Sales Through Education
If you’ve read the post “Understanding the Basics of Marketing to Current Customers,” you know that up to 80% of your sales can come from return business or customer referrals. With that said, think of how many potential profits exist in your current database! Reach out to these customers often with frequent communication and it will pay off in return sales.
Producing a newsletter is an excellent way to touch base with your customer base and increase the odds of a return visit. Customers must be kept up-to-date on your products, your business, industry trends and other newsworthy topics. The most straightforward and efficient way to educate your customers on these subjects is with an ongoing newsletter.
Sure, you can send out regular promotions and sales that will compel customers to buy, but those messages begin to lose their meaning if you send them out all the time. Newsletters are a great way to supplement your email advertising because you’re providing a service — the gift of information. All the while, you can infuse your stories with promotional incentives that drive return business. This eBook will help you balance educational and sales content and give you ideas for a well designed, well written newsletter that keep customers reading…and returning.
Concept Your Content
As with any good marketing tool, you must address topics that are important to your reader. If you are selling camping equipment, your buyers are likely interested in exploring new places, so inform them about the latest and greatest camping spots around the country. You might also feature travel advice, news about park systems and eco-friendly tips.
Coming up with concepts and writing newsletters is no easy task, especially if you plan to send out a newsletter frequently. Get help by dividing articles amongst staff or pay an assistant to help you. College students who are English or writing majors may be willing to work for inexpensive rates to gain some experience in the field.
Your newsletter should have a variety of stories, long and short. Fill it with articles like:
- Company updates
- Customer testimonials
- Industry news
- Customer tips
- Health tips
- Links to additional education
Brainstorm with Staff, Friends and Family
Ask different people to contribute story ideas. We all watch the news and understand what makes an interesting story. Ideas can pop up at anytime, perhaps during a conversation with a customer, or while watching television at home. Keep an ongoing list of story ideas that you can refer to when you are planning content for each issue.
Page through industry magazines and search other industry websites for concepts. For camping-related ideas, you might subscribe to Outdoor magazine or read Gorp.com to see what’s timely.
Ask customers to contribute to a “Customer Corner” segment of your newsletter and, in return, offer them a discount on their next purchase. Or, send out a survey asking customers what kinds of things they’d like to read about.
Search online at news distribution sites like http://www.pr.com/, http://www.prnewswire.com and http://www.prweb.com to see what the latest news is in industries related to your product line. For camping equipment, you may search the travel and park system categories. Then, take the interesting press releases and spin them into your own stories.
If you sell books, contact the authors to ask if you can feature an excerpt of their content (of course, you will cite and promote the book in return). Ask your manufacturers if they have anything to contribute. Some have newsletters of their own and you may be able to recycle some of their material.
Determine the Timeline
Remember, consistency counts. How often will your newsletter be published? Quarterly? Monthly? Weekly? Although your initial thought might be to commit to a weekly publication, take these factors into consideration.
Who will write and design your newsletter? Realistically, how much time do you or your staff have to devote to the project?
Do you have enough newsworthy stories to fill a weekly publication?
The more often the newsletter is produced, the more it will cost. Even if you’re not spending a dime in printing because you publish online, you’re still spending time on it…and your time is valuable.
Sending frequent newsletters may work against you because your readers may get bogged down with information and just hit delete. You want to contact them enough to stay timely, but not too much or you’ll become an annoyance.
Once you’ve selected your publication dates, stick to them. Your customers will come to expect a newsletter from you every week, month or quarter. Don’t let them down! Because you’re busy doing a thousand different tasks, it’s easy to get pulled away and let two or three months go by with no newsletter. This damages the credibility of your publication and customers won’t anticipate and look forward to reading the newsletter if it’s produced sporadically. Set deadlines and stick to them
Determine the Format
Since you’re an e-commerce shop, you’ll likely produce your newsletter online and send it to your customers via email. You can also devote a page on your website to newsletter archives and allow customers to download PDFs of your content.
Email newsletters are created in either HTML or text format. NEVER send an attached PDF file; no one will take the time to open it. HTML is your best bet for capturing attention because it allows you to include colors, graphic elements and images that make your content much more interesting. If you create your newsletter in HTML, then a text format must be created as well, because some customers do not have HTML capability or choose not to view HTML.
In either case, think about your newsletter format as if it were printed on 81/2” x 11” standard-size paper. This will help you visualize how much space you have to work with when developing content. A good rule of thumb: a 2-sided, 81/2” x 11” newsletter provides lots of information, without being too overwhelming.
If you are struggling for content, use the “one” side until you are more experienced in newsletter development. Or, use larger type and more images to help fill space. Whatever format you select, stick to it. Consistency in the publication’s style creates a familiarity among readers. You newsletter will become a product that they recognize and look forward to reading.
Select a Look
A unique look gives your newsletter personality. A masthead is the design that runs across the top of the newsletter and features the name of your publication. When sending via email, keep in mind that many people have “preview” screens that they use to scan emails quickly. Your masthead will be the first, and possibly only, thing they’ll see before moving on. Keep it simple but be sure that it’s designed to capture attention.
Here are some other tips to help you develop a great look:
Use an Online Email Marketing Service
Collaborate with an online company that specializes in email marketing to tailor a newsletter template for your needs. Companies like iContact (http://www.icontact.com/), Constant Contact (http://www.constantcontact.com/), VerticalResponse (http://www.verticalresponse.com/) and MailChimp (http://mailchimp.com/) are good choices for this service. Then, you can fill your custom-created template with new information and images each time for a do-it-yourself approach that will save money in the long run.
Invest in Desktop Publishing Software
Much like the online template option, unless you want to pay someone to design your newsletter every time, you should invest in, and learn to use, software that provides templates to help you do it yourself such as High Impact eMail (http://www.templatezone.com/email-marketing-templates.php). When you employ these types of programs, you’ll use the Webpage: Newsletter option and then save it into HTML format by saving it as a single file webpage.
There are some free or inexpensive email marketing templates available on the web such as FreeMailTemplates.com (http://freemailtemplates.com/), however you need to me able to edit the HTML code with a program like Dreamweaver.
Hire a Freelance Designer
If you have a web designer, employ him or her to create a look that stays true to your website. They have all the design elements in their arsenal they need to develop something quickly and easily. Once again, consider college students as a cost-effective option. Graphic design majors, in particular, are always looking for ways to gain experience. A newsletter is a relatively simple job that they’ll excel at.
A picture is worth a thousand words. Photos and other design elements make your newsletter look much nicer, and break up long columns of text. Readers are much more likely to read a short story with an interesting photo than three columns of straight text.
Dreamstime.com (http://www.dreamstime.com) and Fotolia.com (http://www.fotolia.com) offers a great selection of images at very affordable rates based of the term of your subscription. You can also purchase high quality images from sites like Getty Images (http://www.gettyimages.com/). Be sure to use “royalty free” images so that you can use the image wherever and whenever you’d like; otherwise, the company requires you to pay a fee for each use. If you’ve been taking pictures for your site, reuse them whenever possible. For details on how to take purchase-friendly pictures, look for an upcoming eBook on photography for the web.
Note: Be careful not to overuse photography. Too much photography can take a long time to download and your audience will not wait. Run your web images through the tools at Optiview (http://www.optiview.com/) to check their effectiveness.
Run a Test
Before you send your newsletter to hundreds or thousands of people in your database, be sure you send it to yourself first. Take a step back and put yourself in your customers’ shoes. Does it make sense? Does it download quickly? Does it look like something that would catch your eye?
Write the Right Way
Now that you’ve got your list of article ideas, it’s time to develop your stories. Here are some tips that may inspire you to get in front of a keyboard and start writing! For additional writing tips, see the eBook on, “Writing Effectively for the Web.”
Consider Content Length
Longer is not better since most people don’t take the time to read, especially online. Remember, you’re not writing a book. One way to break up text and make the publication skimmable is through “tidbits” of information: bullets or tips. This creates white space, which is far less intimidating than a full page of text with no breaks. Let the content of the story determine its length. If you are writing about what to take on a camping trip, for instance, give the “top ten things to pack.”
Create Compelling Headlines
Your headlines must scream “Read this story now!” The headline’s job is to draw readers into the story and make them want to read on. Some quick advice on headline writing:
- Sum up the story in a way that entices readers. Pick the most interesting, most important part of the story and make it the headline.
- Use active words. Words that show action make the headline (and the story) more interesting.
- Have a little fun. If readers get a kick out of the headline, they’re more likely to read the story. Also, try puns or a play on popular song or movie titles. But use humor sparingly. If all headlines are funny, your newsletter loses credibility.
Proofread. Proofread. Proofread.
This point cannot be stressed enough. Mistakes are deadly. You can create a beautiful newsletter, complete with compelling stories, catchy headlines and distinctive artwork, but if it’s filled with typos, it will lose credibility. Before you send out your newsletter, have several people read it in its entirety, checking for grammatical errors and other mistakes. One tip for successful proofing: read the newsletter backwards. When you do this, your mind doesn’t focus so much on overall content but rather individual sentences and words.
Give Your Readers a Voice
Include an op-ed section where readers can write in with their thoughts on your products, service or the industry in general. To solicit letters from readers, send an email inviting them to write in or include a statement like this within your newsletter:
Tell us what you think: This section is devoted to customers. Write in your thoughts, opinions, critiques and they will be published here. We’d like to hear from you on this newsletter and the stories that appear in it, our industry trends, your successes with our products. Submit your letters via email to: Newsletters@websiteaddress.com.
Remember to Sell!
Sure, sending informational and entertaining newsletters is a nice, goodwill gesture to your customers, but never lose sight of the real objective: To get them to come back and buy from you. Therefore, your newsletter should always include some incentive to return. Once you finish your first newsletter draft, take a step back and think about how you can incorporate promotional messaging into your educational content. You may use sidebars for quick, stand alone promotions or transform a new product addition into a story idea such as, “GreatCampingStuff.com stocks up for summer season. Large inventory means huge savings!”
Here are some ideas to inspire purchasing incentives:
- New product additions
- Product spotlights
- Inventory updates
- Upcoming sales
- Customer testimonials
A newsletter is a worthwhile marketing approach that establishes you as an authority in your field. It’s one more way for you to stand apart, and step ahead, of your competitors. Meanwhile, your customers are learning something new with every newsletter, which they’ll appreciate and reward with return business. Don’t forget to give them the added incentive that will compel them to take action. A good newsletter is only great when it translates into increased sales.
IMPress Action Checklist
Below is a list of the steps necessary to create a newsletter. Be sure to check off each task as you complete it to ensure a professional look and read that your customers will come to value.
- Create a timeline
- Brainstorm a content list
- Employ resources to assist you
- Determine format
- Develop a look
- Write content, including an incentive to visit the site