In our email-saturated environment, your subscribers will lose interest fast in your email messages if the only message they get from your newsletter is “Buy me!” That’s what all the other commercial email, spam and permission alike, is saying as it clutters up the inbox.
“Come join us” invites your most enthusiastic shoppers to become a part of a wider group of experts, willing to share information, tips, and advice, maybe even to brag about how they use your products.
A newsletter that gives its subscribers many ways to interact with you and the product is one that they will anticipate and welcome. By extension, they’ll find more value in it, spend more time reading it and ultimately buy more from you through it.
Look at your newsletter, and count up the ways your readers can interact with you. And, don’t count your unsubscribe link. Instead, look for any way that you offer readers to get involved with the newsletter, your products or your company. If you found only one, or even none, then check out these strategies below for ideas on how to add more ways for your readers to interact with your emails.
Ten Strategies to Build Reader Engagement
Great emails find a balance among interactive content, entertainment value and purchase behavior. However, not every email message needs to follow this content-heavy format, nor does every reader seek it out.
Still, you should strive to add a little value to each email you send, whether it’s your regular customer newsletter, a one-off sales announcement, company news, or transactional emails such as subscription, registration and order confirmations or updates.
1. Add more channels to collect feedback.
You should already have at least one Web link and an email contact address in every email you send (along with someone on your end monitoring those locations in order to reply in one business day or less), as well as postal and telephone data. But, the more, the better.
Some creative avenues for feedback:
Short surveys: One-question pop quizzes relating to your product or market niche rather than statistically valid queries. Intro the quiz in the newsletter, then link to the actual quiz on your site. Use a quiz module that shows a running vote total.
Perennially good topics: Ask how to improve the newsletter or Web site; solicit new product ideas; ask how a product solved a problem or improved the user’s life. Publish good replies in the next issue.
Spotlight a useful or noteworthy question or comment chosen from your feedback. Offer a small prize appropriate to your product line or publication for the question that gets picked.
2. Tell your story.
Everyone likes to peek behind the curtain to see how the company works and who the people are behind the email addresses or the telephone voice. Add a little storytelling to your newsletter as appropriate.
The company picture: Launch new products, announce news or highlight email-only peeks into company operations, especially fun facts, history, personnel changes and the like.
Employee spotlight: Introduce employees who are either on the hotseat all the time, such as a customer-service rep or product manager, or those who work far from the bright lights but have relevant comments, such as a tip for negotiating your Web site or their favorite products.
3. Give your newsletter a personality.
This isn’t the same as personalization, where you mail-merge your subscriber’s name into the subject line or Dear Whoever line in the message body.
If your newsletter were a person, would it be male or female, shy or smart-alecky, a serious authority or the fun guy at the desk next to you who’s always working an angle? It should reflect either your customer base as it is or as it would like to be.
Once you know that, you can adopt a distinctive tone and personality that guides your copywriting and topic selections. This is mainly a newsletter initiative, although you can continue it in broad terms through all of your email.
4. Add customer reviews or publish the best recommendations.
This one can be tricky, because you risk customers filing negative comments along with the glowing ones. To counter that, pick the most useful of your good comments and feature them in a product spotlight, on your site and in your emails. Publish and promote the link to your review site to encourage readers to file their own comments.
5. Get blogging!
Got a blog? Link to it. Also, create a blog just for your customers and subscribers, and publish a good comment in the newsletter.
Avoid the gushy posts; they’ll sound phony. Instead, choose anecdotes or comments that highlight problem-solving or premium quality or praises an employee. If one post generates a lot of good comments (no flame wars!), publish those to keep the conversation going.
6. Create mini-sites around specific topics or seasons, and populate them with reader-generated content.
Be clear that the content comes from readers. Highlight the link to the form or email address where readers can send their content. Possible topics:
Readers’ pictures showing how they use your products or adopted your content for their own use.
Seasonal recipes and anecdotes.
Their favorite products.
Feedback on these and other topics.
7. Add video content to your Web site and link to it from your newsletter.
Also, patrol video-sharing sites like YouTube and promote any that relate. Promote the link and provide detailed instructions on how to upload content.
8. Add a small bit of editorial content to your commercial email messages (not transactional emails).
This could be the reader-generated content we saw earlier in this article, or something you write to bring the company closer to your subscribers, such as an editor’s note, inspirational quote or reader comment.
But, proceed carefully. If your sales messages previously have taken the hard-sell route, introduce the content gradually and watch your feedback addresses and delivery reports to see if people love or hate your new approach. After all, you may be taking a much different course from what your readers want.
9. Give away a prize in each issue and then spotlight the winner.
And not just any prize either, but something you know your readership would want, either tied to your regular promotion, a new product introduction, a paid download, a subscription or the like. So, no free iPods unless your newsletter caters to Mac fanatics, and then make it an upgraded version.
Don’t stop there. Feature the winner in your next newsletter to double the exposure and interest for the winner. Don’t just run the name but include a fact, tip, quote or similar item to promote your newsletter’s value.
10. Post job openings.
Are you a Fortune 500 company? One of the fastest-growing companies in your area? Is business booming and product flying off the shelves? Every company needs product advocates, particularly employees who use the products and services, and can evangelize effectively.
As important as it is to build value by making your readers active participants, you do need to watch out for four big traps:
Keep it relevant.
Anything you add must relate to your business, goals or newsletter topic. Don’t just stick in a joke of the day or a trivia fact to fill space. Also, remember what your message is supposed to do. If your standard email message is a deal of the day, or you send three times a week or more often, keep the content short. On the other hand, if you contact subscribers weekly or less often, your added content might well give your newsletter more shelf life.
Keep it short.
Remember, even your best customers might be pressed for time. Add in content gradually, and survey readers to see how your enhanced version is going over. If you aren’t seeing upticks in the metrics you most want to improve, hold off and reassess.
Once you change your format, commit to it.
Adding editorial content and features to a sales message will require time and money, two resources that often are in short supply for email marketers. The time comes in researching, writing and producing the additional newsletter copy. The money comes in paying that person or staff people.
A well-known retailer used to publish a stellar consumer newsletter for its direct line of outdoor gear, business-casual clothing and sportswear. One outstanding feature was a story that didn’t always push products but told stories on topics subscribers might be interested in or capitalized on the company’s rural Wisconsin location and sensibility. It also individualized each message with offers tied to buying history.
But the focus shifted during corporate restructuring. The writer who produced the content was let go, and content reduced to product promotions. Although it’s still nicely done, it has lost the features that made it a must-read.
Do readers want it as much as you do?
Test and retest before you launch a major change. Survey a sample of your newsletter base for reactions and suggestions.
Then, when you go live with your new format, scrutinize your feedback emails and watch your delivery reports, in case you start generating more spam complaints and unsubscribes. Don’t pull back immediately, but listen carefully to what your readers will tell you.
Changing your newsletter format can be tricky, and it will require a greater time and money commitment. But if you keep the content relevant and include readers at every turn, you will most likely deliver messages with greater value for them. That, in turn, can help you recover your costs with more sales and lower address turnover.