Despite the glut of electronic information, e-mail newsletters remain a timely, effective way to stay top of mind for very little cost. To keep their newsletters a must-read instead of spam file fodder, publishers need to deliver surgical strikes that highlight actionable content.
“Our competition is the Internet overall,” says John Butterfield, Hanley Wood ‘s e-media editorial director. “It’s bandwidth chatter. And making us stand out from all of that junk is the real trick for these newsletters.”
“We use them to highlight the most important articles. The more market intelligence we can provide to readers in quick hits, the more likely it is for them to open that newsletter because they know they’re going to find a digest of the important stuff,” he adds.
While the click-through traffic to their respective Web sites is welcome, Butterfield adds that Hanley Wood’s e-mails are not simply intended as Web site draws. “We’d obviously love people to click through and read the full article on the Web site. But our goal is to write them in such a way that if you don’t click through you could read it and get the gist of what’s important in that news cycle.”
Therefore, success is also measured by open rates and unsubscribes. Tom Cintorino, b-to-b publisher PennWell’s vice president of digital media, explains: “While it’s important to have a sizeable base, it’s more important to have the right audience. We constantly replenish names from various sources as others drop out. But we keep it capped and don’t promote it to the point of having it grow so we can manage the volume.” Butterfield adds that his e-mail circ “tends to slow-growth” as well, placing the emphasis on quality demographics.
Most publishers have altered their newsletters over the years to settle on the headline/brief approach. “We’re not settling into an e-mail to read feature-length articles,” says Cintorino. But content coverage is another matter. “We’ve mostly experimented with narrowing or widening the content,” adds Cintorino. “In other words, if you have a market like utilities do you put out a wide utility newsletter or do you put one out on pumps;a specific product-focused newsletter? We’ve had some where we’ve cancelled a niche newsletter and gone with a horizontal approach, and others where we’ve done the opposite. But I think niche seems to work better. It gets down to the targeting thing.”