Email Newsletters – love or hate them?

Here’s an article of why email marketing, done well, is an important component of your marketing activities. Email newsletters done badly, can alienate and put off the very people you want to attract – your potential customers.

I was at two events last week – one was a business retreat where one of the topics we tackled was how to circumvent writer’s block. A few of the delegates complained they wanted to blog and write newsletters, but just didn’t know what to write about. So the session, conducted by a prolific author, was about how to create that empty space where the right words just come flooding in naturally.

Email Newsletters - love or hate themAs a complete contrast, the second event was a lunch networking event where I was the guest speaker. I got chatting to an old networking colleague, whom I hadn’t seen in ages and he told me how much he hated receiving email newsletters and because he felt so unkindly towards email campaigns he would never send out a mass email campaign as that would go totally against how he felt about them.

Given that my talk was about email marketing, I felt compelled to dig deeper and find out exactly what he found so repulsive, because in Vee’s world of how marketing works, he was missing out!

On digging deeper, it turned out that we shared the same hatred of email newsletters. But not just email newsletters as a whole, email newsletters and  email marketing done badly.

Email marketing done well has a very valuable place in most businesses’ sales funnel. It reminds your audience you exist; it’s an opportunity to demonstrate your expertise and get them back to your website (that’s if you use your newsletter like a ferry service and aim to get people off the ferry back on to your island – don’t know what I’m talking about? Check out this post about how not to be a lost island on the internet). It’s also an inexpensive means for testing out new offerings because you can quickly gauge interest in it.

What can go wrong with email newsletters?

So here’s a list of the top 5 things we hate about bad email marketing (and what you could do instead).

1. Not getting permission

A lot of networkers are guilty of this (in the early days I was guilty of this too)! They upload the delegate list of the meeting they just attended, whether or not they actually spoke with them at the meeting. Not only is this against the terms of most online email marketing tools, it’s just plain rude to assume that it’s ok to add meeting folk to your list without checking they’re at all interested in receiving your mass newsletter.

The recipient (as both me and my networking colleague had experienced) feel immediately disconnected and devalued. There’s a distinct feeling of ‘they were only there to collect names for their database and then pitch to me, rather than find out about me/my business’. It’s a sign of desperation and comes from a place of lack.

Would you want to deal with someone who comes across as desperate and needy? Am I going to buy from this person? Probably not. Would my networking colleague? Definitely not.

Best practice is to get permission first. There’s several ways to do this. Either ask them directly at the meeting while you’re having a conversation with them. You’ll be able to gauge from the conversation whether they’re the right fit for your list and would benefit from what you share in your newsletter and you can tell them so. You can get permission after the event, either by speaking with them and having a follow up chat and dropping it in the conversation.

Why bother? Your list is precious and you only want people who value you and what you do in it, so be selective about who you let in.

2. Insincere greetings/opening lines

‘Dear firstname, how are you?’. What thoughts go through your mind when you receive a mass campaign that starts like this? Does the sender really care about how I am?Especially when it’s some random person I happened to be at the same networking meeting and hardly spoke to. It’s as ikky as a cold caller phoning up with the opening line ‘Is that Ms Smith? How are you today?’ Seriously? A total stranger I’ve never met before, phones me to ask about my well-being? Are you really interested in the answer to that? No? Then don’t ask it.

Whenever I get a cold call like that my heckles are up. I feel my privacy is being attacked and it doesn’t matter what the call was about, the answer is ‘no’, whether I’m interested or not. Same for an email campaign from someone I don’t know that well asking how I am.

Best practice – get straight to the point in your opening line. Let me know how I’m going to benefit from reading the rest of your email.

3. Too long and boring

Time is precious and we all have filtering processes when we’re checking our emails. When I check my emails, the first thing I check is who it’s from – do I know them. Then I check the subject – is it relevant to me. Then I open the email to see how long it’s going to take to read it. If it looks like it could take a few minutes and it’s something I’m interested in, I move it over to my ‘read later’ folder.

Here’s the thing. I bet you do something similar and probably like you, I rarely look at my ‘read later’ folder.

Best practice – Keep it short and sweet. If it’s a long article, then that belongs on your website as a blog post where it can earn search engine juice and be found by a wider audience who otherwise wouldn’t know about you. The purpose of your newsletter in this case is to have a short intro para to stimulate interest to read the whole article by clicking through to the long article on your blog (that’s what I do – did you notice?). Even better, time yourself reading your short newsletter and state how many seconds it’s going to take to read.

4. Self promoting and no value

My networking colleague hated this one in particular. Not only was he involuntarily added to the list of someone he hardly knew, they were now bombarding him with emails about how good they thought were and ‘here’s our latest product and service promotions – buy now’. This is spam, he told me. And he’s right. Spam is unwanted, unsolicited emails – he didn’t elect to have it and it contained totally unhelpful information/blurb that was of no value or interest to him.

Best practice is to balance the promotions with useful information and a ratio of 1:4 is a good rule of thumb. And what is useful information? It’s useful to your potential customers. This comes down to making sure the people on your list are actually interested in what you do. They’ve either opted themselves in by using your sign up form, or you’ve spoken with them at or after an event and established that there is interest and you’ve got their permission. Remember I said your list is precious and you should only have people in it who value what you do and can potentially offer them. Then when you write your blog/newsletter content, you know it’s useful to your list. That’s actually a tip of overcoming writer’s block – knowing that your audience is interested in what you know.

5. No opt out

Unbelievably, I still get emails from networking contacts who’ve added me without my consent or consultation and they have no unsubscribe means, other than to email them back and ask them to remove me. Which is kind of embarrassing on both parts.

The latest waft of such culprits seem to be people who are promoting some charity event they’re part-taking in and they want me to sponsor them. I don’t know why they think it’s ok to harass people they hardly remember about sponsoring their charity efforts and not their business because if I’d had something about their business in the early days from when I first met them, then I might remember who they are, so when a request comes for their charity sponsoring, I might feel a little warmer towards it, rather than the complete bewilderment I’m in ‘Who the hell is this? Do I know you? Should I know you…??’, rather the preferred reaction ‘Oh, yes, I know who you are, yes, that’s a good cause…. get my card out’.

When people opt out, rather than taking it personally, accept it’s a good thing because they’re taking themselves out of your precious list of people who are interested in what you do and therefore potential clients. If they’ve opted out, they are not a potential client. They are not interested in what you do. They don’t belong in your precious list.

Best practice is use a proper email provider (like Constant Contact – did I mention Constant Contact before? 😉 ) where you can’t not have an unsubscribe link. It saves you a huge amount of time as when someone unsubscribes they automatically get removed, instead of you having to search endless lists for where they might be and of course they may be in more than one list. A task which is a totally unnecessary admin headache.

Final thoughts

There are clearly pitfalls to avoid when doing email marketing, but it’s not difficult to do it well. And in fact, if my networking colleague had got over his hatred of what he received and did email marketing in his own authentic way, then maybe I would have remembered him earlier this year, when I needed a service he provides.

I didn’t think of him because I hadn’t networked for quite a while, he’s not that active in social media (or if he is, it’s passed me by). Had I been receiving a regular newsletter from him, then I would have remembered to use him. As it was, I went to someone else I was recommended instead. Which is a shame, because had I remembered him, I would have happily used him.

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