Marketing Alert: Seven Ways to Pass an E-Newsletter Exam

By Howard Rauch

Most editors are knocking themselves out facing the dual challenge of creating great content for websites and printed media. But be warned: When it comes to electronic media, you must prepare for the eventuality of a competitive analysis attack.

How will you respond to opposition claims that their website is clearly superior? Do you already conduct regular electronic media strengths/weaknesses reviews? If snafus in your content delivery are detected, do you remedy them promptly?

I’ve been thinking more often about stuff like this since I began handling e-newsletter/website review projects. My evaluation process usually begins with a check of how publications drive readers to their websites. Among other things, it’s surprising to find magazines that don’t even include an “on the web” contents page.

The next phase – which is where the rest of this column is focused – is e-newsletter evaluation. As a former newsletter editor, I am especially vexed about one aspect of today’s typical electronic approach. That is . . . most e-newsletters function as a contents page for the website. There is very little independent news value readers can take away without going further. In terms of competitive comparisons, we need to think about how existing information value can be enhanced.

Anyway, here is a list of seven e-newsletter factors that could prove burdensome if your competitors have the edge. In the future, I expect my list to swell to at least 25 items.

1. Dedicated editorial webstaff. This should be the top concern. It’s impressive for competitors to emphasize that advantage if it exists.

2. Evidence of enterprise. One way to get this point across is by identifying several articles that are web exclusives. Linking to newspaper articles or copies of corporate press announcements, while informative, is not the best sign of enterprise.

3. Informative news previews. Several e-newsletters simply list a bunch of headlines. Instead, each head should be accompanied by at least a three- or four-line blurb.

4. Content variety. Instead of a total news item focus, provide a longer preview of a current blog. Include interesting excerpts from current reader forums. Run a problem/solution contest; advise visitors that winners’ names will be posted in an upcoming issue of the magazine.

5. Tightly edited copy. Blurbs linking to news articles that consist of a parade of 30- or 40-word sentences won’t do. In one recent e-newsletter analysis involving 20 news articles, almost half of the sentences used ran beyond 30 words; several were in the 40-50 range.

6. No junk allowed. Most e-newsletter editors understand that featured news blurbs should link to high-value, in-depth website articles. But sometimes less than best-of-show items sneak through. For instance, be wary of allowing three-sentence newsletter blurbs that link to “full” articles (sometimes of a puffy nature) consisting of four or five sentences.

7. Emphasize statistical expertise. If your competition rarely publishes original research, your e-newsletter is an important way to exploit that shortfall. Perhaps you can even include occasional self-contained data summaries – no need to click for additional details.

Whether or not you concur with the above suggestions is incidental. The important thing – as in any competitive analysis review – is that you should create and regularly apply an evaluation system that can be quantified.

Howard Rauch is president of Editorial Solutions Inc., a consultancy focusing on B2B magazines. Rauch is the 2002 recipient of ASBPE’s Lifetime Achievement Award. You can contact him directly at howard@editsol.com.

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