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Top 10 E-mail Newsletter Mistakes That (Nearly) Everyone Makes

By Feb 06, 2006

Bad news: 38% of consumers surveyed last summer defined spam as “e-mail that tries to sell me a product/service even if I know the sender.” In other words, even if someone is your customer, he’s likely to consider you a spammer if you send him a sales alert or other offer pitch.

But the good news is that consumers and business execs alike are signing up to receive e-mail newsletters in thrillingly high numbers. In fact, in 2005 the average e-mail opt-in list grew at a rate equaling 38.4% a year (yes, that’s after the bad addresses and unsubscribes are taken out).

You’ve got two action items to take away from this information:

Action 1: Offer separate opt-in check boxes for your newsletter vs. sales pitches.
Large numbers of consumers dislike one but love the other—so allow them to chose for themselves what type of e-mail they want from you. Result: Your campaign response rates will lift while your risk of being reported as a spammer decreases.

Action 2: Audit your newsletter.
Just like a Website, a newsletter is a living marketing campaign that needs tweaking and revision over the years for optimum performance. February is a great time to conduct an audit of your newsletter programs, design, and strategy for the year. Take a look at your templates, your response rates, your content, and see what you can improve.

Where to start? First, check off MarketingSherpa’s list of Top 10 E-mail Newsletter Mistakes and fix any you’re committing now:

Mistake no. 1: Assumed permission.
Thirty-one percent of b-to-b marketers and 17.4% of marketers reaching out to consumers grow their lists by “assumed permission.” That means you didn’t ask each individual name on your list if he specifically wanted to volunteer to be on your list to get the precise sort of e-mail you’re sending them.

Whether you added names because they are customers or perhaps because they entered an e-mail address on a form to get an offer (sweeps, white paper, etc.), if those individuals didn’t check a separate box asking for your newsletter, then you don’t have permission. It’s not a legal thing, it’s a spam thing. And as most major e-mailers know, once you’re identified as a spammer even by 1% of the names you mail to, your chances of delivery through many ISPs drop.

Mistake no. 2: Complete and utter lack of segmentation.
Even if a list is as small as 5,000 names, if you segment it and send different e-mails to different interest groups, your open rates can rise as much as nine times (from 5.6% to 50.5% in the data we examined). Clicks will rise too (from 0.6% to 11.7% in the data we examined).

Consider testing two or more versions to see what will move the needle. Best segments to test: * customers vs. prospects * new-to-file names (first 60 days) vs. older names * demographic selects such as job function or region * topical interests: determined by an online preferences center, survey, or past clicks * shopping style: for instance, loves discounts vs. loves quality

Mistake no. 3: Dud new subscriber welcome
According to a study MarketingSherpa published last year, the most opened and read e-mail you’ll ever send to your list is their welcome note. Yet many marketers simply use the welcome note as a bland transactional “your name has been added to the list” notification.

Smart marketers, from Dutch Gardens to Sherwin-Williams include a gift or an action item in the welcome message to keep the new subscriber involved with the brand. This might be anything from a discount certificate to a downloadable PDF booklet of best-of past articles.

Mistake no. 4. Frequency for the sake of your schedule
When I’m interviewing marketers in depth for our case studies, I ask, “How did you decide on your e-mail newsletter frequency?” Sadly, nearly always they reply, “No reason, really; it seemed right.”

Here we are working in one of the most measurable marketing media ever, yet most marketers still rely on “it seemed right” gut-decision making. Does that make sense to you? Me neither.

The good news is, MarketingSherpa data show clearly that marketers who carefully test frequency, in concert with segmentation (because different segments perform better with different frequencies) get almost double the click rates that “gut” marketers do.

Mistake no. 5. Institution-to-one communication
Human beings connect with other human beings–which is why most TV commercials show humans instead of just product shots. Most e-mail newsletter marketers seem to have forgotten this.

Your newsletter may have greater impact if you can increase the human element. Consider adding a person’s name to the “from” line, including a headshot of a human (a real live person at your company, not happy-model clip art), and adding contact info for a named peson rather than “info@company.com.”

You can also consider adding a regular column by a human with a distinctive voice and tone. (Anyone at your end blogging now? Borrow them.)

One more thing: Look over your past few issues with a scratch pad and pen at your side. Make a check mark every time your newsletter contains the words “we,” “our,” or your company or brand name. On the other side of the paper check off ever time you see the words “you” or “I”. Then do the math. Are you writing like an institution “we,” or are you addressing your readers directly as a human being?

In my next column, the other five mistakes to avoid with e-mail newsletters.

Anne Holland is president of MarketingSherpa, a research firm publishing case studies and benchmark data for its 173,000 marketing and advertising executive subscribers. For a free copy of the new illustrated report ‘Top 10 E-mail Newsletter Mistakes + 28 Inspirational Samples from Marketers Who Get It Right’ go to http://Top10.MarketingSherpa.com

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