“Like almost everyone who uses e-mail, I receive a ton of spam every day. Much of it offers to help me get out of debt or get rich quick. It would be funny if it weren’t so exciting.” – Bill Gates.
For mere mortals such as we, it’s comforting to know that even Mr. Gates, one of the richest men in the world, is not immune to the scourge of spam. It can be a chore running your eyes down the inbox list to sieve out unsolicited property investment seminars and alternative investment schemes. Yet, as a B2B comms agency, we know that e-newsletters are an important part of our arsenal of communications tools. With the experience that we’ve had in the creation and distribution of B2B e-newsletters (thankfully all of them solicited, since corporate policies will allow for nothing less), we know that our ultimate objective is to ensure that our hard work is not consigned to junk mail hell. Here are three tips that may help:
1. Make it relevant to the reader
So obvious, so cliched, yet so frequently forgotten once we get down to the work of actually curating and producing the content. The first golden rule of being relevant is simple: make the newsletter less about you, and more about the reader. Sure, you’ve got an awesome enterprise-class UTM system you think everyone should have, but do you appreciate the distinction between the varying needs of UTMs across industries? Perhaps banks, for instance, might be more interested in how UTMs can help them meet regulatory compliance, versus the manufacturer who’s interested in keeping the lines running at the lowest possible cost. Without these distinctions, your B2B e-newsletter ends up being generic marketing fluff that gets the “delete” treatment.
The second golden rule is a little less simple: we all know that the ultimate recipients of any B2B e-newsletter want informative and interesting content. Yet, for an e-newsletter to be truly relevant , it’s important to understand that the definition of what’s informative and entertaining to the reader – at that particular point in time, in that particular place – can and will change. For instance, at an early stage of engagement, your reader may be interested in answering the basic question: “What’s my problem”. To help her, you may want to consider thought leadership content that frames the problem addressed by your solution in a way that makes it comprehensible to the reader.
Once the reader progresses to the “How do I fix it” stage, you will want to talk about product suitability: pitfall analysis, readiness assessments and vendor selection guides may be helpful. And eventually, when the reader asks the final, and probably most important question: “Are you the right one for me?”, you should be prepared to step in with case studies, testimonials, ROI calculations and pricing packages.
2. Think “Long Term Publication”, not “Adhoc Mailshot”
The moment you start a B2B e-newsletter, you’re in the online publication business. We’ve already pointed out that the content consumption needs of the reader changes over time, so it will be impractical (and ineffective) to cover all the topics that need to be shared in a single issue or email shot. More likely, you’re going have to think about a newsletter that runs at least six months, to ensure that at least one selling cycle for a typical B2B customer is covered.
Like any online publication, a useful starting point for your e-newsletter is to develop an editorial calendar. Map out what the key themes for each issue will be. For instance, do you want to segment your issues by pain points? Business groups? Broad industry trends? For one of our clients, we worked with the customer-facing teams to create a revolving monthly calendar that alternates between the key topics of Big Data, Cloud Computing, and Storage Management – all relevant to the customer, and related to the products our client sold. Strong themes not only help prioritize our content creation and curation efforts, they help to provide enough variety for the reader.
3. Make it look great, and read great
If there’s a word that describes how many B2B e-newsletters look, it would be ‘meh’. That’s because many of these e-newsletters are created by non-designers using basic e-newsletter building tools, some of which come as an add-on to marketing automation software packages. Don’t let anyone tell you that looks don’t matter: we prefer ‘Wired’ to other futurist magazines with similar content because of the fantastic covers, as well as the great layouts, infographics and visuals contained within. While we understand the need to work within tight budgets, it’s always a good idea to invest in a bit of time and money at the start to create a great looking template that will apply to all future issues.
But wait, you’re not done yet. Just because you’ve created a great template which looks good in Outlook clients accessed on a laptop, do you know how it would look on Lotus Notes, Thunderbird or Gmail? Or for that matter, how it would look on an iPad, or an iPhone (since many are now consuming content on their mobile devices)? For some readers, a key issue is monitoring how the e-newsletter will look in the preview pane, before the images are loaded. Some recipients will read newsletters without ever downloading the images – so if yours is readable without images, so much the better.
Finally, a few last words on tone of voice. While we’re in the serious business of B2B, we never tire of encouraging our clients – whatever their business – to always speak (and write) in a human voice. Go for a lighter tone of voice, try to inject humor where appropriate, and bring in personal anecdotes. As we’re fond of saying, B2B is still a P2P (people-to-people) business. And in an ongoing B2B e-newsletter that aims to build long term readership, putting the needs of your readers above all else will help you rise well above the ocean of irrelevant spam that pollutes our virtual planet. It’s B2B: let’s aim to do better.