"I just can't begin to explain what torture it was,"
CSI's Marketing Communications Manager Kim Nichols talks about
what it was like when the Company used to publish a printed
newsletter for customers and prospects.
"We said we'd do it quarterly and grow it to monthly, but we were
lucky to get things out three times a year. We were really
struggling to produce these things."
The biggest struggle was due to CSI different lines of technology
products, from vibration to oil analysis equipment. Some
customers had overlapping interests in several or all of these
fields. For each issue Nichols would have to round up at
least one article from each different product line manager.
Which proved to be as easy as corralling a herd of cats.
Despite the torture, Nichols did not want to stop producing
newsletters because they were undeniably popular, "We have not
produced a printed newsletter in almost three years, and even
today we still get phone calls and requests for subscriptions.
People see old copies in people's offices, and even though we have
changed area codes two times since then, they manage to find us
and want to get it."
How could CSI continue to benefit from newsletters, without the
Ray Garvey, CSI's in-house oil analysis expert, had
long felt that the Company should not just do a printed newsletter, they should do a whole magazine! But the marcom (marketing
communications) team naturally said that would be impossible. He channeled his passion for writing articles in another
direction; he invented his own email newsletter.
Nichols says, "He just started doing it one day. He had a little
personal list of several hundred people he was emailing it to."
This grassroots effort was so popular with customers that the
marcom team got together to figure out a way they could both help
Garvey with production and also launch a more email newsletters
for their other areas of business.
First the team came up with 5 rules for email publishing:
1. Valuable Content
Nichols has always been adamantly opposed to newsletters, in
print or email, with content that reads more like a sales pitch
than educational information. She prefers Case Studies and
educational materials, and only rarely allows articles to be
published about specific product features.
She also asks writers to focus on evergreen information (informative articles that have a lasting value). That way content
does not get old when it is posted to the site, but rather the site
itself gains more and more value for visitors over time.
This educational, evergreen content is perfect for technical
industries where people do not stay in jobs for too long before
they more onward or upward, so there are always newbies who need
to learn the basics. It is also great for this economy because
CSI's prospects do not have the budget to travel to trade shows or
seminars to learn in person as much anymore.
The marcom team also decided their newsletter would be far more
valuable if instead of sending one giant newsletter covering all
their product lines, instead CSI offered readers a choice of
Now customers and sales prospects can choose any or all of seven
different topical newsletters, from Motor Diagnostics News to
Vibration Analysis Bulletin. Each issue may be short (just one
single article), but it turns out people prefer to get one
article perfect for their needs than a whole bunch of articles
which they may or may not be interested in.
2. Frequency that makes sense
Instead of being forced into a quarterly frequency, now each of
CSI's newsletters are published on a regular basis (ranging
from weekly to monthly), depending on what makes sense for each
particular marketplace, and the product manager who is writing the
articles for it.
Nichols still has to nudge some product managers when their
issues are due (although the evergreen nature of the content
makes it easier for them to write a whole bunch of issues at once
for extended publication dates). It is a whole lot easier to
nudge managers one-by-one than to corral them all onto the exact
same writing schedule!
3. Standardized Formatting for the lowest common denominator
While like most marketers, Nichols loves graphics, she and the
others on the marcom team agreed the newsletter should be
"formatted to the lowest common denominator." She says, "I'd
like to do something more colorful, but I have to keep focused.
It's the content that's important."
So, issues are plain and simple text-only letters running no more
than five inches across, so recipients can read them no matter
what type of email they use. Plus, when stories are posted to the
Web site, they are posted in straight HTML instead of fancier
PDFs. HTML is easier and quicker to download, and that matters
to readers, especially those overseas.
Nichols notes, "I have yet to get a complaint that it's not
pretty enough, but man will they call if a link doesn't work!"
Content rules, in this marketplace at least.
4. Strict double opt-in policies
Although CSI has databases with 100,000 names in them, the marcom
team decided against forcing everyone on their database to get
the newsletters. Instead, they wanted email newsletters to be
strictly an opt-in option.
They also decided to make it a double opt-in (requiring that
new subscribers have to reply to a confirmation email before they
are truly added to the list), so that overeager readers could not
sign up their boss or colleagues without permission. This
ensures that CSI's customers and sales prospects do not think the
Company is spamming them.
5. High responsiveness to reader needs and questions
Every single issue of a CSI newsletter includes the email address
of CSI's expert author so readers can contact him or her directly
with further questions. (It astonishes us how few B-to-B
newsletters currently do this, despite the fact that it's a best
practice. If readers have questions about content, they do not
want to wait for their note to wend its way through customer
service and maybe reach an expert someday.)
Plus, issues always include a link to a form on the site where
subscribers can easily change their email address, unsubscribe,
re-subscribe, or change their preferences to get different
newsletters. Nichols says this is very important, "I get a lot
of response from people whose job focus has changed, or they
simply want to change email addresses to start getting it at home
or work or both places."
To get the word out about the newsletters when they first
launched, the marcom team tried three tactics:
a. Emailing newsletter samples to current customers
b. Renting a broadcast email to send a newsletters offer to
c. Sending issues to sales reps who could then on occasion
forward them to interested prospects or customers
Later, the team also sent out sample issues to prospects who they
met at industry trade shows, and added notes to each issue
encouraging pass-along readers to get their own copies.
The email newsletters are much easier (and cheaper) than the old print newsletter was. Also, customers and sales
prospects love them.
CSI's average sale is $25,000-$30,000 so, as Nichols says,
"Nobody's going to buy from an emailed offer." However, the
newsletters definitely contribute to the bottom line by selling
lower-cost accessory items.
Nichols explains, "We find if you do a newsletter that highlights
that item for whatever reason, a new application or something new
it will facilitate accomplishing, all of the sudden people are
interested in that item. I've had newsletter issues where 60-70%
of the readership responded, but that's outrageously high.
Probably 15-20% is more in the average range."
She adds, "It's not just a sales message tacked on. For example,
a case history went out about our ultrasonic gun, and the guy
used these headphones that helped him. The next thing we knew,
we were getting requests for those headphones. Normally those
are not items we sell on their own."
Plus, the newsletter supports higher price tag sales by growing
CSI's corporate image as a company that is a leader in investing
in R&D and education. It also keeps CSI's name and products
front of mind when customers and prospects change jobs or get
Nichols explains, "When you're ready to step to the next level,
we have those tools and we'll teach you how to do that. At some
point the message and the timing is right. Hopefully, a prospect
will say, 'I've been reading this from CSI for years, and now
it's time for me to call them and purchase stuff from them.'"
Last but not least, the newsletter program has helped CSI raise
their internal corporate profile. In the late '90s, CSI was
acquired by Emerson Process Management Company (NYSE:EMR), a
$15.5 billion company. Naturally Emerson hopes that it's various
divisions communicate enough to be able to support each other's
Now the email newsletter has helped CSI make great strides in
that arena. Nichols says, "Even in the last few weeks, our sales
force is doing a better job of hooking up with sister companies.
They tend to be the same people [at sister companies] I see
signed up for newsletters. They understand what we bring to the
table. When they go into a sales situation, if they see an
opportunity they say, 'Hey you know our sister CSI does that' and
they pick up the phone and call someone."
Not everything has worked out perfectly, however. Nichols learned
some hard lessons from her first three marketing tactics to get
a. The sample issues to the customer list generated a 10% opt-in
rate. Nichols feels it was too confusing for people to get a
wide variety of samples in the mail; many did not understand
they needed to opt-in to get further issues. Others were not
interested in newsletters at all.
She says in retrospect that 10% opt-in rate was "probably pretty
good." At the time, the team was crushed, "We thought
everyone's going to want this! Nobody's going to refuse us."
b. The campaign to the rented list did very badly. "It did not
even cause a blip on the radar." Nichols now thinks the problem
was that the offer was for six different newsletters, which was
just too confusing in a single email.
c. Allowing sales reps to forward issues proved to be another
bad idea for two reasons. First of all, a sales rep might send
out issues to his whole list each week, circumventing CSI's anti-
spam, opt-in policy. Secondly, most recipients who got forwarded
copies just assumed they would always get them. So there was no
incentive for them to opt-in for their own subscription.
Luckily the two tactics the company uses to get the word out
definitely work. Approximately 80% of contacts that CSI meets at
trade shows, sign up for their own subscriptions after Nichols
sends them a single sample issue. Plus, new subscribers opt-in
from pass-along issues at the rate of 30-50 every week. (An
impressive number in niche industries.)
Nichols has seen one final benefit from publishing electronically
-- now 60% of subscribers are outside the US, when previously
none had been. "It's surprising to me how quickly they picked up
on it," she says.
CSI - http://www.compsys.com
The technology CSI uses to produce and send their newsletters: