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Why Start An E-mail Newsletter?

By May 10, 2005

Marketers have long relied on print publications to establish “communities of interest” through which they can reach targeted audiences in order to generate interest, leads and ultimately sales. E-newsletters do this and more, by providing a unique Web-based vehicle for “layered content” that delivers precision contextual marketing.

Unlike physical magazines, e-newsletters offer exceptional real-time measurement capabilities and also the ability to use “content-in-context” to accelerate, detect and respond to purchase intent. E-newsletter content creates readership, and also creates a supportive context for conveying marketing messages to that readership. This “contextual marketing” delivers cost-effective customer retention and ROI.

Contextual Marketing Defined

“Contextual marketing” refers to delivering a marketing message that is relevant based on content. That message appears in a context where the reader is likely to be interested in the marketer’s product/industry. Examples:

*Car ads on an automotive site.

*Sports equipment ads on a sports site. *A page sponsorship in an industry-related newsletter.

In these cases the viewer self-selected, or chose to view the content, and the marketing messages capitalize on that show of interest.

E-newsletter content creates and retains readership

By delivering value to a targeted audience on a regular basis, e-newsletter content creates and retains readership. Because of the interactive nature of an e-newsletter, that content can be more than articles—for instance, sweepstakes or surveys. E-newsletter topic popularity can be measured in real-time and even within/across readership segments, as a basis for fine-tuning the content in order to satisfy readers.

E-newsletter content creates context that drives ROI

The deliberate structuring and “layering” of content that is possible within an e-newsletter establishes a rich context for delivering marketing messages – and then measuring the impact of those messages in order to calculate ROI.

ROI from an e-newsletter effort depends on the desired reader behavior, e.g., clicking on a Web site link, filling out an inquiry form or requesting a follow-up call. All of these may serve as “buy signals” that indicate purchase intent.

An e-newsletter’s ROI can be maximized by subtly accelerating interest via successively more specific context. This is done by drawing out the details along with the corresponding level of a reader’s interest/purchase intent (as gauged by progressively stronger calls to action), through “layered content.” This structure stimulates reader response (and ultimately ROI) at multiple points.

E-newsletter ROI also can be maximized by responding appropriately when a reader does indicate interest. Depending on the reader’s actions and apparent level of interest, a response could be any of the following:

*Monitoring interest for future follow-up.

*Low-key informational e-mail follow-up.

*Specific, directed e-mail follow-up, e.g., an invitation.

*Outbound telephone follow-up.

An auto dealer example

An example from an auto dealer ties all of this together. With a household’s lifetime automobile and related service expenditures approaching $350,000, auto dealers are highly motivated to keep customers loyal to their dealership/dealer motor group. An increasing number of dealers use dealer-branded e-newsletters to not only keep their customers’ attention, but also to detect buy signals and thus know when to sell those customers.

The appealing lifestyle content of these auto dealer e-newsletters (e.g., information about week-end getaways) helps dealers to engage and retain their readers – using content to create readership.

This content provides an ideal context within which to subtly deliver marketing messages. For instance, that article about a week-end getaway could feature a photo of an SUV. Next to that article is additional information about the SUV, along with the dealer’s strong call to action in the form of limited-time promotional leasing rates on that SUV. Readers can click through to a form to request more information or a phone call from the dealership.

Auto dealers using this precision contextual marketing approach have detected and responded to buy signals shortly after the e-newsletter was released, and continued to do so for several weeks afterwards. One major Northeast auto dealer attributes an additional 80 vehicle sales per month to the increased Web site traffic driven by their e-newsletter.

E-newsletters: the fusion of retention and ROI

Just as with magazine publishing, the concept behind e-newsletter publishing is creation of a long-term community of interest around the publication. Compared to physical magazine publishing, however, e-newsletters offer unique abilities to

*Retain readers by understanding which content appeals to them.

*Turn content into context.

*Use that context to accelerate and detect purchase intent.

*Achieve and measure ROI.

David A. Fish is chief executive officer of IMN (iMakeNews, Inc.), an e-communications service provider.