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Every company or organization has an arsenal of marketing tools that share common characteristics: to introduce the company or organization to prospective customers; to describe the products and services offered and how they benefit the prospect; to show how your company or organization differs from the competition; and to create a favorable impression. Brochures, direct mail, a web site, press releases and a newsletter are all examples of common marketing tools; of these, a newsletter has the added benefit of demonstrating your expertise and establishing you as an authority.

Readers expect marketing newsletters to be informative, easy to read and to contain useful tips. This is the basis for establishing credibility in the mind of the reader and inspires trust and understanding that is the basis of a business relationship. When distributed at trade shows, networking groups, meetings and seminars, newsletters lend their credibility to brochures and other marketing materials.

Newsletters are also a great way to establish regular contact with customers. The same helpful information and useful tips that prospects appreciate are also valued by customers. In addition, the newsletter reminds customers about your company or organization and provides a way to announce coming events, activities or new products and services.

Considering all the benefits of publishing a newsletter, it is surprising that so few businesses do so. This leads to another benefit: publishing a newsletter separates you from your competition.

Types of newsletters

In his book Do It Yourself Newsletters, designer Chuck Green delineates three types of newsletters.

Promotional or marketing newsletters are sent by businesses to prospects and customers free of charge and is intended to turn prospects into customers and customers into repeat customers

Relationship newsletters are published for members of an organization (such as a club, a church or an alumni association) or for employees. Typically sent free of charge, they focus on the shared interests of the group.

Expert newsletters are written on a specific topic and offered by subscription to those interested in the topic.

The content of each type of newsletters differs. Since a marketing newsletter is aimed at prospects and customers, it contains information of interest to businesses – explanations, tips and tricks, “how-to” articles, relevant industry trends, product and service information that translates features into benefits and answers the question, “What’s in it for me?. Marketing newsletters may also contain coupons, special offers and a call to action. Some mention company milestones (such as a significant business anniversary or an achievement award) but rarely include personal information about individuals who work for the company.

In contrast, relationship newsletters contain information about the company or organization, its internal environment and its employees or members. For example:

company or organization goals and plans, local, state or national business developments that have a bearing on the company or organization, community involvement; department or division news, financial results, career or job opportunities, benefits and other HR topics; staff changes and promotions, employee milestones (birthdays, marriages, anniversaries, births).

Publishing the newsletter: print or e-mail?

While the value of a newsletter is clear, the debate continues over whether it is best to publish a print version or use e-mail. Both require a writer, a designer and a mailing list but there the similarity ends.

E-mail newsletters can be inexpensively produced in full color and distributed at a fraction of the cost of a printed version – though they can also be blocked as spam or easily deleted without being opened. E-mail newsletters can also be configured to capture reader metrics: how many people have read the newsletter and who they are; which articles got the most hits, who clicked on links, who forwarded information. Past issues with key word search capability can be easily archived on a web site for instant access.

Printed newsletters offer portability – they can be read anywhere and don’t require a computer. Someone who doesn’t have time to read a printed newsletter when it arrives can set it aside to be read later in the day or even at home. A printed newsletter better accommodates long articles or articles that contain a lot of information. And unlike an e-mail newsletter whose display is a function of the recipient’s e-mail program, a printed newsletter looks the same to everyone – color palette, typefaces and graphics.

Assembling a mailing list for a printed newsletter is an easier task than assembling an e-mail list, particularly if you want to include prospects. Whereas it is easy to obtain a mailing list of prospects that conform to a set of demographics, it is much harder to obtain comparable e-mail addresses. By convention, e-mail is considered permission-based marketing, meaning you must have the consent of the recipient to send the newsletter. A printed newsletter does not have this restriction.

The answer: use both

When you evaluate the pros and cons of printed and e-mail newsletters, neither emerges as a clearly better choice. Each has its unique virtues, so it is a good idea to publish both. The e-mail newsletter can be a shorter derivative of the print version, published more frequently (perhaps weekly, while the printed version is published monthly). Or it can be used to alert readers to a special article or offer in the upcoming newsletter.

Post PDFs of past issues of the print newsletter on the web site for your company or organization, and include a way to sign up for both the printed and e-mail version of the newsletter. When you use the power of both e-mail and print newsletters together, you’ll be doubling up on one of the most powerful ways to build a relationship with your customers and prospects.

How often to publish

The choices for distribution of a newsletter are daily, weekly, bi-weekly, monthly and quarterly. The most popular cycle for a printed newsletter is monthly, as this gives sufficient time for writing, design, printing and mailing.

Remember this rule of thumb when deciding how often to publish: it takes between 500 and 600 words to fill an 8½ x 11 page unless the page contains lots of graphics or photographs. Most adults write between 200 and 300 words per hour, so it will take between one and two hours to write enough copy for one page. A typical newsletter cycle would be one week for gathering information and generating copy; one week for design, layout, proofing and approval; one week for printing and mailing; one week for mail list maintenance.

In between the printed newsletter, use e-mail or direct mail to send additional content based on the newsletter, or to generate more customer and prospect contact during key selling times, for renewal dates, seasonal activities or holiday.

Just send it

Newsletters are a great way for businesses and organizations to keep in touch with their customers or members and to reach out to prospects. Newsletters demonstrate the competence and expertise of the company or organization and build credibility.

If you want to begin using this powerful marketing tool for your company or organization, call Alex Davis or Bret Atwood at (804) 226-1500. We have many years of experience and can help you launch an effective newsletter.

Idea Corner

If you’re finding it difficult to find topics for your newsletter, we offer these suggestions:

Interview an expert: Find someone within your company or from the outside to provide an expert opinion on a topic of interest.

Use guest articles: Ask an expert in a complementary field to write an article.

Share your knowledge in “how-to” articles: Write about topics that will help other succeed in using your company’s products or services.

Generate a numbered list: Everyone loves a numbered list. Use any number you want, from small to large.

Answer reader questions: Invite readers to submit questions or topics of interest.

Simplify a technical issue: Explain a technical topic in simpler terms so it is easily understood by the reader.

Case study: describe a customer problem and show how your product or service solved the problem.

Community service: Describe a community project or donation made by the company or organization and its staff and members.

Employee profile: Provide information about an employee that shows why he or she is outstanding in their job performance.