E-mail newsletters: Nine rules for success

By Jeff Thorsteinson | June 16, 2006 | Last updated on June 16, 2006
6 min read

(June 2006) Quick question: how many e-mail newsletters do you find in your inbox an average week? If you’re like most advisors, you probably receive several, some of which you subscribe to, and some which find their way into your inbox one way or another.

Now, think of all those newsletters for a moment — how many do you actually read?

You see, there’s a problem with the way most businesses currently use e-mail newsletters. Most of them are hard to read. Many are light, fluffy, with very little in the way of useful information. Most are bogged down with promotional material. More than a few are closer to spam than an actual newsletter.

If you’re going to take the time to create an e-mail newsletter, it makes sense to do it right. In a lot of ways, an e-mail newsletter is a lot like a printed newsletter; many of the tips for creating a great printed newsletter can be applied to a newsletter sent via e-mail (For tips on how to create a power newsletter, please click here.) At the same time, e-mail is a medium that has some unique rules all its own. Here are nine of them:

1. Get the list right First things first: the best newsletter in the world isn’t worth much if it’s sent to the wrong people. Before you do anything else, take the time to prune and trim your list of e-mail recipients. That list should consist of three distinct groups:

(a) Clients — active clients (b) Prospects — pre-screened, pre-qualified prospects you’d like to become clients (c) Centres of influence — members of your professional network and other important persons in the community who could refer clients to you.

Too many advisors use e-mail as a "cold calling" medium, sending their e-mail newsletter to whatever addresses they have in their database in an effort to get their name in front of as many eyeballs as possible. I think this is a self-defeating strategy: as your newsletter clutters the inboxes of those who don’t want it, your brand will generate ill will and negative attention.

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2. Understand your purpose There are several possible purposes of your e-mail newsletter. I’ve listed some of them below, in order of importance:

(a) drive users to your website (b) build brand awareness (c) keep in contact with existing clients (d) provide valuable useful information to users (e) inform clients, prospects, and centres of influence of time-sensitive information and events (f) develop "top-of-mind" awareness with centres of influence (g) promote services and products you sell

Note the position of selling and promotion here — last on the list. Please remember: your newsletter is a long-term brand building tool, not a short-term sales piece.

3. Create a publication schedule Consistency counts when it comes to marketing. For this reason, it’s usually a good idea to map out a year-long newsletter schedule, and assign team members to completing newsletter related tasks well in advance. Better yet, create several issues of your newsletter in advance, and store them on your hard drive. Don’t worry about missing out on current events — you can always change it at the last minute.

4. Select relevant content Content is the key to a successful e-mail newsletter. The strength of that content will depend on how relevant it is to your users. Of course, it’s sometimes hard to know what a user will find relevant or not, so here’s a simple test that can make the job easier. Before you finalize the content of your next e-mail, ask yourself: Will the content be useful enough that the user will save it and keep it on their computer? If your answer is yes, then you’re on the right track.

By no means does all that content have to be financial. In fact, some of the most successful e-mail newsletters from financial advisors contain a section of financial content, followed by a section of non-financial content. It’s a great way to shift the focus to a more human side of your business.

For tips 5 through 9 please go to page 2

5. Make it scannable E-mail is what I call a "scanning" medium: you scan it quickly rather than read it thoroughly. Keep this in mind when constructing your newsletter. Structure your content to work with e-mail’s scannability: give users short snippets of lengthier articles — maybe a sentence or two, maybe only a brief headline. Then, at the end of the snippet, include a link that takes the user to the full text of the article, which resides on your website. This will help users quickly scan through your newsletter, without the feeling they are wasting their time.

6.Text vs. HTML Some people believe text-based e-mail newsletters are a good idea — they are quicker to read, quicker to upload onto a user’s computer, and are less likely to be caught in anti-spam software. I admit, there is some merit to those arguments. But at the end of the day, a newsletter that utilizes attractively designed images (rendered via HTML, the programming language of the world wide web) is worth the extra effort. A professionally designed masthead can reinforce your brand image and grab the reader’s attention. Take the time and have your newsletter layout designed by someone with an eye for design. The effort will usually pay for itself in click-throughs.

7. Don’t "spamify" it A common problem I see with advisor e-mail newsletters: too much promotion, not enough information. The best newsletters serve as a valuable resource for users, supplying them with interesting information on topics that are truly relevant. They don’t bog the reader down with advertisements or self-promotional material. Sure, one or two ads or self-promotional snippets is acceptable. But be warned: if your newsletter reads like spam, it will be deleted quickly, and your brand and professional reputation will be deleted along with it.

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8. Include contact information I’m always surprised by how many e-mail newsletters I see that don’t have an easy way of contacting the publisher. Ideally, you’ll want to include multiple points of contact: a phone number, an e-mail address, a "subscribe to this newsletter" button. It’s a good idea to include this information in the masthead (the first thing the user sees) as well as at the bottom of the newsletter.

9. Include an "unsubscribe" button Finally, always be courteous to your e-mail recipients: include an "unsubscribe" button at the bottom of the e-mail, so users can "opt out" of your e-mail list. It’s little touches like this that communicate respect for the user’s time and privacy.

As easy as it is to create, an e-mail newsletter is not something that should be thrown together without thinking about the strategy behind it. If you publish an e-mail newsletter for your practice, commit to making it better by following the nine rules above. It could make your newsletter into the most powerful marketing tool you’ve ever used.

Jeff Thorsteinson is the creator of the YouFoundation, an organization that helps investment advisors advisors build world-class practices through innovative concepts, tools, and systems since 1993. With over 3,000 investment advisor marketing projects and business cases behind him, Jeff has become a well respected speaker in the industry and over the last 3 years, delivered his practice-building programs to thousands of financial advisors throughout Canada. Contact strategicadvisor@youfoundation.com or 1 800-223-9332, ext. 1, for more information about YouFoundation, or visit the website at www.youfoundation.com.


Jeff Thorsteinson