graphic of computer with newsletter and other icons

Before you send an email newsletter, think through your strategy.

E-newsletters are a popular—and therefore obvious—choice for many companies. They are a long-established tool as a means of engaging your consumer base, establishing brand trust, and moving subscribers further along your sales pipeline. And they allow you to gain a lot of data about your consumers, which you can then feed back to your marketing team. However, like all tools, if used incorrectly it can do more harm than good.

It’s tempting, once you’ve started to build a subscriber list, to focus on your e-newsletter as a sales opportunity more than a branding opportunity. This leads to poor strategy, which in turn leads to a bad newsletter campaign. Common pitfalls of a poorly-planned strategy include:

  • Sending too many emails
  • Sending emails infrequently or sporadically
  • Too much information (or not enough!)
  • Low-quality content
  • Un-targeted (or irrelevant) content

Each of these problems affects your business adversely by alienating and disengaging your subscribers. The result runs exactly counter to what you’d hoped to gain. And in the process, you not only lose subscribers, you damage your brand’s reputation and waste time and energy while you’re at it.

So how do you create a strategic e-newsletter that builds brand trust instead of wearing it down? Scheduling plays a major role in your strategy, but in order to hit on the ideal rhythm, you need to answer some key questions about your content.

What level of quality are you reliably able to produce?

The frequency of emails you send out should be governed, first and foremost, by the quality of content you are able to generate. If your emails aren’t worthwhile to your subscribers, they will perceive them as junk. And no one wants lots of junk mail cluttering their inbox.

So before you send an email newsletter, ask yourself: what value am I offering my subscribers? If your email is worth more to you than to them, reassess the content quality.

That said, you can provide quality to your subscribers through several content types. If you have a regular blog, you can include that as part of your newsletter update. Maybe you have a new product or service you want to introduce them to. You could have a special offer that is relevant to their buying history. Or maybe you’ve just published an article in a magazine and you think they’ll be interested.

All of these are valid reasons to send out a newsletter. But if they only happen once in a blue moon, then you may not be producing enough regular, quality content to justify the existence of your newsletter mailing list.

In short, the justification for sending your email newsletter should be evident to your subscribers. If you can’t put yourself in the place of your consumer and answer the question “why am I getting this?” to their satisfaction, then you either need to start producing more (and better!) content, or scrap your mailing list.

Is your content relevant to your subscriber list?

So what does relevant, high-value content look like? Think about some of the promotional emails you get in your inbox every day. Which ones provide value to you, and which ones waste your time?

I have a weekly email from a blogger who always includes some relevant life advice, along with a couple links to past blogs answering related questions. It arrives at about the same time on the same day each week. And (unless I am very busy), I always read it. Similarly, I get a weekly video blog from a budgeting company. You’d think it would be awfully difficult to produce regular, compelling content about personal finance, right? But I find the video blogs offer useful tips that help me to think more responsibly about my money. They’ve taken a fairly dull subject and made it empowering.

On the other hand, have you ever made a purchase from a company, and then proceeded to get promotional emails that had nothing to do with the product you purchased? Maybe you bought some sneakers from them once, but now they keep sending you offers for bath salts and cooking equipment. I have one that sends me emails about “trending” products which aren’t at all relevant to my taste. I like the company, but I find their emails annoying.

Avoid this trap by segmenting your email lists so that subscribers only receive emails that match their interests and buying history. If you’ve developed personas, you could split your list by persona so that you send one type of content to CEOs and another type to middle-management.

What expectations have you set with your subscribers?

When you set out to gather email addresses for your mailing list, what did you tell them they were signing up for? Possibly the best thing you can do for yourself as you start to generate an e-newsletter campaign is to be up-front about what you plan to deliver. This will also help you focus on delivering content that is valuable to your subscribers, and not just to you.

For instance, let’s say you’re a small manufacturing company. You produce limited-design watches. You blog once a week about your design process, fashion trends in the watch industry, and your brand culture. Once a quarter you offer a new line of watches. You sometimes run promotions. How would you advertise your newsletter to potential subscribers?

  1. Sign up for our daily coupons and updates about featured products
  2. Follow us to keep up with our weekly blog and hear about our latest designs
  3. Subscribe for our quarterly fashion update and a recap of the industry latest

Option 2 is the obvious choice here. No one buys watches on a daily basis, and given the modest size of your company, you will struggle to come up with enough valuable content to justify a daily email. Meanwhile, if you hold off till once a quarter, your subscribers are likely to lose interest. They’ll have forgotten they even asked for updates, and when yours come they may already have made their watch purchase.

But the important point here is that you’ve clearly communicated expectation to your subscribers. Once they sign up for a weekly newsletter, they’ll be looking for it in their inbox. If you don’t deliver in a timely manner, or if you start bombarding them with more than they asked for, you break that trust.

So, how often should you send an email newsletter?

Unless the contents are time-sensitive, send according to the rhythm with which you can produce valuable content. But don’t sent multiple pieces of quality content all at once.

The longer your newsletter is, the more likely it will go unread. So if you have four pieces of quality content a month, it’s better to put out four weekly emails with one content piece each than to do a monthly email with four content pieces.

And as a general rule of thumb, if you don’t have enough content to send out an e-newsletter once a month, don’t send one at all. By the time you get to quarterly content, it’s better to package that as an ebook and adopt a different promotional strategy.

As for daily: I have a couple pieces that land in my inbox every morning which I find worthwhile. But anything that makes the daily cut has a lot of competition for my time. That means that its value has to be even higher for it to not grow very old, very fast.

So as you determine your own strategy, base your schedule on the content you produce, its relevancy to your subscribers, and the expectations you have set. Follow up according to those expectations, and analyze your data for feedback. If you decide to switch from a monthly format to a weekly, be sure to let your readers know ahead of time.

And remember: e-newsletters are a quality over quantity platform every time. So keep the quality up, and have that govern your frequency.

Published 10/28/16 by Laura Lynch