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Ezine Readers Not Biting? Change the Bait

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A newsletter can be a fantastic way to lure new customers, but without the right bait, you can send out line after line (or issue after issue) and not get a single bite.

What should you be baiting your newsletter with? Let’s take a look:

1. The right list. How are you getting your subscribers? Some people run contests or give away e-books. Both are great, but you need to choose them carefully.

If you sell candles to retailers, you wouldn’t hold a monthly drawing for a 12-month supply of candles. Rather, you might offer an e-book on increasing sales 50% with small display changes. The monthly drawing will result in more subscribers, but few of them will be in your target market.

2. The right content. Again, generic is bad. Let’s say you sell mechanical steps for short people buying tall vehicles. Your audience will likely be middle class, educated commuters, and you’ll probably have more female readers than male. Thus, an article on how investing in your car is a good idea (the Wall Street Journal reports older SUVs are skyrocketing in value) would be more appealing to readers than an article describing the proper way to tie down a load of wood.

Not only will the article on investing in automobile upgrades appeal more to the audience, it’ll also result in more sales because it’s more highly targeted.

3. Ask for the sale. We get a lot of newsletters that don’t explain what they’re selling. If you don’t tell your readers that you sell marketing services, how are they going to know they should hire you?

Why not use your top sponsor spot for your own advertisement every so often? Or mention in your editor’s letter that you’re having a special.

If you use testimonials, why not introduce them with a brief description of the product or service the customer purchased.

Whatever else you do, commit to making it clear in each issue that you are a company that does x. Then allow yourself some open promotion every few issues.

Every day we get dozens of letters from frustrated company newsletter publishers who want to know why their newsletter’s not selling like they think it should.

While every newsletter and each audience is different, we’ve found 9 areas that often need improvement. Last time we focused on the list, content, and asking for the sale. This time, we’ll discuss focus, format and measurement.

4. Focus: What’s your newsletter’s goal? Is it to increase sales 15%? Is it to increase name recognition for your brand. To cut down on calls to your help desk? Whatever your goal, you’ll want to make sure everyone who works on your newsletter understands that goal and how they can help reach it.

A manufacturing company recently contacted us when they discovered only about 25% of their readers remembered receiving their newsletter. We took a look at their layout to suggest changes. First, we discovered they printed their company name just once in the entire (very lengthy) newsletter! Plus, though they used HTML, the newsletter looked nothing like their other company materials, and it didn’t even include the company’s logo!

Because the manufacturing company wanted to build name recognition, they needed to start by helping readers associate the newsletter with their company. For all newsletters, this means using your company name throughout the newsletter. For HTML newsletters, this means keeping the look of the newsletter in line with your company image as much as possible.

5. Format: The formatting of your newsletter absolutely matters, and it relates strongly to your goals. A newsletter that’s designed to increase sales should make it easy for readers to buy (lots of clear links, pictures if appropriate, etc).

Before you make any other decisions, though, you have to decide whether to publish only in plain text or to also offer a HTML version. Our clients have found HTML to be anywhere from 50-75% more effective than plain text.

With HTML, you can include pictures of your products, use colors to emphasize special offers, and repeat elements of your image to strengthen your brand both on and offline. Plain text, however, is easier to send (since with HTML you need to send both), so if you only have time for one version, make it plain text.

Whichever you choose, to best take advantage of a newsletter’s major strength (permission-based follow-up), you’ll want to keep the format consistent. Many publishers rearrange their newsletters each month, taking out and putting in new sections, re-ordering the articles, etc. No matter what your main newsletter goal, consistency is a powerful ally. By getting your readers accustomed to always finding a tip after the editor’s letter, they’ll become accustomed to your company.

6. Measurement: Without measurement, you can’t be sure how your newsletter’s doing. Certainly, some things can’t be measured easily (like brand recognition), but by keeping an eye on statistics and running surveys, you can get a pretty good idea what’s going on with your readers.

One stat to measure if you’re publishing in HTML is your open rate. While it’s not foolproof (or even especially interesting), keeping an eye on your open rate will alert you to potential problems. By watching for declines or surges in your open rate, you can learn which subject lines are most popular; you can also learn which newsletters trigger more filters than usual, and which newsletters might have bugs in the HTML code.

Another stat to keep an eye on is sales made as a result of your newsletter. An easy way to do this is to offer special discounts to readers of your newsletter. Using trackable links also helps, but it doesn’t alert you if your newsletter readers prefer to use the phone to order.

Keep an eye on your rate of subscription and unsubscription. Do readers unsubscribe more after you’ve covered certain topics? Do you see surges in subscribers when you offer bonuses for referrals? Watching what happens to your list from week to week can be very revealing.

A final stat all newsletter publishers should keep an eye on is bounces. Depending on how you maintain your list, you may lose 30% or more of your subscribers each year to full and abandoned email boxes. Keeping an eye on this stat each month helps you gauge which newsletter promotion plans are working and which are bringing lots of temporary subscribers.

Of course, until your readers trust they won’t buy.

7. Your company newsletter nameplate. Whether your newsletter is print or HTML (or even plain text) your nameplate should be instantly recognizable and meaningful to your target audience.

If you’ve established (or want to establish) a strong brand, make the nameplate look like your logo using similar typefaces and colors.

If you offer several publications and want readers to be able to easily differentiate between each, make one element constant (typeface, colors, or a selected word in the name), and the rest contrasting.

Regardless of your goals, make sure your nameplate:

  • Stands out: make it big, make it bold, make it clear it’s the nameplate, not just a headline.
  • Is consistent: using the same nameplate in each issue helps readers recognize the publication. Consistency is a key way to build reader trust.
  • Is understandable: don’t make your readers guess what your newsletter’s about. If they find your newsletter name confusing, they expect to find your product/service confusing as well and may just refuse to buy.

    8. Your company newsletter masthead. Your masthead is where you describe your company and your newsletter. The precise details you include will depend on your goals. If you want your company to look friendly, for instance, include the names of people involved with the newsletter’s production.

    Your masthead must offer contact information. This is typically the reader’s first stop when they want to know more. If you don’t make it easy, you’ll lose sales.

    Your masthead is also a great place for publication information–like whether or not you accept articles for publication. The more your newsletter looks like a paid subscription newsletter, the more valuable it’ll be to readers.

    Including all the nitty-gritty details in your masthead is also a super way to build credibility with your readers.

    9. Your company newsletter tagline. Your tagline carries a heavy burden–it must be short, it must be persuasive (but not salesy) and it must be comprehendible.

    Somehow, in 15 words or less, you must give your readers all the information they need about your publication.

    Fortunately, that’s not as hard as it sounds. All you’ll need to do is come up with the #1 benefit for subscribers.

    Okay, so it’s still hard.

    But, it’s not only do-able, it’s crucial.

    The right tagline doesn’t just add value for the reader, rather you’ll find a great tag will help you focus your newsletter content as well. Take some time to come up with the right tagline. Once you find one that works, you’ll be able to use it for many issues to come.

    When you carefully develop your nameplate, masthead, and tagline, you’ll build a powerful foundation for reader trust. In each issue, the other elements of your newsletter (content, etc) will build upon that foundation to unleash a powerful sales ally.

    Want more tips on making your newsletter personable?
    Subscribe to Newsletters in Focus for free tips every two
    weeks on creating wonderful newsletters. Visit
    http://www.designdoodles.com/free_newsletter.htm to sign up
    and receive your free copy of “Do You Make These Six
    Mistakes in Your Company Newsletter?”

    Ezine Readers Not Biting? Change the Bait
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  • About Jessica Albon
    Want more tips on making your newsletter personable? Subscribe to Newsletters in Focus for free tips every two weeks on creating wonderful newsletters. Visit http://www.designdoodles.com/free_newsletter.htm to sign up and receive your free copy of "Do You Make These Six Mistakes in Your Company Newsletter?" WebProNews Writer
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