An interview with email newsletter pro Michael Katz
At Constant Contact, e-newsletter expert Michael Katz is something of a legend. I may be overstating it a bit, but it's true that several of our executives mention Michael's newsletter often as an excellent example of compelling content.
Michael also uses his newsletter skills on behalf of the clients of his business, Blue Penguin Development. In our interview, he shares some of the same pearls of wisdom with us that he does with his clients.
Why are you so passionate about email newsletters?
I stumbled onto the power of e-newsletters by accident. In 2000, I was writing a newsletter that went to about 30 people. After a little while, I noticed that people I'd never heard of were asking to be added to the list. I also started getting requests from readers to help them develop a newsletter for their own client base. Eventually I switched to doing email newsletters exclusively.
What I love about e-newsletters is how well this one tool covers so much marketing ground. A newsletter keeps you in front of clients, prospects, and colleagues; gives you a platform for sharing your focus and perspective; and helps you clarify your point of view. On top of that, it's easily forwarded, easily archived, interactive, and has almost zero variable cost. For a small company, a newsletter all by itself can serve as a powerful marketing program.
What do email newsletters have the potential to accomplish?
They can help you break through the clutter so your company stands out in a memorable way. A newsletter is a way for those who read it to check you out and get a feel for you and your company. In this way, the newsletter is a proxy for an ongoing relationship. It's word of mouth on a large scale.
What are the top three things to keep in mind when creating an e-newsletter?
Number one: Content is what matters most. It's no longer a technical challenge to publish a newsletter. The challenge is getting someone to stop what they're doing and read what you have to say. Sending content that the reader values is the only way to gain permission to stay in the inbox.
Number two: You have to stay focused. It's tempting to cover lots of topics and involve lots of voices within the company. That's a mistake. If you want to stand out as the publisher of essential information, you need to write to a specific target with a narrow topic focus.
And number three: Think of publishing a newsletter like exercising. It only works if you keep doing it. The good news is if you can make it a part of your life, after a while it gets both easier and more effective. So commit to a monthly schedule and a year of publishing.
What are some common mistakes people make in their newsletters?
The most common mistake is writing too much about themselves, what I like to call a "Me-Newsletter." All about what we're doing and who we're working with and why we're so wonderful. It may be true, but your readers don't really care. I recommend companies think of their newsletter as a magazine: It's about something in particular and it's written for a specific target.
The other common mistake is taking all the personality out of the writing in an attempt to sound "professional." I'm not against being professional, but it tends to be dry and boring. Drop the jargon, write in the first person, and talk about the things you really believe in.
What types of information do you advise your clients to include in their newsletters?
Useful information that your target audience values. What do you know that I need? If you are a service organization, develop a reputation first as someone with a useful and interesting perspective and when there's a need you can fill, the phone will ring.
If you are a retailer, help me become a better consumer of what you sell. Give me your insider's perspective in an interesting, informative way. Don't worry about selling me on buying your stuff; teach me. The funny thing is, I'll buy more of your stuff when you do that.
Coming up with content can be a challenge. What do you do to make it easier?
Use your own experiences. If you know enough to run a business in a given industry, you have a lifetime of content. Those who buy your products and services will always be novices, so use that gap between your expertise and my interest in learning more.
Are there any secrets you can share with our readers to help them find greater success with their email newsletters?
The bottom line is that this tool only works to the extent the recipients want what you have to say. If you can develop a reputation as a source of useful, interesting, unbiased information within your area of expertise, you'll expand readership and your customer base too.