Five Example Frameworks to Solve Your Newsletter Content Problems
You need to create another email newsletter and are struggling with what to write. No need to worry, you are not alone. Creating an ongoing stream of original content that will appeal to your subscribers and achieve the outcome you want is one of the hardest jobs for an online marketer. However, sometimes just knowing the framework your content should fit within can be all you need to get going.
Here are five content frameworks to use in this way. Each will guide you on the type of content to create for the specific type of prospect/customer email audience. It’s by no means a complete list, but should cover a good share of the common publishing options.
Framework 1: Member-Based Organisations and their Members
This group is the easiest to produce content for. They are usually hungry to receive all the news you can provide and the problems lay more with how to present it in an easily digestible form. That said, I have witnessed publishers go overboard with an audience like this and cram their newsletter with content that is loosely linked to the members’ needs, just to fill space. The end result – falling email click throughs and lagging message open rates. Relevance still matters, even for an audience hungry for more.
Members want to keep in touch, whether by a newsletter containing four articles or nine, it doesn’t really matter. Therefore, try not to fall into the trap of grabbing content from anywhere just to make up the article numbers. It is better to keep the newsletter short and relevant than risk abusing the email attention you have.
Getting members to subscribe to your list should also be a simple task. A large percentage will want to remain updated – it’s usually just their choice of delivery formats that determines whether they pick your email option. However, if you only provide an email version, you should be assured of a large percentage on your list.
Framework 2: Knowledge Service Providers – Prospect Audience
You will notice that I have split the next two industry segments into half again, with separate commentary for prospects and customers. Each group has their own needs and if you combine them into one list you risk sending them content that that tries to appeal to both, but ends up alienating all.
Lawyers, accountants, mortgage brokers and even website marketing consultants would fit neatly within this Knowledge Service Providers category. All of them survive on the value of their knowledge. Proving this level of competency to their prospects is the first goal for their content. Case studies and testimonials are the common subject areas used to build the required level of trust and credibility during the early stages of the prospect nurturing process. Selling comes later, and will only work once this early stage has been adequately achieved.
The frequency at which your messages are delivered during these stages needs careful consideration too. A monthly publication cycle could well be too long a gap for those first few trust-building messages to do their work. Greater effect could be achieved with a much shorter delivery cycle. Then, once complete, your message content can subtly shift to guide your prospect into taking the first simple steps towards becoming a new customer.
For this industry category, the best strategy is usually to use great content as bait to entice prospects to join your email list. A general ‘subscribe to my newsletter’ just won’t cut it with an audience with expectationsof receiving valuable knowledge. Therefore, free reports, white papers and tip sheets that offer quick snapshots of intellectual value tend to do the best job of attracting prospects onto the list.
Framework 3: Knowledge Service Providers – Customer Audience
For most knowledge workers, creating newsletter content for a customer communication is not an issue. They know a lot of valuable ‘stuff’ and are usually keen to tell this to all those who will listen. However, the issue here is how to best use this content to achieve its ideal eventual goal of generating more customer work.
Because of this, content is best presented as detailed but not necessarily complete. Perhaps you could provide an overview of a complex subject area, with the subtle hint that those interested in knowing more will require a further engagement. The content needs to provide the customer value, but it doesn’t have to tell the complete story.
Like the members mentioned in the first framework, customers of knowledge suppliers are usually very keen to remain in touch and as such show a strong likelihood to join a regular newsletter list. Email is the normal format but it isn’t always the best option.
Those capable of churning out a few thousand words a month and who are willing to go through the extra expense and time of physical publication can be rewarded with an improved customer response to their printed newsletter compared to an email alternative, because of the higher perceived value of the printed version.
Framework 4: General Product Providers – Customer Audience
Accommodation providers, home furnishing shops, printers and cafes all fall into this category. Really, it includes any business that provides a product or service that is so functional in its use that it creates a minimal amount of material for newsletter content. There’s only so much you can write about an apartment, a toaster or a latte!
In these situations, the regular newsletters that succeed tend to move their focus away from the product itself and onto the people who deliver it. By doing so, they naturally focus on the ‘packaging’ that surrounds their generic product that sustains their market differentiation.
So, my wife loves the email newsletter that comes from La Cigale, a French-style Market in Parnell, not because of the occasional comments it includes on the recently arrived products, but because of the page or so describing the highlights of the owners’ recent buying trip to France.
I take great pleasure in reading a reasonably frequent email newsletter from a travel agent in Auckland, not because of the flight deals that it contains (I always assume that when I need them they are going to be competitive anyway), but because of the few humorous words he begins each edition with on such disparate subjects as managing teenagers at home.
These two newsletters don’t have a large commitment in terms of copy, a few hundred words at best. But they are enough to lighten up what is normally a boring ‘business talk only’ domain that fills most newsletters and introduce you to the people behind the products.
Enticing customers of general products onto your email list can be hard. Some businesses try the assumptive close method and just start sending editions once a new customer email address hits their database. With the history of a prior business transaction, they are within the realms of the New Zealand Anti-Spam Legislation to do this. But it’s not the best method. Ideally, you want a conscious opt-in to come from your customer. To achieve this, you need to ‘sell’ the subscription. This can be offers, latest deals, any content really that you can promote that makes joining a logical step for those customers you approach.
Framework 5: General Product Providers – Prospect Audience
I have left the hardest group till last – prospects of general products. This is where email newsletters can unravel into an ugly mess on the floor.
So, to recap – the scenario is that you offer a general style product, and your unique difference may well not be the product itself (others could offer very similar versions elsewhere) but is more likely your professional staff or the superior service you provide. These things are experienced only when people actually purchase from your team – something your prospects have yet to witness. To them you are just a purveyor of sameness. Somehow you need to communicate this difference – and this is usually a task that email struggles with.
Email is a medium that needs consent to work, and consent is given when there is perceived value to be had. As mentioned before, value that is experienced by consuming products or services is hard to communicate to people who have not yet consumed them. That’s why, even if you paid me, I wouldn’t opt into a newsletter from an apartment complex in Wellington if I haven’t stayed there. Or a printer in Auckland I hadn’t bought from, or a homeware shop in Dunedin I hadn’t shopped in. I’m not alone either – the stats I see prove this point.
However, there is a way around this, but it takes some extra effort, which means most business owners in this space will avoid it. Somehow you need to morph your obvious areas of differentiation from consumption into non-consumption areas. For example, your apartment complex could be promoted as one that has the needs of the mountain biker who is new to Wellington in mind. Situated close to the trails, they could offer a regular newsletter updating people on the latest news, including great weekend accommodation deals.
Or the printer could become New Zealand’s pre-eminent source of presentation folders, with hundreds on offer, all supported with a monthly newsletter on sales advice about how to make your sales presentation work – once it arrives in one of their professional folders.
See what is happening? The general product provider is becoming a knowledge provider that just happens to offer a general product at the same time. It’s a sure fire way to use effective communication to distance yourself from those suffering from poor differentiation by non-consuming prospects.
I trust you can use one of these five frameworks to help kick-start your next piece of content publication work. Some require less work to implement than others, depending on the needs of your audience and the product/service you offer. Whichever group you fit into, get stuck into the work ahead and start sending the right copy to the right audience and you will be amazed at the results you can achieve.
Practical Email Marketing Workshop – 9.00am, Day Two
We were at the start of the final day of the two-day workshop on Practical Email Marketing and there was a problem. We had a day full of content to get through and the group’s enthusiasm was starting to lag. I looked out across the group and wondered if Amanda and I had told them too much too soon in their email marketing life. Now they really knew what they didn’t know and all the work this meant ahead.
On the drive in, I had thought through how I could distil down the previous day’s content into a few simple words to tie it all neatly together. It was a struggle; there was so much we had covered. Even so, I called a start to the day and walked to the front of the room to start the review.
First, I mentioned why we had spent so long on developing an effective customer acquisition strategy for email marketing. Eight years ago when I started in this industry, 20 minutes on this area would have been too much. Back then, receiving an HTML email newsletter was quite a novel experience. Now we receive enough of them (both solicited and unsolicited) to build your own novel! The latest research from Marketing Sherpa supports this point, with recipient email overload being the one factor email marketers see as limiting the success of their own acquisition campaigns. Prospects are becoming less and less willing to receive any more email.
So the hour or so we spent on this subject was to solve this problem. What was the one thing that stood out as key in this process? Clearly understanding their ideal prospect. Knowing with certainty what appeals to their audience allows them to package a list of subscription benefits that can magnetically pull people onto their list.
I mentioned how they should think of content before savings when building their own list of benefits. The promise of offers and discounts are often used by lazy marketers to attract subscribers. (There must be lots of unmotivated email marketers out there, as this is the most common offer to entice subscription.) But content, great content, content that truly resonates with the desires of your audience can build a list much faster than offers can, and in the process can protect valuable margins.
So, after labouring the point of how we all get too much email to want to subscribe to any more unless presented with good reason to, I then moved onto why the study of email marketing retention strategies had taken so much of the previous day’s content. Yes, it made them late for morning tea BUT we did this for a reason.
Retention strategies are mostly about email newsletters. And newsletters are about content, and creating content is hard. So hard in fact, that I would estimate that over 50% of email newsletters splutter to a publishing halt within the first 6 months of their life. So, while everyone is busting out of their seats to get started, in 6 months time they could be ruing the day they committed to a regular email newsletter.
All this work with retention can be easier to bear if there is a measurable pay-off from your strategy. Therefore, an email marketing retention strategy worth its salt should have a way to accurately measure its success. While email message opens and clicks are the early signs that things are working, what really makes content creation seem worthwhile are extra sales and/or leads.
So for those who have products that can be purchased online, you need to track the website traffic generated by any email newsletter right down to the orders it generates. There’s no nicer feeling than seeing the sales your latest email campaign generated just a day after you let it loose to your list.
The same applies to generating leads of new work from existing customers. If you can ask them to fill in your website-hosted lead capture form, then again you can see how many new leads came from your latest missive. Both of these actions, leads and sales, are quick results that prove your retention plans are working well.
The third outcome may take some digging around within your purchase history data to find, but you may be rewarded for your work with a pleasant surprise. What you are searching for is a change in your customer’s purchasing frequency as a result of receiving your email message. For example, the average customer may purchase a book through your online store twice a year. But for customers who receive your email newsletter, this purchase frequency may drift up to three times a year.
So to wrap up my wrap up – acquisition is all about knowing your prospect so well that the benefits you offer them for joining your email list easily outweigh any reticence they may have. The work with retention is made easier once you establish measurable outcomes that reveal big business benefits.
After that, we were off, as more content was delivered to attendees at speed over the day to fill what space was left in their email marketing minds. However, if the workshops that were presented at the end were any reflection of the quality of work they will turn out, then we should all be seeing some great new email marketing strategies play out around us soon.
Gnats Have Longer Attention Spans
It was my elder sister that introduced me to the term USP or Unique Selling Proposition. I was visiting the family back home in England after just launching Permission. We were sitting down for one of the many cups of tea we shared during my stay and she was quizzing me on my plans for Permission.
"So, what’s your USP?" she asked.
"Hmm – well, that’s a good question Kirsten. I’m sure I will have something – leave it with me for a month or so and I’ll come back to you once I locate it."
Kirsten was the business mind of the family and, needless to say, she was not at all impressed with her younger brother’s lame response. She told me that, based on this response, in her eyes I had 6 months at best to make a go of it. Well, with it being nearly 6 years since this conversation took place, I must have found my USP somewhere. But it is only during the last 12 months that the term USP or Unique Selling Proposition has been a focus for discussion for both me and my clients.
This has all come about as more and more companies from the same industries have started to use the Internet for their own lead generation. By doing so, they have put their unique (or as is the case rather generic) points of differentiation to the harshest test possible – the browsing prospect’s back button.
When a key measurement of a website’s performance is its bounce rate, and this statistic is based on someone spending 3 seconds or less on a page, then you start to realise the real smidgen of attention people give to the websites they visit. In fact, the only websites that I know of that don’t struggle with a growing bounce rate – the ones that boast of capturing their visitors for minutes rather than seconds – are those websites in the ‘adult lifestyle’ category. For some strange reason, the industry benchmark for visitor time on this type of site hovers rather surprisingly around the 5 minute mark.
For the rest of us, this dearth of attention means we need our websites to present unique content that wins the minds and minutes of our visitors. All this is greatly improved by a clearly defined and articulated ‘Unique Selling Proposition’ – something that is all too frequently missing from those websites owned by businesses in cluttered ‘me too’ markets.
Here’s a short test to prove my point. First, put down this document, then fire up your web browser and run a Google search for the search term ‘chartered accountants’ and let it return all those pages hosted in NZ. Pick five sites from the list shown and spend 15 seconds reading the home page of each.
Done it yet?
OK, let me save you the effort. From the five I visited, I found not one that offered any differentiation between it and the others I visited. Is it any wonder that most of us put our accountants under fee pressure when they all seem to offer the same service? It’s an obvious point but if you market yourself with no clear signs of differentiation from your competitors, I pre-dict problems when it comes to protecting – let alone growing – your margins.
"But, Chris," I hear my accounting customers yelling at me now. "We manage strong practices, thank you very much, that do a good job of looking after our clients, mainly due to the great work we do and, of course, the even greater staff we employ. These points make up our USP."
Unfortunately, when it comes to the online space and the prospects that browse it, this just doesn’t cut any mustard. Prospects can’t experience how great your work is because, well, you haven’t done any for them. And while your site tells me how nice and helpful your staff is, again, they haven’t experienced them and, more importantly, these same or very similar words are all over your competitors’ websites too. Whilst you may all act differently in the office, online you all look and ‘talk’ the same.
So, to carry on this line of discussion with a view to a positive resolution, where does this leave those of us looking for a new accountant as we flit from one website to another, finding a mass of ‘sameness’ along the way?
Well, with absolutely zero market research on my part, I would like to hazard a guess that there are three groups of people searching for an accountant that any online marketing strategy could target. First, there would be those new to business. Second, are the ones who need more advice than their present accountant can provide and, finally, those too cheap to pay for the advice they are currently receiving and are on the hunt for a budget solution. Of these three, I would back the middle group as one you could build a business upon.
And while the old adage states that an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure (and it is the prevention part that most marketing in this industry sector is promoted under), I would change tack completely and promote the cure part hard to present my areas of differentiation. For instance, tax management, cash protection and debtor control could be three ‘cures’ business owners would be interested in knowing more about during the next 6-12 months.
So how about the front page of our revised accountancy practice website including a selection of client stories (with the necessary details changed to protect people’s privacy, obviously) that expounded on the dire straights these people were in and the transformation completed by the team? I know it’s only a start and may have all the accountants rolling their eyes in disbelief as they read this, BUT I think it is content like this that will stop the browsing prospect business owner in their tracks for a few moments longer than the alternative text expounding the virtues of being ‘customer focused’ and ‘effective business advisors’.
When you are faced with the problem of how to capture a prospect web browser’s attention span, which is tracked in sub 3-second measurements all within a cluttered marketplace of sameness, then why not present your sharpened USP in a way that holds their attention long enough to tell your story?