Email newsletters remain a great way to get peoples’ attention

by Paul Sullivan of Breakthrough Communications

All the current talk about social media usually centers around Twitter, FaceBook and YouTube, and the old standby e-newsletter is increasingly overlooked.

Because it has been around for what seems like forever, e-mail doesn’t get the respect it deserves among marketers these days, but it’s still an incredibly powerful communications source.

Consider: According to Email Marketing Reports, the world’s Internet users send out 247 billion emails a day.

In the time it takes to read this sentence, 20 million emails will be sent.

And if you think email usage is on the wane, think again. The Radicati Group estimates there are 2.9 billion email accounts in 2010, growing to 3.8 billion by 2014.

According to a May 2010 survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 62 per cent of American Internet users go on line everyday to read and send emails. And if you’re like me, you do it 30 times a day from desktop, laptop and mobile.

So, email remains the most ubiquitous form of communication on the planet. If you want people to read your magazine, you have a pretty good idea where to find them: reading their email.

Email newsletters remain a great way to get peoples’ attention. They are relatively easy to put together and by using a mail program such as Constant Contact, you can comply with the best practices governing email communication, which prevents your work from ending up in the junk mail folder, at the same time giving you the power to monitor the number of people who opened, responded or rejected your newsletter.

Think about your e-newsletter as an online shop window, where you’re able to display the unique contents of your editorial vision and voice, a sampler of all the good things available in your magazine, both on your website and on the newsstand.

Of course, there are e-newsletters and there are e-newsletters. Fortunately, Min’s e-newsletter of 2010 is a magazine newsletter we can all learn from. It’s called Talk of the South, and it’s the twice weekly e-newsletter of Garden & Gun Magazine, which also gets my award for weirdest magazine title yet.

G&G, says Min, gets it. Successful social media is powered by word of mouth, and one of the most powerful peer-to-peer recommendations has to be: “Did you see this?” Talk of the South is a “Did you see this?” machine, and fascinating stories about Southern living are its product.

You owe it to yourself to visit Talk of the South if only to ogle the photo of the cheeseburger featured in “The Most Southern Restaurant Ever”. At least take a look before you start in on your New Year’s health and resolutions.

Don’t be surprised if you find yourself contemplating a pilgrimage to Charleston, South Carolina to visit Husk restaurant and devour one in person.

The content of Talk of the South is not repurposed from the magazine, which means the first time anyone sees it is when it turns up in the Inbox. The voice is that of a friend who has discovered something wonderful and just has to share it with you, preferably over a pulled port sandwich at Husk. Unlike too many e-newsletters, Talk of the South is not some half-hearted utilitarian effort, but always features a big, gorgeous magazine photo, with a story synopsis that invites the reader to drill deeper into the magazine site. It’s an invite that’s tough to resist.

A completely different approach, but one that’s equally catchy is CNET’s Cheapskate and his Deal of the Day. When you get hundreds of emails a day, it’s easy to miss some or let them fall through the cracks, even the ones that make it past the spam filter. But I defy any red-blooded male (or female for that matter) to resist the following subject line: “Get a 50-inch plasma HDTV for $668 shipped.” (Read more)

The Cheapskate understands that everyone wants a bargain, and it makes sense that people who sign up for email newsletters are particularly receptive to tech deals, so a tech deal alert of the day makes sense for that audience.

E-newsletters encourage email users to interact with your web site on a periodic basis, and work particularly well for maintaining the loyalty of current readers. But they also work for drawing new customers especially when you have a built-in team of “Have you seen this?” advocates who will forward links to their like-minded friends and colleagues.

It’s a simple enough editorial imperative. Be it a cheeseburger to die for or an incredibly cheap 50-inch HDTV, all you have to do is come up with a topic that will promote word of mouth and will get people beating a path to your magazine or your advertiser. According to Min, the Talk of the South has led so much traffic to featured e-commerce sites “it’s burned a few servers and saved a few small businesses.” Not the least of them being Garden & Gun magazine.

As you’re building your word of mouth e-newsletter, make sure to keep a couple of tips in mind.

The subject line has to capture the reader’s attention. “Get a 50-inch plasma HDTV for $668 shipped” fits that criterion nicely.

Respect the spam filter. Avoid unnecessary punctuation. Exclamation marks, all capital letters, trigger words such as “free” and “weight loss”, and spelling mistakes will get your email consigned to the junk file.

In terms of content, keep it useful and accessible. If you open a channel with your readers, then assault them with subscription and advertising messages, they’ll close it pretty quickly. Education – how-to articles, tips and exclusive industry reports – identify you and your brand as an expert. And if you get the voice right, you become that magical word of mouth magician: the expert friend.

The expert friend is even better than the expert, because he or she understands you better, and recommendations come with empathy, enthusiasm and relevance.

Like this one. For all you dog lovers out there, have you seen this? It’s Talk of the South’s Good Dog photo contest. Check out Molly, the winner of the Dogs Being Dogs Category in G&G’s Most Popular Photos of 2010 newsletter.

Now that’s an effective marketing campaign. Some dog, too.

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