If you’re like me, your inbox is so full of messages that you have to deal with that you’re probably not interested in reading a bunch of newsletters. Over the years I’ve managed to sign up for hundreds of newsletters and from time to time I cull the list. Lately I’ve just starting directing the newsletters to a folder that I review when I have a few spare hours – which doesn’t happen often enough.
And as a B2B marketer, that worries me. I know how important it is for companies to send valuable content directly to customers or potential customers. I know that newsletters are a good way to show thought leadership and engage readers, and to keep a company on prospects’ radar screens.
But if my behavior is anything like the general B2B buying population, I need to make sure that my newsletter at least makes it to the ‘read at a later date’ folder rather than getting immediately deleted. And to do that, I need to provide invaluable content – something readers find relevant, actionable, and easy to digest.
Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done. Here are three practical ways to develop content your readers will actually read:
1. The first technique is very easy. Generate a list of about 20 topics and then have a round-table of your customer-facing staff (sales, customer service) rate that topics. Because these folks talk with customers every day they have a decent handle on what’s top of mind for customers. They know what questions they get asked and they know what is selling right now. This process won’t help you identify the ‘unconscious needs’ of customers (the stuff customers need but don’t know they need) - but at least you’ll get a reasonable priority list of the conscious needs in a quick and dirty way.
2. The second technique is similar but a little more involved. It’s to do the same process but have a customer advisory panel rate the topics. A customer advisory panels usually consists of about 10 customers that you have a good relationship with and that represent your full customer base. Send each customer a personalized ask and have them rate the topics. Most important - make it dead easy for them! The process should take 3 minutes of their time – you’re looking for a gut reaction to the topics – if they received your newsletter, what topics would they be interested in reading?
3. The third technique is testing. It’s much more involved than the other two techniques, but is the most reliable. Testing means trying different aspects of your newsletter, measuring what gets the best response, and making changes accordingly. Testing is not a one-time affair. You have to do it continually, and for that reason it isn’t simple for a company to execute. If your newsletter goes out quarterly and it’s handled by a staff-member on a part-time basis, testing will be difficult for you to execute. If that is the case, just stick with method 1 or 2.
If you are able to test, here are a few things to consider testing in your next campaign:
a) Test your subject line – this is probably the simplest test you can do. Split your contact list 50/50 and send out the same email with two different subject lines. Take a look at your stats afterwards to see which kind of subject line worked best.
b) Test your newsletter length – Perhaps your readers want snippets of content as opposed to long paragraphs. Again, splitting your contact list in half, send one newsletter with a scaled down version of the other and see what happens.
c) Test the frequency of your newsletter – Have you been sending newsletters every quarter? Perhaps that isn’t enough to keep your company top-of-mind. Try increasing the frequency to see if you notice your click-throughs increasing or perhaps you see a change in unsubscribes.
d) Test the type of content in your newsletter – send two different versions of your newsletter or try sending two newsletters with different types of articles and check to see if you notice more click-throughs with one compared to the other.
Newsletters are a great way to stay on prospects’ radar screens and demonstrate thought leadership. Remember that the key to success with B2B newsletters is not simply to do them, it’s to do them well. And ‘well’ means content that your readers find valuable. Making the extra effort to assess what content is most appealing to your target audience will pay off in higher click-throughs and a growing subscriber base.