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21 August 2011

Newsletters, where "brevity is the soul of wit"

This time we're talking about newsletters in detail, where (to quote Shakespeare) "brevity is the soul of wit." And this is truer in newsletters than in other forms of writing.

When I worked in technology transfer, we published a quarterly newsletter that ran 8-10 pages. In those pages, you had a feature story that covered the entire front page and then the rest was filled with smaller stories from the 6 staff writers. Basically, we had 3 paragraphs to tell you (1) what the technology was and what it did, (2) what the SDI or "star wars" funding was that was the tie-in we needed to cover the story, and (3) the commercial applications. 

That little newsletter found its way to a number of other publications because they could re-print and use the stories. For example, one story found its way to the cover of the Wall St Journal.... the one on laser eye surgery, and yes it was born from the laser research done for SDI. Another story was on the "smog dog" sensor that could tell by looking at car emissions whether they were within established guidelines or not. That technology I now pass routinely on the highways of Colorado in the form of "rapid screening" sensors. A third was the material used to fix the Hubble Telescope (remember, it needed "glasses"?), another was the Blue Lasers which gave birth to blue LEDs and Blue Ray disc. (Blue light can hold more information because of its longer wavelength.) The material the pizza guy uses to keep your pizza hot also came from the SDI research.

So, although I had been writing and working on my skills using information from places like Writer's Digest and books like Write Tight, working on that newsletter staff helped me hone my brevity skills even more.  

Newsletters are one of the easiest marketing tools you can use and one of the cheapest, right behind your business cards. These days, there are services like AWeber where for less than $20/month you can set up your newsletter opt-ins and auto-responders so the visitors to your website who would enjoy seeing information from you on a regular basis can. And at least w/ AWeber, you can set up a whole bunch of newsletters for different sites or different blogs, each with their own e-mail lists. 

This regular contact with your customers and clients is invaluable as you build a trusting relationship with them. Because b2b products and services are so much more expensive than b2c and because they involve more than one stakeholder, the more you can build this relationship the better. It is not unusual for buying decisions to take months before the final purchase is done, and chances are the customer will also purchase a service contract of some type along with the product.  Especially if it's IT-related in any way, shape, or form. 

The trick is to make sure that the information you are sending in your newsletters is indeed helpful to the recipient and that you are not just annoying them on a regular basis with "buy now" messages. The other trick is to make sure that your newsletters are frequent enough to inform but not frequent enough to annoy. 

I get e-mails from some places daily. Sometimes more than daily. And unless the subjects are *really interesting* I tend to cancel these mailing lists pretty quickly because I just don't have the time to spend on them. Some places send newsletters weekly, others monthly, and even others bimonthly or quarterly. 

So what frequency is the right frequency? That depends on a lot of variables, not the least of which is your audience. Like other forms of writing, you must NAIL your audience and know who you're talking to. How busy are they? How much time do they have? What are their greatest concerns? What are you sending in the newsletter? Is it helpful information? The more the newsletter is helpful to your audience, the more likely they are to "click" with you and your services or products.

So once you have a pretty good idea of who you're talking to, try and include more helpful information than selling information in your newsletter. 

Yes, tell them about sales and special promotions, but also share industry information with them and links to current developments. For example, HP announcing last Thu that they're looking to sell off their PC division is kind of a big deal as is Google buying Motorola's device division. How is that going to impact the rest of the industry? How is that going to affect your client/customer's business? How is it going to affect your business?

I guarantee that if you share that kind of valuable information with your newsletter subscribers, they will indeed stay on your list. Your name will stay in the front of their mind, and when they are ready to purchase, you'll be one of the first they will contact for a quote. :)

until next time,

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