Strategies of a Good Email Newsletter

Part of the Kenno's Blog series.
By Ken Brown
Editor, You Can Learn Series
November 30, 2007

So you want to send out an email newsletter. What should your email newsletter campaign contain? Do you want new information? Do you want to tell you customer what you have done the last week or month? What format is best for your information, HTML or regular text? Do you include a video or photos? Do you only include information about your company or do you have links in the email to other relevant companies? Do you include an article that is not in your website but is exclusive to your email recipients?

I am going to analyze two emails that I receive on a regular basis. One of the emails I receive is from a recording studio known as Apocalypse Cow authored by Theresa Brooks and the second is from the SEO expert, Jill Whalen, at High Rankings Advisor. It will be an interesting conversation, because Jill sends her emails out just as regular text. Theresa works with many bands doing sound recordings and she sends her emails out as HTML. Which is better regular text or HTML?

Music is Played on Samantha Who

Let's check in with Theresa. She is the marketing guru at Apocalypse Cow. Music that she and her partners, Jeffrey and Dan Brooks, have created have been on American Idol Rewind, DR. 90210 and recently on Samantha Who on ABC. They have a thriving recoding business of bands that come in on a regular basis between writing, scripting, adding music and perfoming their own songs.

Theresa authors a mostly monthly newsletter. She gets a lot of input from the partners and then puts together her latest and greatest. She uses an HTML format, though she could utilize more html. She keeps the html fairly simple with the company logo at the top then simple html for the rest of the newsletter.

What Goes into the Content of the Newsletter

What does the Cow, as they affectionately call themselves, put into the newsletter as content? They will start the newsletter with a headline called News. This is normally news just about the Cow. The happenings in the studio. This is where they tell us about any recent podcasts they have recorded and uploaded to iTunes. Then they have a little sales message about gift certificates as the last newsletter was delivered just before the Christmas shopping season begins.

Next they tell us about all the cool new gear they are placing in the studio. This month they put in BLUE microphones from Blueberry mics. They mention why they purchased the mics and why you should be interested and excited about the recent purchase. This is a very subtle sales message. If you record music, you might want to see the new mics and find out how you will sound singing your latest hit song into these little babies. They also added a Small Fry Burn Unit.

Now you have to understand that Theresa and the Apocalypse Cow doesn't have a huge mailing list. They mostly send it to bands that have recorded with them and then people who have opted in to receiving it. So, the newsletter is going out to bands that might be interested in coming back into the studio. Nothing will fire up a band than knowing who is in the studio this month. What would you think if you knew your friend or even competitor was tuning up for their next release and you hadn't picked up your guitar in over 3 months?

Section Titled, Who's in the Recording Studio

The next section of the emailed letter is Who's in the Recording Studio. For the nonrecording person like me, it is an interesting few lines about who's in the shop and what kind of music is being played. They don't spend a lot of space on this section. Probably on average 4 lines per group. But, think of the benefits. If you are in the studio recording, this will make you feel huge. It gives their current customers a lot of warm fuzzies. Former customers really have to think, "I want to be back in recording." I am guessing that is where the fun and joy of playing music, writing songs and performing really happens. If you aren't live then the studio is the next best place to be.

Each of the bands usually have their own website describing where they are playing and info about their music. Theresa is nice enough to give a link for the band's website in her newsletter. A great touch and again, gives them all a warm fuzzy. If you haven't been in the studio lately with your band you are thinking, hey my songs and website should be in that newsletter. A little motivation to get back into action and finish up that album you haven't completed.

Funny Cow Jokes

Before they give their ending credits, Apocalypse Cow, will tell their funniest cow joke. These are usually pretty corny. The cow joke in this month's issue? "What do you get when you cross a cow with a crown?" Want to know the answer? I am not going to tell you. Check out The Cow website.

To end the newsletter they provide the necessary information to contact the studio. THey tell readers how to get booking information, new sampler CD and further studio contact info. They add the customary wording at the bottom on how to remove your name from the email newsletter.

High Ranking Advisor Newsletter

Another email I receive regularly is the one from Jill Whalen of High Rankings Advisor. Jill's newsletter is not formatted in a fancy html. It is simple text based email. You open it up in your Outlook or email reader and you are ready to read. You don't have to download images. You don't have to wonder what the image you can't see is supposed to look like. It is just text. Personally I am a big fan of this format. You can get the same results with text as you can with HTML.

Now, Jill obviously has a different clientele than Theresa. Jill's customers are business people looking to bring greater traffic to their websites. Jill's company is a Search Engine Marketing firm and her clients want information on how to increase search engine responses. What can they do to get a leg up on their competition? What information can Jill provide them that will give them the critical edge to be in the top ten of a search on Google instead of page 216?

Jill begins the newsletter by giving a little menu. The section is titled, In Today's Advisor. I like this move by Jill because it allows you to scan for articles of interest and then if you are in a hurry you can read the items of importance to you and then finish the rest when you have more time. After that section she will give a little introductory comment.

Questions from Readers

The High Rankings Advisor newsletter will then usually have a question from a reader or fan of the website. The question is of a serious nature and can sometimes be a tough call for a novice to answer and they want the answer of an expert. After the question Jill will spend quite a few paragraphs answering that question. It is always an in depth answer and you never feel like your time was wasted by reading through the newsletter.

Sometimes Jill will just comment on industry news or tell you what to watch out for in the markteplace. I have quoted Jill before on this site because she is such an industry insider. Jill will allow some web masters to actually post the question and answer on their own websites. THis is great for Jill because it gives her more credibility in the marketplace and some good link juice.

Do You Allow Advertising in Your Newsletter

The next section Jill handles quite well. She allows advertising on her newsletter. This is definitely a win / win situation. The advertiser benefits because Jill writes engaging articles. Since she uses a plain text format it is hard to tell where the article ends and the ads begin. Plus, this is very important. The ads are highly relevant to the newsletter. The ads you see are perfectly suited to the audience receiving the news.

There always seems to be a guest writer of some kind. This particular newsletter has another staff member at High Rankings, Jesse DaCosta giving feedback on a new product that is well suited for the SEO community.

Then Jill might have another ad and she will give us her, High Rankings Forum Thread of the Week. This is an opportunity for Jill to drive some direct traffic to her forum. She will place an engaging question on the newsletter and then will ask you for your opinion. She is very good at giving a little personal information each newsletter. Not so much that you feel overwhemed, but enough so you see her as a friend.

With a comment or two about the latest convention she is speaking at and then she will close with all the business end of a newsletter. How to reach her. What you can expect if you email her and how to get off the list.

Develop a Friendship with Your Readers

Here is a quick analysis of emails and how to handle them so you get repeat traffic. You keep former visitors interested in your company and interested in you. You develop a friendship with these people and they become lifelong friends. And isn't that really the best way to do business as a friend?

What is the best strategy to use, HTML or plain text? You know it doesn't matter. Your initial setup for an HTML will cost you in time. Some email programs will not open the images when the letter is first viewed. This will cause the letter to look bad. If the user is on dial up, this can be frustrating for the user because then they have to log back into the internet to get the images. When all the information is there, the letter will look great and you can do some exciting things with HTML formatting. If you set it up as plain text it won't take long to write it and format it. There won't be images to download. But, you won't have as much flexibility to do fun formatting and make it look exciting to read. If you are selling clothes, books or lawn mowers, I would recommend using HTML otherwise feel free to plain text.

Should you have advertising from other companies on your newsletter? I think it is okay if you make sure it is very relevant to your customers and business industry. Otherwise it becomes distracting and you may lose readership.

What is the best strategy for videos? I would recommend you just place a hyperlink in your newsletter that will take the user to your website page where you can then show your video.

When you create your newsletter, depending on your industry, you might want to include content that is not on your website. That way your customers feel like they have an advantage over just regular visitors to the website. At least give your subscriber list a week to enjoy and use the information before placing the information on your website. Exclusivity can increase subscribers to your newsletter.

OK, I have to go write my next newsletter.

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