If an email newsletter is part of your economic development marketing toolkit, than you know well the challenges of a) getting people to open them, b) getting people to read them. Do not despair! It IS possible to jazz up your content, improve your click-through rates, inform, enlighten, amuse and impress your readership. Here are some ways to help you make the most of this often undervalued marketing tool.
- Understand your objectives. Too many editors have only the vaguest sense of their task as promotional. It helps to find a clear focus in a couple of lines. Is the point of the email newsletter to promote your economic development organization? Do you want to draw attention to recent successes, promote your new resources and programs, extend regional understanding of what economic development actually means? Write up something to help guide you, print it out and pin it up next to your computer screen, so you can keep reminding yourself what you are trying to accomplish.
- Know your audience. Are you aiming at a vague assemblage of regional stakeholders, business owners, local government workers, chamber of commerce affiliates and elected officials. Once you know your objective, clarify who needs to see it. Draw up a dream list of recipients, then compare it against your actual dissemination list. Now you know who else you want to reach, so put together a landing page where you can direct people to sign up as part of a broad marketing campaign.
- Make it look appealing, clear and attractive. That old template from 2005 may look a bit tired by now, and if you are still expecting people to download Microsoft Silverlight (or any other plug-in) to read it, you're in trouble. You don't need necessarily need to hire a graphic designer if the look is clean, minimal and appealing. This blog post lists a number of sites were you can get free or inexpensive templates.
- Balance the content to be educational, not just promotional. Ask yourself if there are any practical takeaways from each issue. It's critical to share news of successes, but is there anything concrete people can use for their work, themselves or their community? Your online data tools are an inexhaustible source of content here. Use your ZoomProspector Enterprise tool to illustrate the talent pool in your community (as in this example from Bloomington, IN), or to showcase a notable featured property. You can use Intelligence Components to help people visualize, understand and explore an industry cluster in your region, as Georgia EMC does here with Manufacturing, or link to your Community Compare Intelligence Component, so they can compare multiple communities (see how Amarillo, TX does this). Best practices for balance for an e-newsletter is 90% educational and 10% promotional.
- Promote data resources. E-newsletters are a great way to share news and updates, but ultimately you want people to visit your website and use your data tools, or understand how to find them. For example, the free U.S. national site selection portal, ZoomProspector.com, offers 1000+ data points on every single community in the nation. Let your readers know how to find your community. If you are one of the many economic development organizations who has taken advantage of Economic Development Organization (EDO) Profiles, share the link so they can see what's there.
- Use visuals strategically. Too many big visuals can interfere with the ability to load quickly, and may even trigger spam filters, but a few well-chosen images encourage readers to keep going. Images can also help them understand complex information quickly. Make sure all images have alt text, which is what appears when images don't load. You don't want to lose readers just because their server was finicky about images. Respect intellectual property; this article lists some great online resources for Creative Commons and royalty-free images.
- Use creative subject lines. Goal #1 is getting people to open those emails. Keep them short, descriptive and even funny. Many EDOs try to breed familiarity by keeping the same subject line over the years (e.g. "Economic Development Newsletter"), but those get old really fast. What's to encourage people to open that email right this instant? Promote the practical. Ask questions. Refer to pain points.
- Make it easy for people to share the newsletter with friends, or to unsubscribe if they choose. The latter seems counter-intuitive, but you want an active, engaged subscriber list, not an unwilling one.
- Proofread. Proofread again. Have someone else proofread. Nothing undermines your credibility more than spelling and grammatical errors. Proof text on your screen, then print it out and proof the hard copy version. Have a colleague (or two) look it over as well.
- Consider your sender name. Your email feels much more personal if it comes from an actual human at your organization, rather than <organization name>. Should it come from the EDO director, or your head of communication. Try some sender tests to see which boosts your open rate.
Now let's see you put all this advice into action! I'd love to see your email newsletters in action! I learn so much from all of you. Send them to me at email@example.com.