E-mail newsletters have been used as a form of marketing practically since e-mail was first introduced. And they’re still very prevalent. Tons of companies, from small businesses to billion-dollar corporations, offer to send a newsletter to the people who visit their site. So the question is, are these newsletters actually an effective marketing tool? Or are they simply a waste of time? And the answer is: Yes. To both. It all depends on how they’re used.
The first thing for a brand to keep in mind is how they procure their newsletter subscribers. Some companies will send regular e-mails to any address they can get their hands on. Anyone who buys something from them, or even just asks a question, is automatically added to the list. In addition, they’ll make deals with other companies to add their e-mail lists to their own, the result being that they send regular messages to people who have never even heard of their company.
This is the entirely wrong approach. Most of these e-mails will simply end up in the users’ spam folders. When sending out a newsletter, it’s important to target people who are actually interested in receiving more information. Those are the only ones who are likely to make a purchase anyway. This means sending e-mails to the people who have specifically requested them, or left the “Subscribe to our newsletter!” box checked as they enter in their contact information for other purposes.
The second issue is content. A newsletter that’s long and text-heavy will get skipped over, particularly when the reader has a hundred other, more important e-mails to comb through. It should be short, making use of images and other eye-catching techniques, and highlight a few main points that can be communicated even if the reader only has time to skim the message briefly.
Amazon.com does this very well. Most of their e-mails consist of lists of books, movies or other products, with lots of pictures and very little text. The recipient can tell at a glance what everything is and whether or not they’re interested in it. They also target their e-mails, sending specific users product promotions that are likely to interest them, based on past purchases and browsing history. This level of personalization isn’t necessarily feasible for most e-mail newsletters, but it provides a good lesson: what is the target audience interested in? What will they want to read about? The content of an e-mail newsletter should be something they look forward to, not something they have to wade through and delete.
And the final factor is frequency. This is a delicate balance. Some companies will bombard their subscribers with two or three messages a day. This is far too often, and people will grow to resent it. On the other hand, it’s possible to e-mail too little, as well. Just like any other content, it needs to be created and distributed regularly, in order to cement the brand in people’s minds. An e-mail that only comes, say, once every couple of months, doesn’t have an opportunity to leave a lasting impression.
Once or twice a week is an ideal frequency for most e-mail newsletters. But the important thing is to make it regular. The same days every week, and the same approximate time each day, if possible. Sticking to a schedule will condition people to anticipate the messages. Which in turn means they’ll be thinking about that brand on a regular basis. And that’s the ultimate sign of a successful e-mail newsletter.