Paid Search: Consider a “Subscribe to Newsletter” ad extension in your branded paid search campaigns. Include Newsletter Sign Up on appropriate paid search landing pages.
Remarketing: Traffic from the newsletter to the website and landing pages can be segmented into remarketing audiences for additional impressions and engagement.
Display: If you have a popular piece of content with significant traffic driven from the newsletter, consider building a remarketing audience with display banner creative that matches the content theme. For example, a newsletter that drives traffic to a blog about healthy snacks for camping could become a remarketing audience with a display ad featuring imagery of campers eating healthy snacks.
Final Thoughts Before Your Commitment to Greatness
The key to activating any marketing tactic is asking the following questions:
- What do we want to achieve?
- Does this tactic support that goal?
- How will we best execute it?
- Who will manage execution?
- How will we measure success?
- How will results be reported?
- How will we optimize to improve results?
The key to a great newsletter program is to have the content and resources be consistent and committed to a strategic approach. A newsletter program can be a great addition to the digital marketing mix and provide authentic interactions between a brand and the consumer.