Publish or Perish: Enewsletters Push Business Communication Forward

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Unless you are in the publishing business, your company probably doesn't consider itself a content creator—and why should it?

You may have departments that write marketing and sales collateral, documentation, and even annual reports; but beyond that, you just aren't terribly likely to produce a publication for regular distribution to customers or suppliers. However, the role of content producer is changing with the evolution of digital content distribution options, especially given the growing popularity of the enewsletter as a business-communication method.

This means that, more and more, companies must learn how to regularly produce an enewsletter (newsletters delivered via email), which requires not only finding ways to generate content, but also learning to handle other aspects of enewsletter production including layout, delivery, list management, analysis, and archiving. For most companies, this is an entirely new undertaking and it often requires the help of an outside firm to provide direction and services.

Electronic content delivery provides a way for companies to communicate with their customers or distributors on a scheduled basis and, in the business-to-business arena, it is becoming increasingly important to find ways to maintain strong ties that build brand loyalty and solidify relationships. Enewsletters provide these things, but they also offer the unique opportunity to track what interests readers (and what doesn't). If you don't do it well, however, there is also the danger that your enewsletter could be perceived as Spam either by the reader or by the target company's email filtering system. Here, we take a look at the enewsletter and offer insight and expertise to help leverage its growing importance as a B2B marketing and communications tool.

Attention Getting
Kathleen Goodwin, CEO of imakenews. com—a firm that helps company create, produce, and distribute enewsletters—says, "Companies are becoming their own publishers because traditional forms of advertising are becoming less effective." She points to examples like TiVo, which allows viewers to bypass commercials, and pop-up ad blockers for Internet browsers. Therefore, marketers are looking past what she calls "interrupt advertising" for other ways to interact with customers, and the enewsletter provides a way to inform and educate, as well as a way to build brand awareness.

According to a report called Email Newsletter Usability by Amy Stover and Jakob Nielsen of the Nielsen Norman Group, a firm that helps companies deal with usability issues, "Newsletters feel personal because they arrive in your inbox; you have an ongoing relationship with them. In contrast, Web sites are things you glance at when you need to get something done or find the answer to a specific question."

Goodwin points out that enewsletters also give companies the ability to deliver a message to their customers and get the message out more quickly than is possible in print. She uses one of her customers, Rubbermaid Commercial Products, as an example. Each time they release a new product, they need to disseminate product information to their distribution channel. Since they began using enewsletters, this information gets out to the channel much faster than they could have done it in print, and it drives their distributors back to the Rubbermaid Web site for additional information—an added benefit of using enewsletter as the content delivery method.

Goodwin warns any business that wants to produce an enewsletter that they need to commit to publishing on a regular schedule. Becoming an epublisher, according to Goodwin, takes time and commitment. She says, "If you're not willing to invest the time, don't do it."

Where's the Content?
After you commit to the idea of publishing a newsletter, you have to decide where the content will come from, but more importantly, you need to make sure the content is relevant to your targeted readership. Adam Southam, chairman and CEO of Reshare Corporation, a software company geared toward channel/partner relationship management, says, "If the content is not good and relevant, then enewsletters can do more harm than good." The Nielsen Norman report backs this up saying, "The positive emotional aspect of newsletters is that they can create much more of a bond between user and company than a Web site can. The negative aspect is that usability problems have much stronger impact on the customer relationship than they normally do."

Therefore, choosing the right content requires some consideration. There are several ways to generate content including producing your own content in-house, hiring freelancers, using a clipping service, or even pointing to articles on the Web that are relevant to your customer base. Reshare's Southam says that one of his customers, a furniture supplier, uses the enewsletter to build brand awareness and customer loyalty. Each issue includes topics germane to furniture retailers, but not all are based on one manufacturer. In this model, says Southam, the enewsletter is perceived as a service with no financial reciprocity. The company maintains an image as a "big picture thinker." We're bringing you this information to help you out in business. Southam says, "We have a number of clients using this strategy and seeing loyalty increase."

Jakob Nielsen, principal at Nielsen Norman Group and a usability expert, says that many companies outsource their writing, and that it's important, if a company hires a freelancer, to make sure they understand online writing styles. He also says, "Companies need to recognize their role as a content producers and build in-house expertise."

Goodwin from imakenews.com's points out that many people inside an organization, yet outside of marketing, have good information to contribute to an enewsletter. She thinks it's important to tap a number of people across the organization who can take a look at the product in different usage contexts. Goodwin says, "It's even better when you have someone outside the organization tell your story." Her company also offers a large database of articles for use by imakenews.com clients. Goodwin says that, in the end, finding the right mix of people and content sources is really trial and error.

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