The reading level for this article is Novice

This will come as no surprise, but I am a great proponent of email newsletters, especially for business-to-business (B2B) technology companies.

Some technology providers find themselves ahead of the marketplace, that is, the space is far from mature and there is a great deal of confusion about how a given set of technologies competes with or complements another, more-established set of technologies.

So there is a real need for marketplace education, and it has been my experience that an email newsletter is one good way to address that need.

How you should go about this, though, is a subject that might spark some differing opinions.

When your vice president of sales hears the words “marketplace education,” he thinks of a slightly less throat-grabbing pitch.

When your chief software architect hears “marketplace education,” she thinks of long-winded, company-drafted white papers that, in reality, only the programmers themselves are qualified to fully appreciate.

With these misapprehensions of what an email newsletter should do, it’s a marvel that any good ones are created at all. To those who do this and do this well every single month, all I can say is, congratulations.

Now for some pointers derived from reviewing several months worth of various clients’ email newsletter click-through data and other metrics.

Lead With Your Best

Sometimes, your newsletter recipient will read all the way to the end of a given issue. But, generally speaking, we live in dive-in, dive-out times, during which sustained attention is the exception not the rule. So, lead with your strongest or most important information.

The Reader Is in Education Mode

Why does someone sign up for an email newsletter in the first place? Some readers will tell you when asked that they are interested in more information about the company. But that’s misleading. What they’re really interested in is doing their jobs better, raising their professional profiles, and allying themselves with projects that improve their companies.

Easily 80 percent of folks sitting at their desks are killing time and spending their professional lives as amiable lint traps. Harsh, but true.

You’re trying to find that 20 percent who are at least semi-awake and want to try to change things for the better. I’m convinced that the members of this class are most likely to subscribe.

These folks are information-hungry. Please inform them.

How Not to Inform Them

A company-drafted case study gets a 1 percent click-through rate. A case study drafted by respected industry-analyst group gets a 2 percent click-through rate. Putting aside the fact that click-through rates aren’t the be-all, end-all of metrics, what do these statistics mean, especially if this is a pattern you’ve seen in a year’s worth of data?

The lesson here is one about trust. The reader is suspicious of anything that smacks of self-promotion. (Of course, people in the know realize that the use of industry analysts is a dandified, tarted-up form of self-promotion in which cologne and nice suits are worn. Apparently, the cologne and nice suits work.)

Thus, if you are determined to not inform your audience, keep putting out information with the house brand. And, while you’re at it, be sure to push out some recent press releases. There is nothing more boring than a company that keeps talking about itself.

Venture Off the Topic

I know you. You won’t like this. But, occasionally, venture off the core topic of your newsletter. Let’s say the topic is “optimizing your field service organization.” Every issue, make sure to throw in an article about, for example, business ethics or bad bosses.

Why? Because it’s important to remember that your readers are people, not just job titles. The straight lines we marketers draw — the tendency to think in terms of mechanical stimulus and response — can only take us so far.

Eventually — with time and age, I think — you discover a new range of possibilities. You enter into true dialogues with those you seek to serve (and that changes everything).

Take the Measured Risk

Every once in a while, take a stand. Make a bold assertion. Challenge the reader.

Think of your email newsletter in terms of a musical composition. You may like massive doses of unrelenting harmony, but let me assure you that your (and my and everyone’s) ears appreciate harmony all the more because of the dissonances that “need” resolution.

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