5 Strategies to improve your e-newsletters

Developing and distributing relevant content is a very effective strategy to engage with and connect to your target market.  E-newsletters are an especially effective tactic for distributing that content.  But simply assembling good content a mailing list and a schedule are not enough to help you reach your business objectives.  You want your e-newsletters to promote an ongoing dialog with customers. To create that level of engagement one of the objectives you want to achieve is subscription.  You want customers to ‘want’ to receive your e-newsletters and to respond to the content.  There are five practices that will make your e-newsletter program a resounding success.

By the nature of email distribution, e-newsletters are a good source of analytics and a low-cost way to manage customer engagement. The broader your distribution – the greater chance you will achieve your desired results.  Also marketers rate e-newsletters as one of the most effective content marketing tactics.  61% of the respondents to the Content Management Institute’s B2B Content Marketing: 2010 Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends Report said that they use e-newsletters and rate them as one of the most effective ways to distribute content. Review the report at http://bit.ly/ehlOeG.

So, you have the content, the mailing list and a well thought out distribution schedule – now what else can you do to encourage more customers and prospects to subscribe to your e-newsletter?

My five best practices:

  1. Create a dedicated a page of your website to your newsletter.  Too many companies treat their e-newsletters like an afterthought, relegating archives and subscription options to back pages of the Web site.  A subscription link should be on your homepage and easy navigation to the e-newsletter page.
  2. Make sure your e-newsletter looks professionally designed.  In this age of templates and wizards, it is tempting to minimize costs by using short-cuts in designing your e-newsletter.  Make the effort and the investment to ensure the e-newsletter communicates the look, voice and feel of your organization.  You wouldn’t tolerate a rumpled amateurish salesperson representing your company – don’t let your e-newsletter look that way.
  3. Archive all past newsletters on your website.  And make them easily accessible.  There is no need to make readers work for content by requiring additional or lengthy registration information.  Giving content freely and easily will endear you to site visitors.  Make them work and you will lose visitors – quickly. 
  4. Actively and enthusiastically promote your newsletter.  Use all of your other marketing tools to spread the word about your e-newsletter.  Make sure all company social media pages have a reference to the e-newsletter and a subscription link.  Include e-newsletter updates in your blog, Tweets, Facebook updates, LinkedIn company page, RSS feeds, etc.
  5. Make it easy for readers to share your e-newsletter.  Add widgets to your e-newsletter enabling readers to share with friends, include in their own RSS feeds, Re-Tweet, Like via Facebook and re-distribute by whatever other channels are available.

There are other tactics I can recommend to help you improve e-newsletter performance but these five best practices are particularly effective in boosting subscriber rates.  Implement them today and start tracking the results – you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

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B2B email basics

B2B email basics.

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B2B email basics

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Email communication is a staple tactic used in B2B marketing.  Research indicates that the practice of email marketing is still growing (see: http://bit.ly/e6G1KM) and only getting more sophisticated.  I always recommend that businesses develop an email plan as part of their marketing strategy.  I do so because I know from experience that email can be an effective marketing tool.  If you don’t have an email plan you should work on developing one immediately.  If you haven’t revised your plan in over six months you should do so immediately.  If you haven’t assessed how well your plan is working – you guessed it – you should do so immediately.  Of all the marketing activities companies engage in few can be implemented as quickly with as high an ROI as email.   

Data documenting the effectiveness of email marketing is plentiful.  For those of you who need to substantiate the trend for your management, start with:

  •  72% of respondents to an Econsultancy survey in early 2011 described email’s ROI as excellent or good. Only organic SEO scored better (see: http://bit.ly/hWybjk).
  • According to research conducted by the Direct Marketing Association, email marketing was expected to generate an ROI of $42.08 for every dollar spent on it in 2010. Email outperforms all the other direct marketing channels examined, such as print catalogs (http://bit.ly/hNtzHn).
  • A MerchantCircle survey of over 8,000 local business owners in the US found email marketing cited by 35.8% as a Top 3 most effective marketing or advertising method. Only social network profiles and search engine marketing scored higher (http://bit.ly/fgbPgG).
  • In Datran Media’s 2010 Annual Marketing & Media Survey, 39.4% of industry executives said the advertising channel that performed strongest for them was email. This was the top result (http://bit.ly/e6G1KM).

It is safe to say we know email marketing works – the question becomes how to implement it for your business.  I will address the critical issue of SPAM tomorrow; today I want to focus on tactical considerations such as: who do you email?

 There are basically four audiences or lists you can email:

  1. Current customers (including prospects & former customers)
  2. Your Social Media Network
  3. Subscribers to 3rd Party Newsletters
  4. Purchased Mailing Lists

 By far the most receptive audience is going to be your current customer list.  Make sure your emails sustain and enrich the relationship you already have with them.  Your social media network should also receptive to your messages and your goal is to convert them to customers.  3rd party newsletter subscribers can be a great source of prospects but you must carefully select the 3rd party.  Beyond the obvious concerns of ensuring the 3rd party is CAN-SPAM compliant, has a good reputation, and does not overlap with your list – you want to select a 3rd party that is a natural fit with your product or service.  I recently matched a financial planning firm with a tax oriented CPA firm and they have both benefited from each other’s newsletters and lists.  Purchased mailing lists require the most due diligence.  Make sure the list is appropriate for your geographic area and other demographic criteria important for you.  Before using the list ensure you’ve deleted all duplicates; recipients do not like to get duplicate emails from the same company – makes you look lazy.  

The bottom line: use email it works – just make sure you have a plan and know who you are emailing.

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Idiotic Pursuit: Chasing the 500 million Facebook users

Prospects seem to be dazzled by the number of users on Facebook.  They are seduced by the mega-number into thinking ‘there’s gold in them there hills.’  Their reasoning is that any cohort that large must include a significant chunk of their customers.  They are bewildered when I say “maybe, maybe not.”  How can that be they retort, usually indignantly and with a look that says “this idiot is a marketing expert?” 

The sad but true situation is that many companies are spending much time, effort and resources chasing a mythical revenue stream in the social media world that simply may not exist for them.  Because social media activity gets so much attention across all media platforms, business owners and managers believe they must jump into breech lest they miss the golden opportunity.  I’ll bet many would be miners thought the same way during the gold rush days.  The problem is that for many companies – dare I say most – their

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well-intentioned efforts of creating blogs, Facebook pages, Twitter streams, etc. will not result in the ROI they expected.

The issue is that the huge Facebook user population may be irrelevant to your company.  Worse, chasing the Facebook crowd, a process I’ve coined the ‘idiotic pursuit’, may be taking your focus away from activities that really could grow your business.  Marketing basics such as segmentation, targeting, direct marketing, developing a compelling value proposition, competitive analysis, branding and public relations, are being ignored.  It appears sound marketing best practices are not as ‘sexy’ as social media activities.  I am not suggesting social media does not have a role in most strategic marketing plans.  But if you want to grow your business you must develop an integrated marketing plan that takes into consideration the reality of your products and services, customers, the marketplace and your resources.  Having some young employees who are “good at Facebook and Twitter” does not constitute a social media plan. It certainly does not make a strategic marketing plan.  

There is no substitute for knowing your customers intimately. Understanding the ‘who, what, why, how,when, etc.’ of their interaction with your company is critical to understanding what your marketing strategy should be and what role social media should have in the mix.

This week I will focus on aspects of the marketing process and planning I feel are being overlooked as companies idiotically pursue the social media crowd. 

Would love to hear your thoughts.

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Market Segmentation applies to social media also

I found a very insightful and useful post that is a great follow-up to yesterday’s post. Pam Moore’s article “8 Things You Must Know About Your Audience to Inspire & Connect In Social Media”, http://bit.ly/ewfJpu, published on http://Socialmediatoday.com, gives you an excellent checklist for improving your social media efforts.

If you take away only one thing from Pam’s article it should be: “Who is your audience? Do you really know them? Who are you writing for? Why do you tweet? What is the purpose of your Facebook business page? You must plan before you act in social media if you want to have a positive return on your investment. Random acts of marketing (RAMs) and social media (RASMs) will get you nothing but in the red come month end!”

I am constantly amazed how some many of the companies I meet with know so little about their customers. Yet most of these same companies are also earnestly engaged in a variety of social media and marketing activities. And waiting for results. As I told a seminar audience recently, many companies are doing better and better that which they shouldn’t be doing at all.

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Do your know who your customers are? Understanding Basic Market Segmentation

If you do not know your customers the odds are you are not going to be successful in the long run. Knowing your customers is a fundamental element in any business’s marketing plan. Really and accurately knowing your customer’s needs and wants is a characteristic of superior companies.
Companies who are leaders in their markets know who their customers are (names, addresses, email, etc.) when they buy (purchasing patterns), how they use the products or services purchased, what they are likely to need or want next, and why they buy (what they perceive your value to be) from you.
I am a firm proponent of customer and prospect segmentation, for all businesses, because I believe the information enables you to make much smarter decisions. Information from current customers is valuable because they are buyers – they can tell you what they like, dislike, need, want, etc. Information from prospects is valuable because they can reveal what is missing from your offering. Is there a feature or function missing? Is the price competitive? Is the value proposition clear? Businesses that segment their target markets and act on the information collected are more likely to succeed and profit than those who do not. But to be implemented effectively segmentation, as in all things marketing, must be understood. Some basic information:

Market segments are:
* Measurable – you can measure the size and purchasing power, identify the demographics.
* Accessible – can you reach them and provide your product or service?
* Substantial – is the group large enough to be profitable? Some large segments may in fact not be profitable conversely; some small segments may represent significant purchasing power.
* Differentiable – in terms of what their needs and wants are.
* Actionable – you have the programs, resources and products to attract the segment.

Once segments have been identified, data collected and interpreted, you can then make decisions about how to use your marketing resources. There are basically two strategies to focus on: retaining and obtaining. You want to retain the profitable customer segments and convert or obtain the most attractive prospects. The more precisely you identify customer’s requirements the more effectively and efficiently you can position your products and services for maximum profitability. It sounds basic but if my experience is any measure, there are too many businesses not paying attention. You may not need more marketing – just more strategic marketing.

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Press Releases v Social Media Releases: Enemies or Adjuncts?

The press release is a staple in the tool bag of most marketers and public relations professions.  In use since the early 1900’s the press release has undergone some style modification, but has essentially remained the same, that is until now.   Marketers are increasing using the functionality of Web 2.0 and issuing SMRs or Social Media Releases, sometimes also referred to as Social Media News Releases. 

The differentiating feature of an SMR is the variety of multimedia elements that can be embedded.  SMRs can contain video, photos, slideshows, graphics, even Webinars and Podcasts.  The objective of the SMR is to facilitate distribution, use, and re-distribution by online target audiences such bloggers, industry websites, social media sites, online news sites and online journalists.  SMRs are also being used by traditional journalists and increasingly by the investor relations community.  According to a survey by Marketing Sherpa, video, photos and graphics are the most effective multimedia elements embedded in SMRs (see figure 1). 

So will sexy SMRs replace the comparatively staid press release?  Not likely, in my opinion.  I recall when the next big thing in PR was the VNR or video news release.  While VNRs have their role, they certainly did not replace the press release.  SMRs will not either.  The reality is marketers and public relations professionals have to cater to audiences in both traditional and social media, online and offline, technically savvy and hunt and peck writers (you new kids can look up what that last reference means) who follow your industry. 

To determine which tool is best for your business you need to establish criteria and measureable metrics that make sense for your business.  Many companies focus on measuring editorial mentions and follow-up queries from reporters (I use the term broadly to include journalists, bloggers, etc.)  An additional criterion I recommend is to measure the number of syndications achieved.  Syndication is defined as the publishing of the release on another website, usually a portal, in its entirety with all links and embedded media.  While syndication is not editorial coverage, it can be extremely beneficial for your business in terms of extended distribution and exposure.  The bottom line is that SMRs can be a valuable adjunct to your public relations efforts if used judiciously as part of an integrated multifaceted strategy.      

Excellent video primer on SMRs can be found at: http://bit.ly/hksQHd

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