The reading level for this article is Novice

About three weeks ago, I had a phone conversation with a prospective client — a guy I’ll call “Guy” — about the importance of creating a business-to-business (B2B) email newsletter.

Here’s a quick summary of Guy’s thoughts about the idea: “Hate it.”

When asked why, here was Guy’s response: “Tried it. Didn’t work.”

Then I asked Guy to forward a couple of representative issues of the failed, benighted, despised newsletter.

“We only did one and nobody called,” said a disdainful Guy. “But I’ll send you the one we did.”

(At this point, let me interrupt myself with this minor bubble: If you believe that your email newsletter’s primary purpose is to sell your wares, you’re off to a bad start. If, on the other hand, you believe that your email newsletter can create a climate for selling your wares, there is hope for you yet. One more mental sidebar: In marketing, even bad initiatives can work if you repeat them. Let me repeat that: In marketing, even bad initiatives can work if you repeat them. In other words, don’t let the results from just one of anything be determinative.)

Within a few hours, Guy sent me the newsletter that didn’t get anybody to call. It is the stuff of parody. Don’t worry, I’ll keep it short:

Dear Colleague,

Guy’s Extra-Large Company, the leading provider of enterprise bliss, is pleased to announce the availability of GUYEDGE 3.1, the industry’s first open, intelligent, flexible, collaborative, real-time, XML-based infrastructure for the exchange of robust blissfulness on the edges of the network.

Utilizing a revolutionary Web Services framework, GUYEDGE enables trading partners, suppliers, and other participants in your value chain to know in real time what makes you happy, as well as to communicate via email, beeper, or pager their capacity to fulfill your every whim.

Why GUYEDGE 3.1?

— Open

— Flexible

— Collaborative

— Real-time

— XML-based

In addition, Guy’s Extra-Large Company is pleased to announce the ascendance of G. Raleigh Prime to Sr. Vice President of Bliss Development for the Asia/Pacific Region.

To arrange a personal demo of GUYEDGE 3.1, just call 888-UB-HAPPY.

OK, I’m going to play fair. There are certain limited situations in which this type of email might be appropriate. Let’s say you’re communicating with an (ahem) blissful customer base that has been so happy with GUYEDGE 3.0 that any news of GUYEDGE 3.1 will be greeted with open arms.

Now I’m going to revert to my natural grumpiness. Guy sent out an email, but he certainly did not send out an email newsletter. And what’s worse is that the email was foisted on a rented list — folks who had no reason to care about Guy’s Extra-Large Company or the career progress of one G. Raleigh Prime.

You are skeptical, I know. You think I’m exaggerating. I’m not.

Rather than playing to the cheap seats and continuing to poke fun at Guy’s poor excuse for a newsletter, I’m going to give you the formula for future success.

Make sure that at least 80 percent of the newsletter consists of links to third-party content and articles about industry trends and the professional concerns of your prospects and customers. The remaining 20 percent can be taken up with press releases and, yes, even a short announcement of a new product. In other words, 80 percent them, 20 percent you.

How does this work in practice? Here’s the copy outline:

1. Introduction. This comes from a real person in your organization and should contain a pithy, even controversial, comment about an industry trend. At the end of each issue’s introduction, solicit feedback via email and phone number. And make it one-click simple for someone to unsubscribe.

2. Links from around the Web. Use text summaries so people can have some idea of what awaits them on the other end of the link. If there’s one article out of the, say, five that you really want people to read, let them know and give them a reason why.

3. “10 Questions With Our Champion.” This is an interview with one of your best customers. One of the questions can be about your products/services. But the other questions must focus on the challenges of being in a given profession or industry. What competitive pressures is your champion facing right now? What advice would she have for others in similar careers? What are her media habits? (Yes, as you can tell from that last question, the interview can be a valuable market-research tool.)

4. Feedback solicitation and simple unsubscribe procedures. Remember, you don’t want to make it hard for folks to run away from you. If they don’t like the sort of newsletter outlined above, they aren’t prospects. You will want them off your list.

Do this. It works. By the way, Happy Almost Thanksgiving. Every day — even your worst days — is a gift.

This Web Marketing article was written by Chris Maher on 3/18/2005