The Power of Newsletters

2-2016_NewslettersBy Richard Rutigliano, PriMedia Inc.

With all the buzz in the air these days about social media and driving website traffic, it is easy to overlook one of the most valuable communications tools in the home comfort arsenal: the humble company newsletter.

The printed newsletter might seem like a dinosaur in this era of instantaneous, electronic communications and search engine optimization, but nothing could be further from the truth. When used correctly it remains by far the most effective tool in the arsenal for customer retention and cross-selling. In fact, the ascendance of Web-based communications has served to make the printed newsletter more cost effective than ever.

Newsletter publishing delivers great ROI because the benefits align so effectively with the strategies of many home comfort providers. Virtually any company that is looking to increase profit per account and customer retention stands to benefit from using newsletters effectively. Social media is important but cannot possibly support retention and cross-sales the way a great newsletter does.

Please note the emphasis I am placing on using newsletters well. I have seen many companies decline to publish newsletters because (a) they did not see the return on investment or (b) they were unsatisfied with the results of newsletters they had sent. To get the best results, a company must work closely with their marketing agency to ensure that the newsletter format and content align optimally with the company’s priorities and strategies. Done right, newsletters will feed your bottom line most effectively.

The cost of newsletter publishing can appear formidable, but it is time to re-examine the true costs in light of today’s content marketing priorities. Much of the expense of newsletters is in content development. By repurposing newsletter articles as website content, blog posts, sponsored Facebook posts and e-mail blasts, you extend the value and effectively reduce the real cost of the newsletter publishing.

Furthermore, the quality of your content matters a lot in 2016, so an approach of creating excellent content once and then tweaking it for different channels will increase the return on your marketing spend.

Shouldn’t We Go Electronic?
Many marketers have asked whether they can dispense with the printed newsletter in favor of online publishing. Ninety-nine times out of one hundred, the answer is an unequivocal “no,” and here’s why. The printed newsletter creates a chance to get a carefully crafted message in front of every single current customer. That is impressive value that no online product can match.

The typical follow-up question is whether customers actually read newsletters. This brings us to one of the most important reasons to create great newsletters. If the newsletter is appealing to the eye, customers will at least give it a look. And if the articles are well written and interesting, many customers will engage with the newsletter, spend some time reading it, and, be inspired to act on your suggestions.

What this all means is that newsletters have great reach within your base with excellent opportunity to promote the company’s goals. When considered in that light, the cost factors are less pressing. What is it really worth to communicate your best messages with an assurance of optimum impressions? Many companies find that the economics make great sense, particularly when they plan to repurpose the content in other channels.

If you are publishing newsletters in 2016, it is vital to make a strong commitment to quality. (This holds true for web design, advertising, and most marketing projects – for many of the same reasons.) Consider the various deliverables that you need from a newsletter and how quality affects them.
• Account retention: Many of the best full-service customers truly want to do business with companies they love. Energy marketers are commodity resellers and are at constant risk of being indistinguishable from their competitors. You must believe in relationships and soft values, or you’ll struggle to retain the loyalty of customers who follow their hearts – as a lot of the best customers do. Think of all the times you saved an account with just a few kind words, and recognize that a newsletter is an opportunity to show your best side to a huge chunk of your customer base. That is the number one reason that so many successful companies use newsletters as a core marketing tool. Once you understand that you need your newsletter to be as congenial and helpful as your best CSR, it is easy to see that quality is essential. You need to come across as intelligent, helpful, informative and sincere, and that’s how a great newsletter makes you look.
• Relationship building: Many marketers are doing more for their customers in order to leverage existing value and create new profit centers. The company newsletter can provide essential support for these efforts by raising awareness and promoting the value of a broader relationship.
• Website promotion: As energy marketers improve their websites and cater to rising expectations with powerful self-service applications, they need to reap the benefits by driving customer traffic to the site. Highlight your website and other online assets in the newsletter so customers know to take advantage of digital conveniences. Then make your website “backward compatible” by posting copies of your print newsletters online in an accessible digital format.
• Fuel sales: Natural gas is losing its advantages, while heating oil is getting cheaper and cleaner. The newsletter is a great vehicle for raising awareness and disabusing customers of bogus natural gas mythology.
• Cross selling: As companies roll out new products and services, current customers are often their best prospects. The company newsletter is where you introduce these services and get in the door by providing incentives such as coupons.
• Lead generation: The newsletter is a great vehicle for motivating customers to upgrade equipment. Discuss the many benefits that new equipment can deliver and provide an easy-to-use mechanism for customers to signal their interest in learning more.
• Customer reviews: As I discussed in December 2015 (http://oilandenergyonline.com/use-online-reviews-and-testimonials-to-your-advantage/), companies need to get the praise of their satisfied customers published online. Use the newsletter to talk up the value you deliver and encourage customers to write you up in testimonials and online reviews. Share a recent rave to show how your company exceeded expectations for a satisfied customer.
• Recruitment: A newsletter that represents the company well can be as attractive to prospects as it is to customers. Order extra copies and use them for new customer outreach.

Newsletters can help you in so many ways, and the trick is to truly support your company’s unique goals. This is easier than you might think: You just have to do a few things right at critical junctures so that your marketing agency can give you exactly what you need, when you need it. Follow these six steps, and you’ll publish newsletters that deliver the results you want.
1. Get started early. It is never too soon to contract with an agency and plan your newsletter schedule. By starting early you beat the rush and avoid getting caught in a waiting line. When your agency says it’s time to plan your content, get back to them right away, and don’t just simply pick your topics from a list, even if the topics seem great. At PriMedia, we send those lists to help you plan, not to box you in to preconceived ideas. (See No. 2.)
2. Identify your goals and plan accordingly. To get the most value from your newsletter, talk with your agency and formulate a content plan that aligns with current goals and provides maximum support. Identify the customer actions that have the most value to you this year, and use the newsletter to elicit exactly the results you want.
3. Promote your company values proactively. Don’t overlook the “soft deliverables,” such as helping customers appreciate what a great company you are. Many marketers mistakenly think that doing good work is enough, but that is simply untrue. You owe it yourself and your team to tell your base what you stand for: trust, going the extra mile, anticipating customers’ needs, and the other attributes that customers love. It makes no sense to pour heart and soul into satisfying the neediest customers and then expect the “silent majority” to appreciate the value. You walk the walk every day, and you ought to talk the talk every now and then too. A thoughtful “message from the president” is the perfect time and place.
4. Break the mold. Work with your agency to create a bold, purposeful newsletter that really makes a point. Consider a tightly focused special edition on a timely topic such as change in the oil market; everything you ever wanted to know about heat pumps; or the technology your company uses to improve business processes. It’s your name on the newsletter. Make it bold and interesting. Home comfort and energy usage are more interesting to homeowners than you might think. They want their comfort provider to inform them and guide them.
5. Mind your tone. Consumers are showing a decided preference for straightforwardness in company communications. Use most of your newsletter articles to inform them about core topics such as energy prices, energy efficiency and conservation. Don’t pull back from promoting new products and services, but be careful to cater to evolving tastes by drawing a clear line between information and promotion. Consider grouping promotional articles on one page labeled “Company Promotions” or “Purchases to Consider.”
6. Balance print and electronic distribution. Some customers have a strong aversion to printed communications, and it is vital to respect their wishes. If you are mailing print versions to all customers, include an article telling them how they can opt out of printed communications. Be prepared to email a link to an online PDF version of your newsletter to all customers who have requested paperless communications. Enable customers to review and update their print/paperless preferences in their online accounts.

Before closing the book on this topic, let’s look at how you can extend the value that you are creating when you develop high-quality newsletter content. Most of the articles you create can find second and third lives online. The message from the president can make a good article on the website or a blog post that you promote on social media. A special edition on energy prices or heat pumps can become a special section on the website with its own landing page promoted through social media and pay-per-click advertising. Plan to repurpose every article online at least once.

High-quality content has a place in every marketing plan, as does a high-quality newsletter. Merge the two in 2016 to give your sales team the support it needs while maximizing value on your marketing spend.

If you’re looking to take your business to new heights this year, PriMedia is ready to help. Please give me a call at 800-796-3342 or email me at rrutigliano@primediany.com.

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