Keep in Touch! A Guide to Crafting E-mail Newsletters

By Rachael Haring

Like some huge universe expanding away from itself after a big bang, the internet is continually growing and shifting. Internet shoppers travel between the sites, one after another, searching for the best information and the most attractive deals. They compare and contrast, browse and evaluate, all with a few swift clicks of the mouse.

he fluidity and ease of their motion brings a disturbing consequence for online merchants: no longer are shoppers bound by the concept of "customer loyalty." Even if your site is remarkably well-designed, useful, and popular, there is no guarantee that your customers will remember you and check back with you later. After all, they can always find what they need somewhere else.

What can you do to ingrain your URL in the minds of your visitors/customers? How can you keep your site (and your brand or service) fresh in the minds of your visitors? How can you encourage repeat business and announce site news to an interested audience?

Publish a newsletter!

Keeping in touch with an electronic newsletter is one of the most beneficial and efficient forms of customer communication. Not only do you save time and money on mass mailings, but you also reach your customers in a highly targeted and effective way. E-mail is fast becoming a very influential mode of communication, and more and more customers are coming online every day. And if your customers find your newsletter to be particularly useful or entertaining, it can be forwarded to any number of their friends and relatives, thereby creating a ripe "viral marketing" campaign.

So, how to get started? Well, first of all, you have to build a readership base by collecting as many interested email addresses as you can. Notice the use of the word "interested." Unless you want to alienate lots of potential customers and waste valuable email resources, you can't just randomly sign people up for your newsletter. The only things this will bring are annoyance from overloaded recipients, tons of undeliverable mail, and possible complaints to your ISP. You need to gather a list of e-mail addresses which have already opted to receive information from companies like you; these willing recipients are called "opt-in" addresses.

The simplest way to gather opt-in names is by simply asking your site visitors to sign up for updates. However, the more casual or merely curious shoppers will most likely not be encouraged to give their information to you.

To sweeten the deal, add a contest or sweepstakes to your site, and devise an entry form which contains an area for registrants to sign up for your newsletter. You can automatically place your registrants on the newsletter subscription list; in this case, however, you had better make sure that there is a statement on the entry form informing registrants of this policy and reminding them that they can cancel the subscription at any time. Display an "unsubscribe" email address for their convenience, both on your entry page and on your actual newsletter. After all, why would you want to waste time and money sending newsletters to uninterested or irritated parties?

Now, you have to devise content for the newsletter. Of course, you could make your newsletter a mess of extensive advertisements, mindless hype, and self-serving promotion, but this approach ignores the fact that you are trying to draw your visitor's loyalty. Through your newsletter, you are trying to express a sense of community, of shared interests, of an accessible, customer-oriented company. Instead, try to think like your visitors. Wouldn't they like to read something a little more useful, a little more fun, a little more attuned to their lifestyles? If you give them the content that they want to read, they will remember your company's name. They will remember that you care about entertaining and informing them.

  1. Announcements: There are ways to announce new website content, sales, and upcoming contests without sounding like a pushy ad. Emphasize the benefits of promotions by naming prizes that can be won from your site. Subtly highlight discounts and new product lines without resorting to a hard-sell.
  2. News: Make sure to tell your visitors all about any new changes or improvements coming up on your site, and provide links for them to easily return to your site. Or, for a wider scope, find interesting tidbits or news regarding to your entire retailing sector or industry.
  3. Features: These are short pieces with an intent to entertain, amuse, or intrigue your visitors. Features should always have a connection to your business, but that doesn't mean that they need to be dry or dull. Have fun with it, and make it an uniquely entertaining read. For example, if you have a jewelry newsletter, you could include a short history of the Hope Diamond.
  4. Links: Give links to helpful and/or site-related information, or choose a "Link of the Month." For extra exposure, trade newsletter links with another partner site! This spreads out your advertising and gives your readers more useful content.
  5. Polls: Ask your readers a question, and then print the results in the next newsletter. For best results, pick a well-known topic and allow your readers to send in simple responses. If you want deeper insights, make a contest out of it and give a prize to the most interesting or well-stated opinion. Soliciting your customers' opinions not only gives you a better idea of who your targeted audience truly is, but it also assures your customers that you are listening to their suggestions, and that you care about their thoughts.
  6. Contests: If you have a running contest, promote it! Provide a link to the contest and an encouraging summation of the prizes. Additionally, if your contest has ended, why not publish the winners' names? Prize lists and winner announcements show that there are rewards for visiting your site.
  7. Various fun stuff: Anything goes, as long as it is entertaining, cool, and has at least a tenuous relationship to your site. Recipes, famous quotes, funny anecdotes, jokes, and riddles are all good ideas.

Now you've got a website newsletter chock full of fascinating information that your visitors will actually want to read, and perhaps even share with a few friends. Be creative, be informative, and above all, be remembered.

© 2003 Rachael M. Haring