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Edgy E-Newsletters: Best practices for commercial contractors


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April 1, 2013 by By Joe Dysart

Despite all the buzz over social media, email newsletters still remain extremely cost-effective tools for commercial contractors–tools that can create strong, emotional bonds with customers that are not easily severed.

“It’s a key element of how we communicate not only with our members but also to ‘future’ members and others in the construction industry,” says Keith Sashaw, president, Vancouver Regional Construction Association (VCRA).

A highly regarded consultant on effective email newsletter design, Jakob Nielsen, principal Nielsen Norman Goup, says subscribers’ emotional bond with the medium is so strong, they are reluctant to ‘unsubscribe’–even when they no longer read the email newsletter regularly.

For contractors looking to experiment with email newsletters, or improve upon the email newsletters they’re already sending out. Check out these 12 best practices:

1. REALIZE GOING IN, YOU’RE PLAYING WITH A POWERFUL MEDIUM: “The positive emotional aspect of newsletters is that they can create much more of a bond between user and company than a website can,” says Nielsen. “The negative aspect is that usability problems have a much stronger impact on the customer relationship than they normally do.”

Perry McEwen, e-newsletter editor, KMA Contracting, based in Guelph, Ont. adds: “Our e-newsletter keeps the KMA name out there. As a result we have many repeat customers and referrals.”

2. DON’T WASTE POTENTIAL SUBSCRIBERS’ TIME: Too often, subscribing to an email newsletter quickly becomes a convoluted process, demanding the completion of a long, drawn-out form. Nielsen recommends an online subscribing process that takes no more than 60-seconds.

3. DON’T BE OVERLY NOSEY: Jeanne Jennings, an e-marketing consultant, recommends that companies ask for no more than five to seven subscriber information items on its subscription page.

4. DON’T MAKE A SUBSCRIBER FEEL LIKE A TARGET: “Asking for a street address, phone number or information on purchase authorization signals you want to see the registrant’s information and fill her electronic, snail and voice mailboxes with solicitations,” explains Jennings. “People will either abandon the page without subscribing or lie. Neither of these furthers your cause.”

5. BE HONEST ABOUT HOW YOU’LL DEAL WITH A SUBSCRIBER: “Include elements that increase registration rates, such as links to a sample issue and your privacy policy,” says Jennings. “Include a brief (one or two sentence) summary of the privacy policy on the subscription page.”

6. DELIVER ON YOUR NEWSLETTER MISSION PROMISE: Even though virtually all company email newsletters are free, all must deliver on the content promises made to the subscriber. Essentially, the right to space in a subscriber’s email box has to be earned with each issue. “The cost in clutter must be paid for by being helpful and relevant to users – and by communicating these benefits in a few characters in the subject line,” says Nielsen.

7. KEEP IT SIMPLE: Users are most responsive to newsletters that get to the point quickly in a colorful way, according to Nielsen. Sashaw agrees: “Make sure it is to the point and relevant.”

KMA’s McEwen adds: “There is a fine line between keeping your network of contacts informed, and boring their socks off. I keep the e-newsletter short, sweet and to the point and include lots of photographs.”

8. PUBLISH REGULARLY: “A predictable publication frequency that is not too aggressive is usually best, except for newsletters that report breaking news,” says Nielsen. “A regulator publication schedule lets users know when to look for the newsletter and reduces the probability that it will be deleted.”

9. INTEGRATE WITH SOCIAL MEDIA, WHEN POSSIBLE: Every e-newsletter presents an opportunity to engage with a business via Facebook, follow that business on Twitter, share the e-newsletter with a friend or download a complementary mobile app. The trick is to seamlessly integrate all mediums to maximize this opportunity.

“We are just beginning to look into that element,” says Sashaw. “We have ramped up our social media activity with Facebook sites for Vancouver Regional Construction Association and our VRCA U35 Network, and have a Twitter account.”

10. TEST YOUR EMAIL DESIGN FOR MOBILE DEVICES: If you suspect a significant number of subscribers want to receive your e-newsletter on their mobile device, test to see how your design fares on Email Grader (http://email.grader.com/). If your newsletter fails the test for mobiles here, you’ll want to design a specially formatted version just for mobile devices.

11. DON’T PLAY GAMES WITH THE “UNSUBSCRIBE” FUNCTION: Understandably, companies that amass legions of newsletter subscribers are reluctant to say goodbye to all those potential customers. Consequently, many are tempted to make unsubscribing an arduous process. Bad move. Not only will you irritate potential customers – you’ll continue to irritate them each time your unwanted newsletter shows up in their email box. “Users are substantially more critical of a slow unsubscribe process,” says Nielson. “Once you want out, you want out quickly.”

12. CHOOSE YOUR MAIL NEWSLETTER TECHNOLOGY WISELY: The latest generation of higher-end email service providers, who offer their services in the cloud, enable marketers to engage in extremely sophisticated analytics. For starters, such services allow senders to track every point-and-click that occurs within every e-newsletter and other e-message they send –long after those missives leave a company’s servers.

In addition, these providers enable you to slice-and-dice your email newsletter data virtually any way you like, producing custom reports that help you continually refine your tome’s efficacy.

Enterprise-level contractors, for example may want to consider StrongMail’s Social Studio (http://www.strongmail.com/products/strongmail-social-studio/) service, for example, enables companies to match email addresses in their databases with ‘top influencers’ – or people who have a lot of active friends online—and then reach out to those influencers to contribute to the email newsletter, as well as to company social media online.

A number of marketers, for example, have already used Social Studio to invite such widely read bloggers and other influencers to alert their Facebook friends about discounts and promotions, and then give rewards to those influencers who generate the most conversions in terms of referred sales or another desired action.

“The real value of social media marketing is to move beyond merely listening, to start driving actual revenue,” says Paul Bates, UK managing director at StrongMail.

Meanwhile, ExactTarget’s Interactive Marketing Hub (http://www.exacttarget.com/hub/index.html), offers a CoTweet Social module, that enables marketers to manage multiple Twitter and Facebook accounts, track conversations, schedule posts – while monitoring all the activity with analytics and reports.

And another module within the package, Sites, gives marketers the ability to create, design and deploy static, interactive or socially enabled landing pages in the online versions of your email newsletter to support specific marketing campa
igns.

Similar programs with sophisticated analytics solutions include Interact Campaign, from Responsys (http://www.responsys.com/suite/index.php), and the aforementioned Social Studio from StrongMail, both long-established email-marketing companies.

Fortunately, for contractors looking to invest less coin, there are also a number of extremely powerful, PC-based email newsletter software packages that are much less expensive, but still extremely sophisticated. Top programs in this genre include:

Campaign Enterprise, from Arial Software $985 (http://www.arialsoftware.com/enterprise.htm): A longtime favorite, Campaign Enterprise enables you to track every click subscribers make in your newsletter. Plus, it offers scores of variables to personalize you email newsletter with the subscriber’s name, company and other distinguishing data. You’ll also be able to insert varied paragraphs, images and other content elements into your email newsletter, enabling you to customize an email newsletter by region, demographics, the type of relationship you have with the recipient and more.

Atomic Email Studio, from AtomPark Software $299 (http://www.massmailsoftware.com/studio/): Another extremely popular program, Atomic Email Studio also allows you to personalize each email newsletter you send with info about each subscriber you have in your database. You’ll also be able to work with your email newsletters using the Studio’s task-specific modules, including List Manager, Subscription Manager and Mail Verifier. Other modules enable you to auto-collect new subscribers for your newsletter from you website, as well as hunt for email addresses on your PC.

SendBlaster Pro, from Nuraxis $199 (http://www.sendblaster.com/): Another highly rated solution, SendBlaster also offers personalization, as well as list maintenance tools and analytics. It can run a spam-alert check on your email newsletter, to ensure it complies with all spam laws and is not characterized as such by the scores of ‘spam cop’ websites that are currently policing the Web.

GroupMail Personal Edition, from Infacta, $139 (http://www.group-mail.com/): Another reliable package, GroupMail Personal Edition offers personalization for each email newsletter you send, 38 HTML templates to choose from and mailing list management, for starters. This is GroupMail’s entry-level product. More robust versions – GroupMail Business and Groupmail Marketing Pack – offer many more features.

Joe Dysart is an Internet speaker and business consultant based in Manhattan. Voice: (646) 233-4089. Email: joe@joedysart.com. Web: www.joedysart.com.


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