It's the fastest growing category of content online -- almost every business in North America has started publishing, or is planning to publish, an email newsletter for customers and key prospects.
Dave Olson, Marketing Director at CareerBuilder, Inc. has been sending a highly successful newsletter to 50,000 HR executives in order to support his company's direct sales team for about a year now. We contacted him to find out what his (relatively) time-tested, best practices tips are for marketing communicators who also support a sales team:
1) Create different newsletters for different audiences.
CareerBuilder divides its customers into three distinct audiences: job seekers, companies recruiting employees and agencies specializing in recruitment advertising. The Company sends a different newsletter to each of these very different audiences. Olson is in charge of the newsletter for companies recruiting employees.
2) Don't overwhelm your lists with too much email. Less frequent is better than too frequent.
Currently Olson sends his newsletter on a monthly basis. He'd like to change the frequency to twice-monthly, but his primary concern is keeping the quality of the content very high, and this takes a lot of work!
3) Focus on articles that appeals to your audience -- that make their jobs easier, save them money, or help them to be heroes in their organizations -- instead of simply sales copy for your products.
Typical headlines from CareerBuilder's business customer newsletter include: "Ten Steps to Hiring Success" and "The Executive Talent Crunch." The newsletter also includes corporate news, such as "What's going on at CareerBuilder" but these items only appear lower down in the newsletter, after the purely "useful" articles.
4) Constantly track which articles get the highest readership, so you can continue to bring readers compelling and engaging content. Otherwise they'll stop opening your newsletter and just click "delete" whenever they see it next.
Olson's newsletter features a short summary of two-three new articles that readers can click through to read entirely at the CareerBuilder Web site. He generally gets a click through rate in the "mid-teens" which includes viral clicks from some pass-along readers.
5) Vary your house ads and marketing offers contained in the newsletter and track their results as well. Olson says, "It's critical to measure every possible thing you can measure."
Olson has learned a great deal by tracking results from his house ads, including the fact that sometimes an 800 telephone number can win out over a hotlink to a Web offer. He's also learned that for his particular audience hard offers and savings offers don't do as well as promotions that offer something that can help recipients in their day-to-day job.
6) Don't make it too intense or too intense-looking. Your newsletter must be an obviously quick, easy read. Olson recommends keeping it short -- his newsletter is shorter than two complete pages. Most business executives are too busy these days to spend time reading a longer marketing message; no matter how useful.
7) Yes, you can use HTML to make your newsletter look cleaner and more appealing (and to include your brand's logo) but don't overuse it. If there are too many graphics, your newsletter might download too slowly to please readers. Plus, really big files will bounce off of overloaded corporate email boxes so you'll have a lower delivery rate.
Olson recommends keeping a clean, sharp look with an emphasis on white space and readability over graphics.
Always offer a text-only version to customers who can't receive HTML or who prefer not to.
8) Include links to your "Best Of" older articles from prior issues. Remember, not all of your readers may have received (or perhaps opened) prior issues. Olson reports that he definitely gets click throughs to the older article links he places at the bottom of each issue. "People are obviously reading it."
9) Don't expect to make sales directly from your company's email newsletter. This may be possible in some industries, but in most a newsletter is best used as a branding device, to keep your name "top of mind" in your target audience.
Olson notes that CareerBuilder is a "very sales driven company." His newsletter often feeds leads to the sales team, but its primary purpose is to help keep leads and customers warm while the sales team moves them through the initial sales and later upselling process.
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