Distilling what people have written over the years about why they liked our newsletters, here’s my advice on how to write a successful company newsletter:
You first need to decide: is your newsletter only about selling things, or is it about building relationships with customers and a sense of community among them? Obviously, I favor the latter approach, and believe it’s a more effective sales tool than a purely commercial newsletter. Assuming you agree with me, the points below follow naturally.
The bulk of every edition has to be something other than a blatant sales pitch – most of your readers are not ready to open their wallets every time they open a newsletter. Give people information they value, and they will think of you kindly – and will remember you when they are ready to buy.
This doesn’t mean that you have to have a feature article in every edition – that’s nice to do, but can get expensive. But there’s likely other information that will be of interest, e.g. (in the case of software) announcements of new updates available, or useful new pages on your website.
The information you publish doesn’t have to be only about your own products. In the Roxio newsletters I published two articles on “Choosing a Digital Camera”. Digital cameras are related to CD-R only in the sense that people who own one likely own (or are thinking of buying) the other, and digital camera owners find CD-R a great way to store and share pictures. Nonetheless, these were among the most popular articles I ever published. Other popular articles had little or nothing to do with the day-to-day use of our software, e.g. Bob Starrett’s “The History of CD-R”.
Avoid publishing the usual corporate stuff (press releases about a new executive); unless you’re running a newsletter for investors, most of your subscribers are not interested. If you must, give a headline, a URL, and maybe the first few lines.
Tell your readers how your product will improve their lives, by letting them do things they couldn’t before, and have more fun. If you have lots to say on this topic, the product will sell itself. (Kathy Sierra later became my guru on creating passionate users.)
Don’t just tell them how to do it, but also why to do it.
Own and display a sense of humor in your writing. (Sorry, I don’t have any quick tips on how to grow a sense of humor!)
Keep the style informal, friendly, and warm. Pretend you’re “an old friend, who has some helpful tips to pass on.” However, stay on point – people like an informal tone, but they don’t want to read long rambles about what you ate for lunch or did last weekend (unless you’re a restaurant critic or travel writer).
Make sure that every email is signed by a real person, that the reply-to address actually goes to that person, and that she or he is willing and able to answer every subscriber who replies. Yes, answering every response will take a lot of time (I used to receive and respond to 400 emails for every newsletter sent out). But it’s a critical step: it lets people know that the company really is listening.
Make sure the rest of your subscribers also know that you’re listening. When you hear from a subscriber expanding, correcting, or asking for more information about a newsletter article, mention this in the next edition: “So-and-so asked for clarification on… Here’s the answer.” (Caveat: Be sure you ask so-and-so’s permission before you mention their name in a newsletter! Otherwise use the generic, e.g. “a subscriber wrote to ask…”)
Hearing from subscribers in this way is also helpful to you, the writer/editor – subscribers have great ideas for future articles!
When I stopped writing the newsletters, I said goodbye. And that got some amazing reactions.