It’s happened to me. It’s happened to my friends. Sooner or later it happens to just about everyone in marketing communications. Someone (usually someone who doesn’t have to execute it) decides, “Hey, let’s create a marketing newsletter!” and the next thing you know it’s your job to pull it together out of cotton candy and unicorns.
In the era of Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and a million other social media applications, an email newsletter may seem quaint. “Someone needs to update their marketing playbook,” you think. But the reality is email newsletter are still highly effective. Like 95% effective – if they are done right.
That’s the key, isn’t it? Because newsletters can be time-consuming, especially if content is tough to come by, they are generally handed off to the newbie, or the least experienced member of the team, or the person who just doesn’t know how to say no.
It doesn’t have to be as heinous of a chore as it may seem. In fact, it can be rather fun if you approach it the right way. Here are a few suggestions for not only taking the pain out of producing a newsletter but creating a finished product you’ll be proud to send to your customers and prospects.
Keep it simple
One of the most common newsletter mistakes is thinking you’re publishing the New York Times Sunday edition, i.e., stuffing it chock full of too many articles. Keep in mind who your readers are and how they’re consuming the content.
These days, many are opening the newsletter on their smartphones. With roughly 4-7 inches of screen space, too many stories = too little readership. Offering two or three in-depth articles supplemented by shorter, easily consumable content (see the next section) will be easier on the eyes and will keep readers from becoming easily overwhelmed.
Keeping it simple solves another dilemma every marketer has experienced with a newsletter at one time or another: the first issue comes out on time to great huzzahs. The second issue comes out a couple of weeks late, and the third issue never sees the light of day.
Keeping the number of stories lower helps ensure there’s plenty of fodder for the next issue. Besides, it’s a lot easier to herd three cats, er, subject matter experts, at a time than six or eight. Especially if you’re “managing up.”
Mix in “snackable” content
Yes, you have some great thought leadership to share, and it can only be delivered in a longer article. After all, you want your audience to be informed.
Sometimes, though, people think they don’t have time to read a longer article. If you include fun, entertaining and/or informative content that can be consumed at a glance (like grabbing a handful of M&Ms you can chew and swallow quickly so no one knows you’re cheating on the diet) your readers will be more likely to open the newsletter to give those pieces a look.
While they’re there, they may decide they might have enough time to read one of the more in-depth pieces. Why not? The newsletter is already open anyway.
Fun facts, trivia or statistics related to your industry (even better your area of it) are always welcome. For example, if your business involves blood transfusions, you could share that the first recorded successful blood transfusion was in 1665. Or that nearly 21 million blood components are transfused each year in the U.S. Anything that will make your audience stop for a second and say “Hmmm.”
Quotes from famous people are another great source of snackable content. Even an infographic can work, as long as you keep it simple. Give readers something they can view quickly (and find interesting) and you’ll make opening your newsletter habit-forming.
Nothing says uninviting (or “hard to read”) like wall-to-wall type. Look for ways to include graphics as part of your stories.
Maybe it’s a photo of the author. Maybe it’s a relevant illustration or photo. Maybe it’s a cartoon if you have someone on staff who likes to draw. Find a way to include some graphics and you’ll improve the look. Just be sure they don’t also slow down how quickly the newsletter loads.
Focus on them, not you
Let’s face it – we live in a very “me”-oriented society. The old acronym WIIFM – what’s in it for me? – applies now more than ever. So if your newsletter is all about your product, your services and your company, it’s going to be of very little interest to anyone outside the company.
Think about what happens at a party or other gathering where people cobble together posters filled with pictures of the guest of honor. The first thing visitors do when they look at the photos is check to see if they are in them. (Ok, maybe it’s just me who does that.)
Keep the “Inside Baseball” stuff to a minimum – unless this is an internal company newsletter. Offer up information that will help readers do their jobs better, or improve their relationships with a boss or co-workers, or enjoy their leisure time more. Anything that offers a promise of making the reader smarter or happier or better-prepared in some aspect of their lives.
That doesn’t mean you can’t include something about your company and its products or services now and then, especially if you have a truly exciting announcement. But be careful, because the more readers perceive the newsletter is about you instead of them, the less motivated they will be to read it. Or even open it.
Keep the language friendly – but genuine
There is always a temptation, especially among those who are new to writing, to try to show off their college or post-graduate educations by creating deadly serious tomes that read like textbooks. Remember how much fun textbooks were to read?
If you want to get your audience engaged with your newsletter on a regular basis, write it more like a friend sharing great information with another friend. As a general rule, newsletter articles should be conversational, much like a blog post. In fact, this blog post by my colleague Michelle Noteboom offers some great tips that apply to newsletter articles as much as they do blogs. Not to mention an example of writing style.
At the same time, you also want to be genuine in your writing. If you’re ghost writing for a company executive who is known to be rather dry or formal in their day-to-day life, suddenly adopting a breezy attitude in a newsletter article will immediately scream FALSE and hurt the credibility of the article and the newsletter.
For more down-to-earth types, however, you can inject some fun. Find out what their hobbies and interests are and tie them in if you can. Keep sentences and paragraphs short – again a must for those reading on smartphones. The easier the story is to read and comprehend, the more likely it is to make a lasting impression.
Not so bad
See? Being in charge of the newsletter isn’t so bad. And the more you do it, the easier it will get. Before you know it you’ll be the one doling out advice – and shaking your head at every bad newsletter you get.
Have you ever been in charge of a newsletter? What has your experience been? Is there anything you would change about what I suggested? Or anything you would change in your approach for the next time?