Email newsletters are one of the best ways to connect with existing customers and draw in new customers, for a bunch of different reasons.
Underlying all of this, though, is a powerful assumption: that you’re providing your readers with value in your emails!
“Value” is a tricky concept. People refer to it all the time in books and articles, without really articulating what it means.
Unfortunately, that leads to a lot of misconceptions about what “value” is and is not.
A Simple Definition of Value
I would argue that on the simplest level, at least when it comes to email marketing, value means solving a problem that’s common to all of your customers or subscribers at no cost to them.
Notice the “at no cost to them” part. This is true even if you’re using your email newsletter purely as a lead-generation machine. That’s because by solving these problems for free, you’re building expertise in your field, and reciprocity, and all of those other things that a newsletter is good for when bringing in new business. At the core of it, all, you’re trying to make the subscriber think, “Wow! If this person/company can solve this problem for me so quickly and for FREE, then imagine what they’d do for me if I paid them?!”
Where Companies Go Wrong In Thinking About “Value”
In their email newsletters, a lot of companies assume that the value they’re providing is inherent in discounts and other “special offers.”
There are a bunch of problems with this way of thinking. Let’s take the two major pet goods big box stores as examples: Petco and PetSmart. I belong to both of these places’ loyalty programs, so multiple times per week, they’ll send email offers about “special discounts!” or “flash sales!” at their stores.
The only problem is that I go to Petco or Pet Smart maybe once a month or every other month for pet supplies. There’s a very small sliver of time where:
1) I need to get out and re-stock on pet supplies
2) Their emails happen to come in at that moment, and
3) For products that I happen to need. For example, my dog is spoiled rotten, and thus a picky eater. He’ll only eat Science Diet canned dog food. If Petco has a “33% off special flash sale on Nutro dog food!”, even if I’m looking for dog food, all it does is annoy me by filling my inbox with yet another piece of junk mail that automatically gets discarded.
The result? A lot of times, their “newsletters” come directly into my spam folder. At best, they’re under the “automatically archive” “Promotions” tab.
In the eyes of the company, they’re providing great value to someone with a need. “Need dog food? Here’s a coupon!”
The problem is, they’re not meeting the specific needs of the customer. They aren’t actually solving a problem for me. And odds are even if they would run a flash sale on Science Diet dog food,the enticement either:
1) Isn’t great enough for me to justify (or remember) my going to Petco to get it,
2) Is poorly-timed (i.e. I don’t need more dog food, or
3) (Most likely) is never seen by me, since I get in the habit of archiving their emails without reading them.
Of course, companies think, “Well, if we’re not hitting the customer at the right time, let’s send out more emails so that we’re more likely to hit the right time with them!” The so-called “shotgun approach.”
As they send out more offer emails, though, guess who’s getting increasingly annoyed with the “spamminess” of their offers, and going from hitting “archive” to hitting “spam?”
This happens in all kinds of industries, from pet supplies to window installers to golf courses. They automatically associate “price drop = value” without thinking of the issues of timing, frequency, and just plain old applicability to their customer base. Sure, offers might provide a short-term boost to their customer base, but in the long run, their list is going to suffer from “offer fatigue,” a nasty condition that’s tough to recover from outside of the hands of a capable professional.
Companies That Get It
If you’re a fan of going on cruises, I can’t recommend Cruise Critic’s newsletter enough. While they do send out offers in their newsletter (namely deals on cruises that I imagine they get a finder’s fee for passing along to consumers), their subject lines are things like “12 Things NOT to Do In Your Cruise Cabin,” “5 Things You Can’t Forget To Pack For Your Cruise,” and my personal favorite, “5 Ways to Get Free Drinks on a Cruise.”
Each of these articles is offered:
1) To help cruisers with common issues or problems they may face,
2) At regular intervals (once a week), and
3) Absolutely for free.
Like I said, yes, they likely are making money directly off of their newsletter. But I’ll also say I’m a lot more likely to click on “5 Ways to Get Free Drinks on a Cruise” than “Flash Sale: $599 7-Night Caribbean Cruise!”
What are some ways you can help your best customers out with problems that they regularly encounter? What kinds of expertise can you offer to make their lives easier? How can you get them to not only click through to your newsletter, but also want to do so each week? To get to the point where they’re eagerly anticipating the latest issue of your email newsletter so that you can, once again, help them out?
These are the basic questions that every business owner or marketing professional should ask themselves before starting an email newsletter to make it more successful. Hopefully, this article has provided you with some value that you can now pass on to your customers!
D.J. Gelner is a freelance writer and editor with extensive email newsletter experience. To contact him directly or inquire about a project, you can always reach him at email@example.com.