Newsletters are one of the most popular and effective ways that companies stay in touch with customers. The main reason for this is that people tend to react more favorably to newsletters then they do to direct mail, flyers, emails, and phone calls. They expect to find useful articles and other information, and are willing to accept some promotional pitches intermixed with the content so long as it's not excessive.
A newsletter can also be sent out more frequently because, like a magazine, it is a type of periodical. People expect it to arrive at scheduled intervals. A company can get away with sending a newsletter to its customers once a month but would probably get complaints if they did a promotional mailing or telemarketing campaign with the same frequency.
Newsletters can be published in two formats: print and online. Which is better? That depends on the customer base. For business people and others who are active on the Internet, online is best. For other consumer markets, a print newsletter may be the best choice because those people may not be regular Internet users.
As a consumer, you may receive newsletters from your dentist, chiropractor, real estate agent, bank, or many of the other companies you deal with on an ongoing basis. Business people receive plenty of free newsletters as well from companies and professionals.
In print format, customer newsletters are typically four pages in length. (Often, they are produced on 11″ × 17″ sheets folded to make four panels.) Of course, there are lots of variations. Some can be as short as a single page, while others can be several pages. E-mail newsletters are not restricted to any particular paper size. However, most e-mail and other online formats for newsletters are typically shorter than their print cousins, usually containing no more than three short articles. That's because it's generally easier to read on paper than on screen.
If you get involved in writing a customer newsletter, part of your job will likely be planning the articles. This involves playing the role of chief editor and deciding what topics to cover. Here are some thoughts to keep in mind:
Keep it reader-focused. Select topics based on what customers want to read, not what you want to tell them.
Let the customers decide. Survey customers to discover the kinds of topics they'd be interested in reading. This doesn't have to be a complex process. In an e-mail newsletter, for example, you can simply ask readers to e-mail their topic suggestions.
Be careful with company news. Think about it. Do customers really want to read about the antics at the latest company picnic? Or learn that Fred from Boston is the new VP of finance? This may be good fodder for an employee newsletter, but not for one aimed at customers.
Include people profiles. Customers like to learn more about the people they deal with on the phone or via the Internet, especially those in customer service, technical support, and sales.
Make it fridge worthy. Include articles that are so helpful they get clipped and posted on a refrigerator door or office wall. No one ever gets tired of a good how-to.
Reprint case studies and other success stories. These work very well. Customers love to read them. And they are often already in article format.
No fluff, please. Resist the temptation to use quotes from famous people, jokes, cartoons, or other fillers just to use the space.
So where do you put the promotional stuff? The news about new products? Accessories? Upgrades? Discount programs? Holiday sales? There are two ways to integrate this information into a newsletter while still maintaining an informative style and tone.
The first way is to write the promotional pitch in the form of an article. This can work well only if the promotion or campaign is, in fact, news. Take a look at this example:
DAYTON CUTS THE CHEESE
Dayton Cheese has being selling its product in standard block sizes for more than 75 years. This month, for the first time ever, Dayton Slices will be available for order. You can count on the same great quality and long-lasting freshness — now in convenient slices. And here's more good news. Customers who order before January 15th receive a 25% introductory discount!
The second method of weaving a promotional message into your newsletter is to actually place an advertisement. After all, magazines and many other publications contain ads. So customers will not be surprised when they see one in yours.
Article Writing Tips
There are plenty of great article writing tips in Chapter 13. In addition, here are some more strategies that are particularly applicable to customer newsletters:
Short articles work best. Use no more than 400 words.
Mix it up. If a full-length article for your customer publication is 400 words, include some much shorter articles that are only 150–200 words.
Use a caption for every picture. Captions have one of the highest readerships on a newsletter page. So take advantage of this fact.
Make it eye friendly. Use plenty of subheads, sidebars, text boxes, and other text elements to make the newsletter look more inviting and easy to read.
Make it look like a newsletter. If your newsletter looks too much like a sales brochure or flyer, few customers will read it.
Put your most captivating article on the front page. This is the most important page to the customer, so use this space to target the customer, not just announce company news. For example, the opening of a new plant in China, as important as that may be to the company, may not be all that interesting to a shopper.
Use plenty of quotes. Instead of saying that the new SML Fluid Monitoring System is 22 percent more accurate than the previous model, get someone to quote it. “John Smith, technical manager of development had this to say about the new SML Fluid Monitoring System. ‘It is 22% more accurate than the previous model.’”
Place yourself firmly in the customer's shoes when planning a newsletter and researching and writing the articles. Ask yourself: “Would I read this article? Would I appreciate the company providing this information? Is this information useful to me?” If you can say yes to these questions, you're on the right track.