Newsletters are an important aspect of B2B content marketing. But sadly, many companies’ newsletters are unloved, a chore that they are stuck with. While they’re not as fashionable as social, they remain popular with buyers, and with a little effort can produce great results.
I’m an unabashed fan of newsletters. Alexis Madrigal’s Real Future, Warren Ellis’s Orbital Operations and Benedict Evans’ imaginatively entitled Newsletter give me instant insight into the most important and interesting developments in tech, mobile and culture. I know when I open them, there’ll be at least one article that captures my attention.
And newsletters can be an important part of the B2B marketing communications mix. Maybe that’s why over 80% of companies have an email newsletter programme.
Done well, a newsletter is a powerful way to engage with an audience, demonstrate your expertise and provide thought leadership.
We know that despite the growth of social media, email remains the dominant channel for B2B communications. Our inboxes are absolutely central to how we interact as individuals and as buyers.
Plan for success
Despite their potential, most B2B newsletters fall flat. Many are just filled with whatever random content is available, perhaps with an extra nod to any promotions that are needed to drive this quarter’s sales target. You may even have several uncoordinated newsletter programmes, covering different areas of the business. The result: readers get a confused mix of messages and voices—and little actionable insight.
Too often, the content of B2B newsletters fails to provide the readers with useful information—making the message indistinguishable from spam. That’s not just a wasted opportunity, it’s an abuse of customer trust. The reader has signed up to receive the newsletter on the understanding they’ll get some actionable insight. Being associated with junk emails doesn’t reflect well on your brand—it’s also a huge waste of resources.
But it needn’t be this way. With a little forethought, it’s possible to create newsletters that your customers and prospects will value and that help engage with internal audiences too.
The reality is that a blog programme or newsletter programme (for the two should be linked) has to be managed and invested in, just as you would a customer reference programme.
The hallmarks of great newsletter programmes
There are a number of key success factors for a newsletter programme:
1. Plan and commit.
It can take time to build up momentum, and you won’t build up an enthusiastic following overnight. That won’t stop some execs anticipating instant results, so some expectation management is in order. That might also mean being firm on content: you want to address topics that will delight your readers, not your PR team. You’ll need to budget and allocate time accordingly. If you’re being asked by an exec in sales or in your own organisation to get a tonne of content produced and out into the market, do your best to explain the amount of work that will be involved — including their time and your budget.
2. Set up your calendar.
You need to know in advance how often you plan to publish your newsletter — and what level of content you’ll need to fill it. Plan to create enough content for at least eight weeks in advance to allow time for future creation and approvals—and work out how that fits with your desired launch date. If you run each issue as a project, you’ll have a better chance of keeping on track: so plan start dates, deadlines and approvals. Of course, while planning helps, don’t forget you’ll need flexibility so you can respond to events and breaking news.
3. Choose your recipients—and do what you can to grow the list.
It’s true that buyers will share great content, but you need to put effort in upfront to ensure you can reach the biggest audience. Tell your customers about the newsletter. Tell prospects. Conferences aren’t just a great hook for content creation, they give you the ideal opportunity to sign-up potential readers. Be active in your promotion: you can increase visibility of your newsletter through using banners on your homepage and signatures in your email. You should also look at what you can do internally, getting colleagues to drive sign-ups—perhaps by sharing relevant posts on LinkedIn or Twitter. Your programme needs to ensure that newsletters aren’t just left to languish.
4. Take the writing seriously.
This is not the time to have a junior product manager—or junior marketing manager, or the CFO for that matter—bang out 500 words in an evening and call it camera-ready copy. Copy should be researched, written by a professional, edited and proofed—just like any marketing copy.
5. Think about design.
Your newsletter needs to be designed carefully—we all favour different devices for reading emails, often depending on our circumstances. How will your newsletter look when it’s read on a laptop? What about on a smartphone? There are also differences in email clients to consider. Once you’ve worked hard to create the best possible content, you want to show it off in the best possible light.
6. Engage and react.
You might get deathly silence at first, and it takes time to build an audience. That means every interaction needs to be nurtured. Respond to comments on your blogs and replies to the emails themselves. Listen to feedback from customers and from salespeople and service staff that may come in anecdotally—and then use that information to adjust your strategy as appropriate. The interactions you have with readers can be a valuable source of ideas for future content.
Feedback is also a useful way to reward contributors: guest authors, senior management champions and others involved in making things happen are much more likely to support you in the future if they feel like their contribution is being noticed.