The evolution of e-newsletters

Don Sadler Despite their increased prevalence and visibility, the "science" of e-newsletters is anything but. In fact, you might say that e-newsletters are still in their infancy as a marketing discipline. While there are clear-cut benefits to using email to communicate marketing messages to customers and prospects, there are many challenges for organizations that want to do it right.

Tips from a pro

One clue to the growing importance of e-newsletters as a marketing tool is the emergence of a new class of consultants specializing in the discipline of e-newsletters. Michael Katz is one of these pioneers, having founded his consulting practice, Blue Penguin Development, in 2000 in order to help organizations create effective e-newsletter programs.

Katz says e-newsletters have come a long way over the past couple of years, especially from a technology standpoint. "The biggest challenge is no longer how to do an e-newsletter, or even how to do one well. There are so many email marketing software programs that the actual creation and sending of e-newsletters is fairly easy now," he says. "The biggest challenge now is getting people to read your e-newsletter."

A recent study found that the average person is willing to have 12 ongoing email relationships, notes Katz - "and we've all got our 12. So it's now a zero-sum game." Your e-newsletter has to be good enough to make it into your readers' "top 12," which probably means bumping somebody else's out.

No shortcuts to great content

While the mechanics of creating professional looking e-newsletters and sending them out have been simplified, there are no shortcuts when it comes to the real key to cracking the "top 12" - creating content that's targeted and relevant to your audience. "With e-newsletters, targeted and narrow are better than broad and general," says Katz. This makes e-newsletters ideal for narrow, niche markets, where you can drill down deep and address your subject matter in a way general interest material can't - and that your readers will especially value.

Or, as Katz puts it, "Everyone's looking for a reason to just delete." Your content has to be so relevant, and has to so obviously stand out from all the email clutter and spam, that readers will value it so highly that they resist the urge to just hit the delete key.

Mistakes to avoid

Katz says he still sees many of the same mistakes being made by e-newsletter publishers that he saw two years ago. His top 3 mistakes:

    1. "It's all about me." Many companies still don't get the fact that it's not all about them. E-newsletters that get bogged down in how great the company is, how many products they have, how long they've been in business, etc., etc., are doomed to failure, because people just don't care about that. Readers want to know what's in it for them.

    2. No clear target audience. You simply can't be everything to everybody. As noted above, the tighter and more narrow your niche and content, the better.

    3. Way too long. With e-newsletters, people want to quickly get to the information that's going to help them, digest this and then move on. If they know they can read your e-newsletter and get something of value in a couple of minutes, rather than having to slog through page after page, they're much more likely to add you to their "must read" list.

"It takes time, and a lot of trial and error, to get your e-newsletter right," says Katz. Even then, you need to constantly make tweaks and adjustments based on what your tracking and your readers are telling you.

When it comes to your e-newsletter, you've never "arrived" - instead, consider it an ongoing journey. Because the competition for your "top 12" spot is only going to get tougher.

Don Sadler is the Editorial Director at Media 3 Publications. Reach him at if you'd like to learn more about e-newsletter programs and how Media 3 can help.

Copyright © 2004 Media 3 Publications
All Rights Reserved

Category: Publishing
Print page