November 20, 2008
How To

5 Newsletter Strategies that Work Now: Focus on Content, Subs, Ads, Web 2.0

SUMMARY: B2B email newsletters face a broad advertising slump and challenges from social media and Web 2.0 technologies. But they remain a strong business model for connecting advertisers with a targeted audience.

Listen to some top enewsletter publishers to discover the content, subscriber acquisition and advertising strategies that work for them. Includes tips on:
o Promoting performance-based advertising options
o Developing co-registration offers to generate revenue
o Providing must-read content
o Adapting to the rise of Web 2.0 and social media channels
Online publishing continues to evolve, but email newsletters remain a vital source of information for business professionals who want to stay on top of news and trends in their industries.

For example, 67% of technology decision makers said they read email newsletters at least monthly, according to MarketingSherpa’s 2008 Business Technology Benchmark Guide. That’s a larger percentage than that of people who say they read traditional newspapers, print trade publications, or general business magazines monthly.

To serve that audience, for-profit publishers have found a healthy niche providing email newsletters focused on industries or job description (often in partnership with industry associations) that are supported by advertisers who want to reach those valuable readers. But, with a slumping economy, a questionable advertising market, and growing competition from interactive content sources, we wanted to hear how newsletter publishers are managing subscriber and revenue growth.

We spoke with three top B2B email newsletter publishers: Custom Briefings, FierceMarkets, and SmartBrief. Each said that the advertising slowdown hasn’t hurt them as much as it has print publishers and other traditional media sources. They cite several strategies they’ve used to adapt to market conditions.

Here are their top five insights:

Insight #1. Build on direct-response advertising

B2B email newsletter publishers say the downturn that’s affecting print B2B publications hasn’t hit their publications yet. They credit their relative strength to three factors:
1. Targeted focus of their publications on desirable prospects
2. Emphasis on direct-response advertising that is highly measurable
3. Subscriber growth in existing and new products

Here are three tips the publishers offered to position their newsletters as attractive advertising channels in a slowing economy:

Tip #1. Provide robust advertising performance data

In a shaky economy, advertisers tend to focus on highly-measureable, performance-based channels rather than cost-per-impression models offered by online display and print advertising. Email newsletter advertising matches that need by providing advertisers cost-per-lead or cost-per-acquisition campaigns that use webinar or white paper offers to capture leads from newsletter audiences.

That format, combined with the opt-in details they collect from their subscribers, allows publishers to provide advertisers a wealth of campaign data not available in print or online display campaigns, such as:
o Cost per click
o Cost per lead
o Companies that have clicked on ads
o Analysis respondents by position or job description

“We’re selling advertising that looks like advertising, but acts like direct marketing,” says Rick Stamberger, CEO, SmartBrief.

Tip #2. Coordinate email newsletters with broader campaigns

For publishers who run a website, events or other products in conjunction with their email newsletters, the benefits of the direct-response model multiply when email is included in an advertising portfolio.

For example, FierceMarkets maintains websites and hosts events for its 24 publications. As a result, they can offer advertisers lead-generation campaigns that incorporate a presence in multiple properties, such as a newsletter ad, a white paper hosted on the website, and a webinar sponsorship.

“The advertiser may ask for 500 leads, and they’ll get some from a webinar, some from the email newsletter, and some from a white paper,” says Sean Griffey, COO, FierceMarkets. “You need to tie the whole campaign together.”

Tip #3. Offer horizontal reach to advertisers

The industry focus of B2B email newsletters is what attracts many advertisers. But publishers that maintain newsletters across several industries also can look at their horizontal reach.

For example, SmartBrief found that 57% of their newsletter readers are at the VP level and above. The team is finalizing new targeting software that will let advertisers target their campaigns by demographic metrics, such as title or buying power, and then serve ads across multiple industry titles.

Insight #2. Co-registration is better than list rental

Renting lists to third-party advertisers and list brokers has long been a revenue source for B2B publishers. But the practice can threaten a publisher’s relationship with subscribers, and takes the control over third-party advertising out of their hands.

Instead, consider co-registration deals with suitable partners. The technique allows a publisher to select offers that are relevant to their subscriber base and promote them as a value-added service during the newsletter sign-up process.

For example, FierceMarkets uses a co-registration model that ties in to their search marketing campaigns to serve relevant offers. Here’s an example of how it works:

- A third-party company offering online training for life sciences professionals may be interested in the same audience that reads FierceBiotech.

- The FierceBiotech team would create a new co-registration landing page that offers subscribers the chance to sign up for online training from the life sciences partners.

- During a PPC campaign to promote the FierceBiotech newsletter, the team would examine keywords used to find their newsletter sign-up offer. Searchers whose queries reflect an interest in education and training would be taken to a landing page that captures their newsletter sign-up, and offers them a training course from the education partner.

- FierceMarkets shares in the revenue generated from the sale of that training program.

“Instead of blindly selling names to a third-party list broker, think of co-registration as a way to offer highly relevant material or content for your audience,” says Griffey.

Insight #3. Make editorial quality the focus of your content strategy

The rise of automated news aggregation services, such as Google News, and technologies, such as RSS feeds, have pressured newsletter publishers to demonstrate the value they provide to subscribers. To attract and retain subscribers, and keep them opening email newsletters, publishers have to create content that goes beyond simple aggregation.

Here are three tactics for adding value to newsletter content:

#1. Provide analysis and context

FierceMarkets uses their own team of editors to summarize and analyze the news reports collected in their industry newsletters. Those summaries help subscribers understand what the news means for their industry before clicking on a link that goes to the source of the news article.

#2. Offer a broad scope

Custom Briefings uses a large team of editors to monitor a range of media outlets that an individual couldn’t manage on their own. Each daily briefing contains a detailed summary of the day’s top news for a given industry, but pulls unique aspects from multiple reports to create a comprehensive record of how the media is covering that particular story.

“We write a story that allows the reader to understand what’s being reported broadly, and then highlight the unique pieces of information that each source has,” says Erik McGunnigle, Senior VP, Business Operations, Custom Briefings.

#3. Be a trusted filter

With so much information now available from traditional news outlets, blogs, industry research firms, corporate newsletters, and other sources, email newsletters can perform the valuable task of sorting through the clutter.

SmartBrief builds on their reputation as a filter of industry news by continually expanding the types of articles it includes in their newsletters. Recently, the team has begun working with content sources that are not typically aggregated on the Web, such as peer-reviewed journals, to incorporate those articles into their newsletters.

Insight #4. Work internally and externally to grow subscriber lists

Compared to broad, consumer publishers, B2B publishers face the challenge of having a relatively limited pool of potential subscribers for their niche newsletters. By working within their existing subscriber base and partnering with outside organizations, however, B2B newsletter publishers have several avenues to help attract new opt-ins.

Here are three successful tactics:

#1. Viral growth through subscriber pass-alongs

Creating a simple and prominent way to forward newsletters to a friend or colleague is still a top way to gain new subscribers. Both FierceMarkets and SmartBrief include links at the bottom of each item summary in their newsletters that allow readers to forward those articles to a friend.

- SmartBrief employs a large button with the text “Email this story” at the bottom of each article.

#2. Cross-promotion of additional, relevant titles to new subscribers

Publishers with a large portfolio of industry-focused newsletters can promote additional titles that are relevant to each subscriber, based on job description or sub-niches within a broader topic.

- For example, FierceMarkets offers four titles in the Enterprise IT space that present a broad industry overview, as well as a deeper focus into industry topics. A subscriber of FierceCIO, for example, may also be interested in FierceMobileIT, which focuses on wireless technology in a business setting.

- SmartBrief has introduced horizontal briefs that are focused on professional issues that affect any industry, such as the SmartBrief on Leadership.

The team created a two-step sign-up process for those horizontal newsletters; it collects contact and company information about the subscriber, and then offers a second page promoting a relevant industry-specific newsletter for that subscriber.

#3. Partnerships with industry event promoters

Publishers can reach out to promoters of industry events, such as trade shows, that appeal to the same audience as their newsletters. For example, FierceMarkets partners with major industry events in two ways:

- Co-registration deals that offer a one-month trial of a FierceMarkets newsletter to attendees as part of the event registration process.

- Sponsorship of networking events held during industry trade shows.

Insight #5. View rise of social media and Web 2.0 as an opportunity

With the growth of blogs, social networking sites, RSS and mobile technology, potential subscribers of email newsletters have a wealth of new information sources outside their inbox. But savvy email newsletter publishers should recognize the growth of these channels as an opportunity, not as a threat.

- The increasing amount of information makes the need for filtering and analysis even more important for busy professionals, say publishers.

“When we started this company nine-plus years ago… we did not have blogs, RSS, widgets and social networks,” says Stamberger. “The only thing that hasn’t changed in that time period is the space between your left and right ears.”

- Top industry blogs are a source of news, analysis and commentary.

Publishers that are committed to providing the best and most relevant industry content for their subscribers must include links to blogs if they contain some of the best coverage on a particular topic.

“We know readers can go anywhere to find news, so we’re not going to pretend that we are their only source for commentary and analysis,” says Griffey.

- Interactivity and customization are becoming the standard for online content.

Although email remains a push format, newsletter publishers must evolve to provide subscribers with more interactivity. FierceMarkets already allows subscribers to comment on newsletter articles. Stamberger at SmartBrief anticipates more efforts on behalf of publishers to help manage their content, customize selection of articles, and share them with other people.

“I suspect that you’ll see more of that in the year to come,” says Stamberger.

Useful links related to this article:

Creative Samples from B2B Email Newsletter Publishers:

Custom Briefings



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