By Michele Linn published August 23, 2010

Content Marketing Group Therapy: What Suggestions Do You Have for This eNewsletter?

Several weeks ago, Joe and I received an email from Graham Kilshaw from Interference Technology. He believes in the power of content marketing and had recently launched an eNewsletter (titled the EMC Business Bulletin) to educate his prospects. The problem was that he wasn’t getting the results he expected.

As content marketers, we’ve all faced this same issue: We want to create content that is effective, but how do we do that? Graham offered to use his eNewsletter as a learning experience for the CMI community.

The premise is simple: He’ll share what he is doing with his newsletter and the results he is having. From there, we’d love to get feedback from the CMI community on how the newsletter can be improved. Graham will make changes and then report the findings in a future blog post. This way, we can all learn from our collective experience.

Getting started with the eNewsletter

Coincidentally, Interference Technology is a publisher, providing technical and business information to engineers and suppliers, and they sell advertising. As Graham was first to point out, some may think that publishers are natural content marketers, but this wasn’t the case for them. In fact, prior to the eNewsletter, Graham describes his marketing efforts as “old school,” and the “harder sell approach to marketing” that was very much focused on “us” instead of his prospects. They used things such as special offers, high email frequency, eBlasts, faxes, etc.

The eNewsletter that Graham developed was a definite shift. Not only is the content very different from the publication his company offers (instead of being very technical, the Bulletin provides industry information to advertisers and prospects), but it also diverges from the “hard sell” approach they had used with little to no success.

Graham initiated his eNewsletter in June and sent his second issue in July. When I first talked to Graham, he was disappointed by the initial two eNewsletters that he sent out. His first newsletter was a great deal of work as he curated a lot of information that he thought his prospects would find useful.

Making changes to the eNewsletter

On the positive side, Graham has the right mindset: He’s not using the newsletter to directly sell, but rather he’s providing info that is relevant to his prospects to educate them on the industry.

But, I also could see some room for improvement. After we talked, Graham made these changes to his newsletter.

Focused the content of the newsletter

While I could appreciate how much great information the newsletter had, my gut was that it was presenting too much; readers were not sure where to go. Additionally, finding this much new content for every newsletter can become a burden, so I suggested that Graham focus on one topic at time.

For the next newsletter, Graham decided to focus on one topic instead of six. Not only did this make the call to action more clear, but it also gave him flexibility to make the type larger. He also made the subject line specific to the featured content.

Included a personalized connection

I questioned Graham about the inclusion of the editorial box that was front and center of his original eNewsletter: Did this need to be taking up prime real estate above the fold? He explained that it was suggested that he include this because he is relatively well known in the industry and he thought that the inclusion of his name would give the eNewsletter more credibility.

I absolutely agree. If you are someone that your readers relate to, it’s great to provide the personalized connection in your eNewsletter. However, I thought that box was too prominent, so I suggested that it feature only him, which is a change he made (in future issues, he’ll include a picture as well). Additionally, he also changed the email so that it would  come from him instead of from his company.

Added a footer
Graham also added a footer to the eNewsletter that includes a brief description of what the Bulletin is about and who it is for. He also included clear opt out/opt in and forward to friend links.

Results

Here are some key metrics and results from the three newsletters that Graham has sent to date:

June edition
Opens: 1550
Unique Opens: 684
Clicks on Europe Report (the main thing they are trying to drive traffic to): 32

July edition
Opens: 943
Unique Opens: 520
Clicks on Europe Report: NA

August edition
Opens: 1231
Unique Opens: 705
Clicks on Europe Report: 138

The most positive improvement is that they received 12 requests for proposals, which  Graham attributes directly to the eNewsletter.

While the eNewsletter didn’t have any sales information in it (a deliberate decision Graham made to make sure the content is seen as educational instead of “salesy”), they did follow up the eNewsletter with a simple text message that reminded advertisers and prospects about a pending deadline for a new European publication.  As Graham explains:

This two-tiered approach produced (now) 12 RFQs – more than we have received in a long, long time, in similar circumstances. The sales managers and I agreed that the reminder email would never have had such a positive effect if we had not used the Bulletin so effectively to build the brand, and build demand for our new Europe publication first. The lesson here we have learned is to separate the brand building messages (of our content marketing) from the sales messages – we think this is key, and we plan to replicate this strategy in the future.”

The initial results from the changes are positive, but there are always ways to improve – and we’d love your help.

My suggestion to Graham: Start doing some A/B testing to see what changes make a difference. Do you agree? What A/B tests would you suggest?

What other ideas do you have for Graham to improve his newsletter? Share them in the comments below. Graham will make some modifications and report back. Thanks to everyone for your suggestions!

Author: Michele Linn

Michele is the Vice President of Content at the Content Marketing Institute. She is one of those people who truly loves what she does and who she works with. You can follow her on Twitter at @michelelinn.

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  • Abierly

    I noticed that Graham pointed out that he was sending high frequency email blasts in his “old school” marketing techniques. Are these same email lists being used to distribute the newsletter? List fatigue may be a factor if he isn't getting the open rates he's looking for. Is the newsletter opt-in?

  • http://www.contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Michele Linn

    Abierly – Great question. I don't know the answer, but I am sure Graham can provide some insight into this. Thanks for the idea!

  • Kristina Stiffler

    I think the simplified design was a great idea. For A/B testing I'd split test subject lines and headlines. Small changes to both of those areas can make a difference for clickthroughs and by testing he'll know the kind of language and offers that resonate best with his audience.

    Also since many of his prospects will probably be viewing this letter with an email client that blocks images by default, I'd suggest good alt tags and even consider moving the “Top News” from what looks like an image to something text based. In this case the image doesn't gain you much, but using something text based will just look a lot nicer for his audience.

  • http://blog.openviewpartners.com/blog/the-open-marketer Amanda Maksymiw

    I absolutely agree with Kristina here about the A/B testing, with putting greater emphasis on the subject lines since the newsletter now only contains one topic and his click through rate is improving. I do wonder about his overall open rate, rather than number of opens? Can we get that information?

    We have been sending a weekly newsletter to our clients and prospects for about 5 months now and often see the greatest boost in clicks when our subject and first headline are spot on.

    I am looking forward to learning about Graham's results in the upcoming months.

    Cheers,
    Amanda

  • Pam Kozelka

    Michele – Great Post! (as always) I think the numbers speak for themselves. I really related to the point about the content – focusing on one topic rather than the burden of having to develop too much and overwhelming readers. It is testament to the importance of the quality of the content. Thanks for sharing this example!

  • http://www.marketing-solutionsinc.com Barry Gleeson

    Michele – I've just joined CMI as a follower and love the information you're disseminating – very helpful and needed. I agree with Pam – the numbers speak for themselves. As far as other ideas, I think the format could be improved some more. The logo for Interface Technology and Top News are competing for space – not a big deal, but, I think it could look better if the graphics were packaged differently so that the headline would stand out even more. I also like the A/B test suggestions. Have they considered A/B tests with personalization – either in the subject line or the body. Last thought would be to move the editorial box to the right side and include additional “resources”. Thanks for asking for input!

  • http://conversionscientist.com Brian Massey

    I'd like to see the landing page that the link takes the reader to. I'd also like to see his unsubscribe rates.

    Graham should increase the frequency of the emails since he cut the content. Monthly email is probably not frequent enough to maximize downloads and RFPs.

    Brian Massey
    http://ConversionScientist.com

  • http://www.contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Michele Linn

    Barry – Welcome to the CMI community! Glad that you have found the info helpful. Drop me a line if there are any specific questions you have about content marketing that you'd like to see us cover.

    Great suggestions on this piece, too. I'll let Graham chime in with the specifics of what they have tried, but I have a feeling he'll be able to use some of your ideas.

  • http://www.contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Michele Linn

    Brian – I like your ideas about looking at the landing page and unsubscribe rates; Graham should hopefully have that info to share.

    Although the post didn't state this, Graham and I did talk about frequency as well, and he changed the eNewsletter to go out bi-weekly instead of monthly. You're right – depending on what the objective is, you need to take a look at frequency.

  • http://www.contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Michele Linn

    Amanda and Kristina – Great ideas from both of you; thanks! I'm looking forward to seeing what Graham implements and what his results are.

  • http://samuraiwriter.com/blog samuraiwriter

    Since Graham is known in his industry, split test a twitter ID just below his phone number (Assuming he's tweeting). Some prospects like to follow and interact from a “distance” until they're ready to converse more.

  • http://www.netstrategies.com Laurie Dunlop

    This is a great exercise for content marketers. Thank you Graham Kilshaw for providing the opportunity! I like the revision, but I think the headline could do a better job of delivering value. The phrase that struck me in the opening paragraph was, “…suppliers seeing increased orders from European customers…” which is a phrase that offers hope and potential for readers. Maybe the subhead could then proceed with the survey name, etc.

    As always, I enjoy the Content marketing Institute!
    Laurie :)

  • billymitchell

    Add some “eye candy”. Whether it's a classic Ogilvy approach to a photo visual or a chart. This newsletter needs more instant visual appeal. I don't mean to load it with clutter, just add one primary and meaningful visual and make it at least worth 1,000 words. My two cents.

  • Graham_Kilshaw

    Abierly
    Good point. The short answer is yes it is the same list. Howver we backed away some months ago from using the list so often when we saw the reponse dwindle. The open rates and click rates on this new approach are significantly better. Yes – opt in. Thanks, Graham

  • Graham_Kilshaw

    Amanda, Kristina – thanks both for the input. The open rates areas follows: June 53%, July 29%, August 36%. Michele and I are compiling all the suggestions now to form a plan for the next issue.Thank you.

  • Graham_Kilshaw

    Barry, We have not yet tried any of the suggestiins you make. Howeer, Michele and I are compiling the sugestions from everyone now, and will post again next week as to our next steps. I feel we will be trying some / all of your suggestions along the way. Obvioulsy we want to try a few or one at atime to test the effectiveness of each. Thanks. Graham

  • Graham_Kilshaw

    Brian. Thanks for the comments. The latest landing page is this:
    http://www.interferencetechnology.com/news/top-
    It is the same site as used by our readers. Our intention is to showcase to the advertisers what our readers / their prospective cusotmers are reading. Also note, this is where our commercial message appears in the form of banner ads top, bottom and right.
    Unsubscribe rates – good point, I am concerend about this, since this is a very niche industry, opt in list, and we think we are providing solid business content. More investigation required on our part but the numbers (out of approx 3000 list) are:
    June edtion:4
    July edition: 2
    August edition: 7
    Note, we have moved to bi-weekly frequency in August and Michele will be reporting on this soon.

  • Graham_Kilshaw

    “Sam…..”
    Thanks for suggestion. Jury is still out on Twitter for this audience, we are watching it, but see very little particpiation from them to date. Graham

  • Graham_Kilshaw

    Billy
    Interesting post. I am leaning towards ditching the “Top News” graphic anyway, as many have suggested below. Any suggestions/ ideas on the visual? We had toyed earlier with possibility of a photo of me. On the upside, i am reasonably well known in the industry, and it would immediately postion this piece as something other than the usual biz newsletter. On the downside, we don't want this Bulletin to be about me, we want it to be about their bsuiness. Your thoughts and other sugestins weclome. Thanks, Graham

  • http://www.razlan.name/blog Razlan

    This ties in with what we are doing here at SCMP. The revisions to our yet-to-be-published Travel newsletters reflect some of the findings in this post. It certainly feels great for our improvement efforts to be validated. Thanks for sharing!