This is the lifeblood of the publisher, the stabilizer for a retailer and opportunity for a product marketer. Depending on your view of the world, There are three strategic factors necessary for any successful newsletter program: value exchange, audience type, and the editorial process. And every time I bring this up with clients or internal teams that are considering an e-mail newsletter, they think I’m making things too complicated–only to come back two or three months down the road asking for help in optimizing permission, content, design, measurement–and of course, how to test effectively. Let’s explore a few of these strategic areas.
Value Exchange. There must be a value exchange in the content you deliver, defined as the value your consumers receive, and the subsequent business value you derive from your content/relationship; and you must know how to identify the value exchange through observation, response and feedback loops. Many think an e-mail newsletter has implied value to the business just by reaching the masses at a penny a clip. Wrong! The business value must be translated into measured response that should be communicated at the business unit/product level. Newsletter value is a “reach” value… and audience view, not a 1:1 view like promotion. This allows me to treat business units and product lines as discrete businesses, and communicate as such. The bottom line is, you are providing (relatively) free editorial content that consumers have opted-in to, and you need something in return–at minimum a “view” or “click” specific to content that can be translated to your business lines. This is the value exchange.
Audience Type. Only a fraction of your customers will respond to you via e-mail, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t interested. You can classify them by four factors: You have active, viewers, lurkers and basically audience fillers that don’t do much but remain on the list.How much business value they have to you, the ability to invoke a measured response, the type of e-mail consumer they can be, and how much you’re willing to invest in these audience types. There is value in the active reader, the sporadic reader who always forwards to their colleagues and friends, the periodic reader who just wants to belong and only scans, and even the dormant reader who signs up and never reads. E-mail is just one channel, but your content has value on many levels, like through alternative delivery vehicles such as print, mail, Web or the sales team. Understand your audience goals, growth goals and reach goals and this will help you understand where to invest in content, how much to streamline this process and how far you take content personalization.
The Editorial Process. The main thing most businesses get caught up in when creating an e-newsletter is gathering content, prioritizing it, and then applying company filters (i.e. good content, tone, presentation). I’ve seen too many newsletters that were obviously thrown together at the last minute. We should remember that newsletters have more shelf life than most of the e-mails ever sent. They are typically archived, shared, and referenced. A “bad batch” can stay with you for quite a while. Be sure you have a locked-down editorial process in place, single owner, rules around approvals, strict timelines and contingency to allow for last-minute content inserts. Treat it like a newspaper–it has to go out on time, with no mistakes, and must have some consistency in what you deliver.
Today’s newsletter is a living, breathing content curation vehicle that can be vastly streamlined, if you allow it and understand what you want out of it.