Email Marketing: What to consider before sending out your company newsletter

REGION – Email newsletters have become one of the most effective and inexpensive methods of generating new sales and keeping consumers informed about a company's products or services.

"It is much cheaper to send things email than it is traditional mail," explained Dave Serino of Gammet Interactive near Ann Arbor. "But in the tourism and hospitality industry, one of the great things is how immediate email marketing can be. The turn around time is one of the advantages of letting a customer know what is available so quickly. By regular mail, any specials or promotions have to be planned in advance and sent out with enough time for the client to respond to the time frame."

Crystal Mountain near Thompsonville was getting into e-marketing about the same time that Serino launched his own company, integrating technology-marketing programs with existing tourism industry promotional plans. Serino set up Crystal's program for email newsletters and it wasn't long before Crystal staffers were producing the e-newsletter in-house and sending it monthly.

"It's important to be consistent and get those out month to month," said Joan O'Neill, Crystal's communication manager. "As far as anything else that comes along, we'll send emails out to specific groups, if we have a last minute golf special or a lodging special, for example. We don't send these out too often, because there is a fine line between sending out too many, risking annoying people, and being an effective marketer and really enhancing those relationships with your customers."

A business needs to decide whether to handle the delivery and distribution of their newsletter internally with their own resources, or outsource it to a vendor. Serino highly recommends that any small business or company use an Application Service Provider (ASP) to distribute their email newsletters. He contends it's best for a business to strictly focus on the content and marketing in the newsletter, leaving the technical responsibilities to a distribution vendor.

According to Kristen Kazarian, Editor at Hagerty Insurance, because of their size and the technical support of their IT Department, they create and distribute their email newsletters in-house.

"We have a great team between our department and the IT department," Kazarian said. "We like to keep it as tight as possible."

Using E Newsletter Pro, they send out one-page news blasts whenever they need to get timely information to their clients, in addition to regularly sending three different newsletters (by categories) through traditional mail.

"We choose to create our online newsletters in-house because we like to 'own' our projects and creative process. As well, we have a customer base of more than 200,000 customers and agents, so it's cost-effective to keep it in-house. Hagerty has great IT and marketing teams complete with e-business pros, designers and writers who all do a great job."

Byte Productions is a Northern Michigan based, multi-media production company that serves as a host server for several local businesses' newsletters. Tom Barrons, co-owner of Byte, fully recommends businesses outsource the distribution of their e-newsletters.

"A good host or developer should be able to automate many of the tasks that come along with maintaining an email list," Barrons said. "For example, allowing users to opt in or opt out. A good program should also handle bounced messages. People change their email addresses often, and if you have a list with thousands of users, removing old email addresses can be taken care of automatically."

Crystal designs their newsletters in house, but uses a vendor for distribution.

"Doing everything puts more responsibility on a company," O'Neill noted. "The company has to be mindful of legislation, be mindful of spam laws and it just is one more burden to contend with. The value of having a distribution vendor for us is like sending our mail to the post office. They do the sorting. They mail it out. It's really a valuable tool for us. It takes a lot of work and a lot of worry off of our plate."

Crystal's newsletters are distributed through nTarget, which is an ASP. Using an ASP keeps a company off the black list, makes sure emails are delivered, and offers feedback support via tracking mechanisms.

Don't spam so close to me

Spam has by far been the hottest and most controversial topic in the email newsletter domain during the past year. A business has to be aware that its choice of email vendors can affect whether the publication is viewed as spam. The selected vendor should have strict policies against hosting any email lists that deliver spam.

Along with delivering the newsletters, vendors like nTarget, Responsys, BlueHornet and MailiWant, give advice on how to set up your message and put it together so it gets through the spam filters and is optimized. They also make sure you're not sending a message with graphics that are too big, which could send up a red flag to the spam filters, and they watch the verbiage used.

More than words

The next thing to establish in your e-newsletter is what you are going to write about, and how you are going to write it. Everything else, marketing, technology, reporting, tracking, e-commerce, becomes irrelevant if you don't end up with an e-newsletter that's compelling to your readers.

According to Connectiv Media, an email newsletter consulting firm, whatever you write must absolutely and clearly benefit your customer somehow. Otherwise, it'll be dropped into the trash quicker than a promotion for Viagra.

Designing email newsletter templates effectively can dramatically impact the success of the business' email newsletter initiative. The design should grab the reader's attention and be easy to navigate.

Companies also need to consider whether to use text or HTML or both, how to structure the content, where to place their ads, how to include navigational elements and make sure their creative communication is in line so their emails look like their website and their website looks like their ad campaign.

"As the interaction builds between the business and the consumer, the loyalty also builds," Serino explains. "The company's voice and manner in a newsletter becomes familiar to their customers. Their ongoing conversations built trust, and trust is at the heart of doing business on the Web. When a company's email newsletter offers readers something of value time after time, the business becomes like a trusted friend."

According to Gammet Interactive's research, the more interaction the consumer received from the tourism or hospitality business and the better the content was customized for them, the longer the stays were at the destinations promoted by the email newsletters. BN