The Mystery of Marketing – The newsletter

 In Articles, Branding, Business, Education, fiction, Marketing, Non-fiction, research, Writing

I have spent the last week or so trying to understand how email marketing campaigns – also known as newsletters – work. Sales and marketing experts say that the humble newsletter is still one of the most powerful and effective marketing tools out there. Much more powerful than social media messaging, which is ephemeral and too often gets lost in the firehose.

Here’s how I see it: newsletters are a collection of people who have demonstrated their interest by actively signing up for regular updates. To compare them to people at a party, newsletter subscribers are the ones we fall into conversation with; the ones we seek out to talk to, and the ones who seek us out, too. Social media ‘friends’ on the other hand, are more like casual acquaintances who might call out hi, or wave across the room at you, but they’re just as likely to blank you, or even not recognise you altogether.

I’ve issued three monthly newsletters now – one a month – and in working on this campaign, I’ve come to realise that a newsletter is like a relationship. This may sound a bit hokey, but think about it: a subscriber to my newsletter hasn’t just made the effort to sign up. They’ve also said yes to me putting yet another missive into their already cluttered inbox. They’ve agreed that – usually – they’re going to read this newsletter. And maybe even respond! This is not a cost-free investment on the subscriber’s part, which means that I have to make an equal investment, of time, creativity and commitment.

So, because we all love a good listicle: Why a newsletter is like a relationship.

1. It takes time. OMG so much time! Some people might be able to dash off a newsletter in a half hour, but I’ve found that a compelling, entertaining and informative email takes a lot more time to produce. That’s tough, but tougher still is that it takes time away from writing the next book. So I’m hoping that as I get better, I’ll get quicker.

2. It takes care. I’ve realised that my newsletter isn’t just about what I want to say; it’s about what subscribers want to hear. I think of it like a talk, where I get to blather away on my chosen subject for 30 minutes, and then take questions for another 30. If I only have so much time, I have to leave some things out – so I have to ask myself what my subscribers want from me, and what extra can I give them?

3. It takes consistency. Every piece of advice I’ve read about newsletters makes the point that if an email campaign is intermittent and rare, then it will whither. Manage your subscribers’ expectations: tell them what your newsletter will contain, and how often they can expect it, and then deliver. If you can’t deliver, for some reason, then let them know. If you’re not consistent and expected, then you’re a surprise, like the old, dust-covered sock you found in the corner when you moved the bed. And where else does that thing go, but straight into the trash?

4. It can’t fake it. Like any good marketing campaign, a good newsletter is authentic. It has personality, quirks and flashes of emotion, just like the sender. That holds true even even if you outsource the task of actually writing the newsletter. A good writer will emulate your style and sense of humor and know where the cat photos should go. But you should always edit the email before it sends, to be sure it’s got the flavour of you that your readers signed up for.

5. It thrives on good communication. Like any good relationship, a good newsletter is a two-way street. If it’s interactive and encourages subscribers to make comments or requests, and then responds those requests, it will build loyalty.

And finally…

6. It has to hold your attention. Who wants a relationship with someone who’s got nothing interesting to say? Just like a good book, a good newsletter needs a hook. It has to lure the reader in and hold his or her attention. It could be a giveaway, a picture, a joke, a regular feature or a good first line. It’s something the audience will come to expect and click through to read. If you put these elements in your newsletter, your subscribers will come back for more, and they’ll tell their friends. If you leave them out, you’ll lose them, and no-one will have a reason to sign up.

So how do you go about building a good email marketing campaign? I’ve taken a stab at it recently, and I’m not sure how ‘good’ it has been. But keep an eye on this space and I’ll tell you what I’ve done so far. Maybe we can all learn from my mistakes!

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