E-Newsletters - Newsletters that bring shoppers to your store

"Good, fast, cheap - pick two because you can't have all three."

That old proverb holds true in the world of retail advertising and promotion, with one exception: e-newsletters. Why? First, they're good ways to spark more sales. Second, they work fast. And third, they're cheap: It's tough to think of any promotional tool that gives so much bang for so little buck.

"E-newsletters are great for establishing new lines of communication with your customers," says Ralph F. Wilson, an Internet marketing consultant based in Rocklin, Calif. (www.wilsonweb.com). "When you have specials, new products or new services, you can promote them at little or no cost."

When time is of the essence, e-newsletters get the job done. "Whether you want to broadcast information about last minute promotions or help beef up attendance at a special event, electronic newsletters get the word out much faster than other vehicles," says Wilson. Seconds after you hit "send," you'll often see subscriber activity: People will be opening your e-mail, then clicking on your links to go to your Web site.

Electronic newsletters are no substitute for traditional advertising, which raises the profile of your store and attracts new customers. But they are invaluable tools for increasing spending by your current customer base.

If you haven't already launched an e-newsletter, now's the time to do so. Already have one? Look for ways to make it pull more sales. Here are some profitable tips from Internet marketing experts.

Tip #1: Make It Useful

What goes into your e-newsletter? Anything that helps your recipients live better lives when using your merchandise or services. When planning content keep asking yourself this question: How can we serve our customers with good information to build a relationship and keep that relationship at the top of their minds? Include information on new services, new lines of merchandise, private sales, smart consumer buying tips and great ways shoppers can use the merchandise you sell.

In today's world "useful" often means short. "People are in a hurry and don't want to read long newsletters," says Wilson. "An effective newsletter can be as short as one or two paragraphs of brief tidbits." What to do when you have more information than will fit comfortably in a short form? "Include a link to a page on your Web site where people can get more information," he adds.

Bonus tip: Invite recipients to print out the newsletter and bring it to your store for a free gift or discount.

Tip #2: Make It Attractive

You can send out your e-mail in two formats: plain text or HTML. A lot of people like the latter, which stands for Hypertext Markup Language, because it allows you to include fancy text, tables and pictures.

But there's a drawback: Designing an attractive HTML newsletter takes talent. And anyhow, who has the time? You can get help in the form of pre-built templates that are now being offered by many e-mail service providers. To use them, just plug in your information, press the "send" button and you are off and running. "Using templates helps you get a lot of information in a precise area," says Chuck Hester, communications director at iContact.com, one e-mail marketing outfit that offers the service.

There's one more problem with HTML: Because not every recipient of your e-newsletter uses the same e-mail software program, your newsletter will not look the same for each person. To get around that problem follow this advice from Byron Lunz, owner of DataBack Systems, an e-newsletter service provider in Beaverton, Ore.: "If you decide to go with HTML formatting, keep it as simple as you can," he says. "Avoid tables, columns and flashy graphics. The more complex the things you do in your e-mail, the greater the chance some of your recipients will not be able to read it."

Tip #3: Build Your List

Encourage people to sign up for your e-newsletter. "Every single point of contact with your customers is an opportunity to build your list," says Hester. "Set out some cards at your POS terminal for people to fill in their e-mail addresses. Print subscription invitations on your receipts. Include an invitation at the bottom of your regular e-mails, and on every page of your Web site."

Ask for their first names so you can person talize the subject line later on, adds Wilson. Have each person sign a brief statement that says, "I give you permission to send your e-newsletter," and keep those cards on file.

Your employees can be great salespeople for your e-newsletter. They can promote benefits such as advance notice of sales and new lines of merchandise, and the many "how-to techniques" for using your merchandise.

Tip #4: Use A Service

At first, if your mailing list is small you may want to send your newsletter using your own computer and Internet connection. For small lists it's not too much hassle to tackle administrative tasks such as processing bounces and entering changed e-mail addresses.

Once your list rises to over 100 people or so, such tasks can become onerous. You will want to consider handing over the job to an e-newsletter service provider. Popular examples of such companies are Constant Contact at www.constantcontact.com, iContact at www.icontact.com and Databack Systems at www.cctomany.com.

Tip #5: Stay Newsy

Don't send your newsletter too often. "As a general rule, don't send your newsletter more than twice a month," says Hester. "You don't want people to think they are getting too much information." The exception: You might want to send several short announcements in a series to promote a special sale or event.

Send your newsletter on the same day of the same week of the month each time. Your recipients will get in the habit of looking for the information.

Include a "forward to a friend" invitation in each newsletter. This is a great way to build your list because many of those friends will become subscribers. Encourage forwarding by including a special offer for all recipients.

Provide incentives. Perhaps each person who signs up for your newsletter will receive a gift certificate worth $10 or will receive exclusive invitations to private seminars.

Tip #6: Play By The Rules

Don't get labeled as a spammer. Make sure you receive some form of formal permission before adding someone to your list. "Don't send a newsletter to people unless they have requested you do so," says Lunz. A reputable e-newsletter service company will help you maintain your reputation by collecting permission forms from all new subscribers.

Tip #7: Stay Current

You will create more profitable e-newsletters if you stay current with what is happening in the field. For relevant news visit the E-Commerce Times, published by the ECT News Network, Encino, Calif. (www.ecommercetimes.com).

Other good sources are E-Commerce News (www.ecommercenews.org), and ECommerce-Guide (www.ecommerce-guide.com). Finally, for more ideas about good newsletters click on "E-mail Marketing" at www.wilsonweb.com.

The tips in this article should get you started on the path to a profitable e-newsletter that makes your cash registers ring a happy tune. You can take the plunge now without a big investment in time and money. "Don't wait to start your e-mail newsletter," says Wilson. "There is no time like the present. You will start with a small list but in time it will grow."

Comments or thoughts on this article? Please e-mail [email protected].

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