How to Write a Newsletter that Works¹
Newsletters are a great way to stay in touch with customers. With online tools, newsletters are easier than ever to inexpensively create and distribute. Yet the chances are you receive at least one newsletter, (by mail or by email), that you immediately discard.
Why? Simple: the newsletter provided no value to you as a reader. While the author of the newsletter likely started with the best of intentions, he or she failed to engage you, failed to provide information you can use; in short, failed to write with the reader, (you), in mind.
Let's make sure that doesn't happen to you.
Focus on the Audience
A great newsletter, like any other form of communication, starts by understanding its audience. (If you only focus on writing a newsletter you like, you may be its only reader.)
Newsletters are written to be read. In business terms, your readers are:
- Current customers
- Former customers
- Prospective customers
Notice vendors and suppliers are not included in this list. Why? The needs and interests of vendors and suppliers are much different than the needs and interests of your customers. Say you sell plumbing supplies to homeowners. Your customers will be interested in learning about:
- New products
- Maintenance and repair tips
- Do-it-yourself home improvement advice Water quality improvement tips
- Water conservation ideas
While as homeowners your vendors and suppliers may be interested in the above topics, they are not your primary audience. You will not sell products to those businesses; you purchase products from those businesses. Your newsletter should be a marketing tool targeted and written specifically for customers. Including articles of interest to vendors will turn off your real audience, your customers.
Think about your customers. What do they want to know? What do they need to know? How can you help them solve problems? How can you provide information that makes a difference in their lives? Focusing on your readers (your customers) helps ensure your newsletter will be effective.
Then Develop Content
Once you understand your audience it is a lot easier to develop content. But first, think about each newsletter "issue" in general. Each newsletter should provide a variety of information; while each article may not be of interest to each reader, at least one article should be interesting to all your readers. Think about the retail plumbing supply example. Your newsletter could include articles in these categories each month:
- Fire Your Plumber: Simple How-to Plumbing Repairs
- What's New: Products You'll Love
- Go Green: Ways to Reduce Consumption and Save the Planet!
- Your Home is Your Castle: Simple Ways to Make Your Home More Livable
Notice there is no mention of specific products or services for sale in the above categories. (Although the "What's New" article could be a subtle sales tool, since learning about new products might make readers interested in purchasing those products.)
The key is to offer value first; then you can offer products for sale. Keep the sales pitch gentle; maintain an 80/20 split (or better yet, 90/10) between value and advertising. Your readers won't mind small amounts of advertising mixed in with information of real value; but you must focus on value first, advertising second. Otherwise you will lose your readers.
To make the content creation process easier, don't wait until the day before you will publish your newsletter to start thinking about topics. Keep a notepad handy; whenever a customer asks a good question, consider using that as the basis for an article. Watch for news about your industry. Whenever you solve a problem for a customer, consider how other customers could benefit from that same information. If you think about what your customers want to know, coming up with article ideas is relatively easy.
- Decide how frequently you will distribute your newsletter, and stick to the schedule. Be consistent and predictable; if you don't take your newsletter seriously, why should your readers?
- Keep your articles relatively brief. Stay concise and to the point.
- Include photos or illustrations, but only if they enhance the information provided. Generic photos don't reinforce your message; actual photos of new products, or photos showing how a simple repair can be performed, do help.
- Make sure contact information is clearly displayed. Make it easy for customers to find you. Don't assume every reader is familiar with your business; if you create great newsletters, they may be forwarded to other readers.
- Make it easy for customers to sign up for your newsletter. Prominently display the sign-up box on your website.
Don't waste your efforts; keep "old" issues of your newsletters on your website. Consider re-purposing the content; you could create a site category compiling all your "how-to" articles, for example, which would make it easy for site visitors to find that information.