Thursday, February 21, 2008


Many web sites now have a prominently placed `Sign-up to our newsletter' box. But is this enough?

How many e-mail newsletters do you subscribe to? If you're anything like me, the number is well into double figures — and most weeks I will opt in to yet another. The trouble is, the more I subscribe to, the less likely I am to have time to look at them, so some are never opened. I think we all have a mental list of 'must read', 'maybe read' and 'only if I have time' e-newsletters. Typically, I don't unsubscribe, since I may have a chance one week to look at them.

Thus, for organizations to make their e-newsletters successful, they have to work really hard to get them into the 'must read' category of their subscribers. This is a big challenge because, in any sector, many companies have already seized the opportunity provided by e-mail newsletters to build relationships with potential customers and develop relationships with their existing customers. However, it is certainly possible — in the UK, consumer newsletters from online brands such as, and get great open rates and deliver a substantial amount of business. Many business-to-business e-newsletters have also found the secret of success within their niche.

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When devising an e-newsletter, there are many decisions that must to be made for it to be effective. This section is about the decisions you take as you plan the launch of an e-newsletter, and also decisions regarding how to gain subscribers and keep them. Use these lists of decisions to plan an e-newsletter or to improve on your current e-newsletter.

Decision 1 organization objectives

The starting point for planning an e-newsletter has to be to examine (or re-examine) why you are publishing it. You will probably have a primary objective, such as boosting sales on a site through clickthrough, or building a brand by providing value to customers, but what about other objectives? The 5 Ss of Smith and Chaffey (2005), originally applied to a corporate web site, provide a good way to think about e-newsletter objectives:

Sell — grow sales (the e-newsletter often acts as both a customer acquisition tool and a retention tool)

Serve — add value (give customers extra benefits online, such as online exclusive offers or more in-depth information about your products or industry sector)

3. Speak — get closer to customers by creating a dialogue, asking questions through online research surveys, and learning about customers' preferences through tracking (that is, what type of content are people most interested in)

Save — save costs (of print and post); if you have a traditional offline e-newsletter, can you reduce print runs or extend its reach by using e-mail?

5. Sizzle — extend the brand online; a newsletter keeps the brand at 'front-of-mind' and helps reinforce brand values, and added value can also be delivered by the e-newsletter in informing and entertaining customers.

All the newsletter design decisions we discuss below should, of course, also be controlled by the main objectives of the e-newsletter.

Decision 2 measuring success

When thinking about the objectives, consider how you will judge the success of your newsletter.

The following metrics are commonly used to assess the effectiveness of e-newsletters through time:

  • open rates (for HTML e-newsletters)
  • clickthroughs to more detailed content or promotions
  • number of unsubscribes
  • number of new subscribers.

While it is easy to automate collection of these metrics, think about whether they really relate to the goals in Decision 1. Think also about whether the automated measures give you the full story. Some companies also conduct surveys to determine softer measures related to how the customer perceives the newsletter and how it impacts on the brand. This is also covered in Decision 19 — tracking and assessing satisfaction.

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