Monday, May 29, 2006

The Pros and Cons of Newsletters

For the most part, I'm a fan of business newsletters. They can be a great tool for businesses to communicate information to all sorts of groups, including employees, clients, customers, peers. (In a future posting I'll talk about crafting newsletters.)

Deciding whether to have a newsletter
In the old days (before digital publishing), the decision of whether to do a newsletter was taken very seriously. The decision was significant because the cost of creating a newsletter was fairly high in terms of the production costs (set-up and printing), as well as mailing costs -- not to mention the time and energy necessary to write the copy.

Desktop publishing has revolutionized the newsletter business, reducing the cost and difficulty of creating newsletters, while e-mail and the Internet have made the cost of distributing newsletters pretty much a non-issue.

But, these benefits have also meant that businesses are plunging into newsletters without much thought. That's a bad thing, I think.

Not Just a Vehicle for being "Top of Mind"
One of my main gripes about newsletters is that too often they are "content light" -- if not content void. Many businesses use newsletters -- especially electronic ones -- as simply a way of staying in touch with clients or customers in an effort to stay "top of mind" (as the marketing term is used).

You know the type of newsletter I mean -- typically you get them after you've swapped business cards at some function and the next thing you know, you've been added to some company's e-mail list. Though I still grapple with the etiquette of taking the liberty of sending someone a newsletter just because they gave you their business card, I have less of a problem with it if the information sent at least provides some useful content. (Of course, I'm assuming the recipient is given the opportunity to opt out of future mailings.)

No matter what you call it, a communication that consists only of "news" of a company's latest product or service is an advertisement. To put it another way -- if it's the kind of information that could just as easily be placed in a banner ad on a web site -- it's not content worthy of being called newsletter information.

Creating Goodwill vs. Annoying
The purpose of a newsletter should be to create goodwill between the business and the reader. One of the best ways of fostering goodwill is to provide useful, timely information. The great thing about doing so is you'll also be, in effect, advertising your business. But, you won't be running the risk of annoying people or turning them off, or away.

The simplest way of determining what's appropriate for inclusion in such communications is to remember that the name says it all: newsletter. And, the best way to differentiate yourself from the sea of business newsletters people are flooded with these days is to offer the reader substantive information. If you don't, you risk alienating the very people you're hoping to impress.


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