E-mail Newsletters That Customers Actually Read

I recently received an e-mail that had me riveted from start to finish. It contained a true story about two men aboard US Airways flight 1549—the one that crash-landed into the Hudson River. Both passengers had regularly backed up their critical computer data. One did this by transferring info from his hard drive to a second computer, but he had taken both laptops on the plane. The other passenger had used an online backup service called Mozy (owned by EMC). I read their stories in the monthly Mozy newsletter, which I chose to receive when I signed up for Mozy myself. It's full of fun, interesting, and valuable stories and tips.

During a recent interview, Dave Robinson, Mozy's vice-president of marketing, explained how any business owner can make an e-mail newsletter more compelling. I also spoke with Janine Popick, chief executive of VerticalResponse, an e-mail and direct marketing provider for small businesses. Here's their advice on how to get customers to read your e-mail newsletters.

Offer Expert Advice

Robinson has been involved in e-marketing for 10 years. His key observation: Unless you have something relevant to say, don't say it. "If it's not interesting to our customers, we're wasting their time," he says.

Everyone is an expert in something, Popick says. Share your knowledge with others in a "how to" column or "five easy steps to [fill in the blank]." Keep your tips short, sweet, and instructive.

Stay True to Customer Expectations

"Be specific regarding the frequency of your newsletter and the value you will provide," says Popick. Then, "Make good on your promise." Some retail customers sign up for frequent discounts every few days. Customers of a publishing company might expect only one newsletter a month. People who sign up for a popular newsletter from sales expert Jeffrey Gitomer expect a content-driven missive every Tuesday.

Once a customer opts in to a newsletter, it shows up in their in-box until they choose to unsubscribe. So content you may think is great can quickly become intrusive if it's not relevant to your customers. Mozy's marketing staff decided they could develop interesting content for customers at least once a month, and that increasing the frequency ran the risk of diluting the content.

Use Customers to Tell Stories

Popick and Robinson agree there is no better way to sell your product than to use customers to illustrate your story. "Online backup is about as unsexy a product as you sell," says Robinson. "The last thing we want to do is tell a story with a bunch of boring copy and bullet points. The best way to tell our story is through real people and their anecdotes." Popick advises entrepreneurs to use a healthy mix of images and text in their newsletters, since many e-mail clients will strip out the images and leave only words. She also likes newsletters that provide YouTube links to relevant customer stories or news events. If customers are talking about your company on Facebook or Twitter, use the newsletter to link to those discussions.

Deliver Great Content and the Money Will Follow

A Mozy e-mail newsletter has very little promotional copy. "We want people to read our newsletters and look forward to them," says Robinson. If it's all about the company—give us more money—it turns people off." But after the April newsletter that shared the story of the two men aboard flight 1549, the number of customers converting from Mozy's free service to its paid one jumped 107%.

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