Email Marketing for Small Businesses: Does Your Newsletter Deliver Value?

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For every article that claims email newsletters still work, we could probably round up 20 (or more) “real” people (i.e. potential customers) who claim they never read newsletter

What you decide regarding email marketing is ultimately up to you, but we stand firm behind our one conviction: if your newsletter delivers value, people will read it.

The question, of course, is this: what’s the definition of value? The answer will likely determine whether your email marketing succeeds or fails…and by how much.

So let’s talk value. How do you figure out what your customers will find valuable?

1. Ask them. Ask your customers – either via phone, in person, or via social media – what sort of information they’re looking for and that they’d find helpful. Don’t do it once. This should be a regular question you ask during the prospecting phase, during the sales process/fulfillment piece, and after the sale.

2. Put yourself in their shoes. One of the problems is that you know your business TOO well. You have to keep in mind that your customers and prospects probably have 1/10 of your knowledge, if that. So, for example, if you’re a landscaper, your clients might like to know what herbs they can grow on their back porch during the spring and summer and how to care for them. This might seem like basic knowledge to you (and to you, it is), but it will be helpful (i.e. valuable) to readers. If you’re a financial planner, your readers might be interested in your take on whether they should pay attention to Facebook stock. You get the idea.

3. Research what your competitors are doing. Consider what they’re doing right and what they’re doing wrong. We’re not suggesting you steal or plagiarize content. But if, say, you’re a photographer and a fellow photographer does a really cute “Kid of the Month” case study, and you think it would work with your clients (again, ask them – see point #1), then consider taking the idea and making it your own. Maybe you focus on brides or couples or high school seniors, or maybe you change it up each month.

4. Think about the “must-read” items in your own inbox. What emails do you read the moment they come in? For us, it might be Seth Godin. For others, it might be Gizmodo. For others, it might be the latest sale at Coldwater Creek. Think about what makes you open an email. What is it about the content that you find valuable? The knowledge you gain? The sales coupons? The often fun and wacky stories that allow you a much needed break? How would your audience respond to your newsletters? (Hint: that’s another item you can ask them: what newsletters, blogs, and publications do they read regularly.)

5. Think in terms of “gateway content.” We read an interesting story the other day about a newsletter that simply shares the top ten news stories of the day with its 10,000 plus readers. Yes, it’s a daily newsletter and it has an open rate of 65 percent. This says something about the value that’s being provided. The owner of the newsletter, David Pell, is giving his audience an alternative to Twitter’s noisiness (and his audience knows this) by providing the top stories of the day in one easy-to-read newsletter “digest.”

This goes to show that what counts more than anything isn’t the layout, how often you deliver it, or when. What counts is how valuable people believe your content is.

Bonus: read how to write email subject lines that work and make your newsletter work even harder for you.

Does your organization send out an email newsletter? How do you define value for your audience? Share in the comments.

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