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.