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Methods: Email newsletters

by David Blakey

Do your clients issue email newsletters? Ensure their newsletters bring in business instead of turning it away.

[Monday 3 December 2001]

Your clients' Web sites may invite their customers and prospects to sign up for an email subscription. This feature usually has two parts: a box for people to type their email address and a button for them to click to subscribe. Your clients will then send out messages to the email addresses of the subscribers.

There are three basic forms of these messages.
  1. Announcements

    With announcements, your client will send out an email whenever they have something important to say to their customers and prospects. Your client may announce a new product or a new service or a new location. There may be a number of announcement channels. In this article, we are interested mainly in announcements to customers and prospects. There can be other channels for announcements to suppliers or for announcements to investors. In all cases, the purpose of an announcement will literally be to announce: to tell people about something new.

  2. Newsletters

    Newsletters will be issued on a regular schedule. Each month or each week or even each day, your client will issue a newsletter. These newsletters should contain something new and interesting. The content need not only be announcements; there can be articles about how other customers have used a product or service. The content must be fresh, however, and it must tell the majority of its readers something that they did not know before.

  3. Spam

    To be accurate, spam is actually unsolicited email messages, but it is possible for a client's newsletters to degenerate into something that looks very like spam. Because there is an apparent commitment to produce newsletters on schedule, your client may start sending out messages that contain nothing new or interesting, and that just contain links to areas within the Web site. Readers will quickly recognize that they no longer wish to receive this material. As a result, they may decide to delete the messages without even reading them. Worse, they may decide to remove themselves from the mailing list: to unsubscribe.

The problem with subscribers leaving a list is that your client will probably no longer be able to contact them.
  • They may have been deleted from the database. It would seem reasonable that the data held about a person for the sole purpose of sending them email messages would be deleted if they wished to not receive any further messages.
  • Even if they have not been deleted, but have had their records marked as ‘unsubscribed’, there can be ethical - and possibly legal - reasons for not sending them any more email messages.
It may be best to accept that they should not be sent any more email messages.

This, of course, raises a problem. If your client stops sending out trivial messages and starts to put out meaningful, valuable information, they will want to ‘re-capture’ those people who have unsubscribed. They find it much more difficult to persuade people to sign up for a second time than they did for the first. The only real solution is to stop the newsletters degenerating in the first place.

You should note that this situation is only likely to arise with newsletters rather than with announcements. So, what can you do, as a consultant advising a client whose marketing department wants to start a newsletter?


Exercise 1

Here's an exercise that I set for people considering newsletters.
  1. Write down the titles of as many newsletter articles as you can. Each title should give a brief summary of the article content, such ‘Using our software in the electricity industry’, ‘How we won the deal with Wossname Inc.’, and so on.
  2. Have them go away for a break.

  3. Now get them to write down the titles for 3 new articles.

  4. Repeat (3) a week later. None of the new articles can be rewrites of previous articles.

If the session at (4) is too tough, then an ongoing newsletter may be too hard.

Exercise 2

An additional exercise is to count the total number of articles and divide it by the number to be put in each newsletter. That's the number of newsletters they can fill.


If your client will have a problem with sustaining a newsletter, get them to consider writing all the articles and putting them up on their web site as content, rather than as newsletters. They can then use this mass of content in their marketing campaigns to drive visitors to their site.

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The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

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