Tue, February 26 2008

Elevate your email newsletter from snoring to soaring

Katya Andresen's avatar

Author, Robin Hood Marketing

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Filed under:   How to improve emails and newsletters •

Sleeping Cat, on Flickr by Zamario

As I write, here at Network for Good, I’m listening to a great Nonprofit 911 call.  No worries if you aren’t listening too - you can view the summary here.  And I’m sharing here the summary by our guest speaker Kivi Leroux Miller of NonprofitMarketingGuide.com.  I know Kivi personally and think she has terrific advice, which you can check out on her site.  I’d also like to unabashedly advertise her work—she does a lot of wonderful webinars and e-trainings which are well worth the modest investment. 

Ten tips by Kivi:

1. Know your audience, ask what they want, and deliver it.
Even though your newsletter readers may be incredibly generous individuals, it’s helpful to think of them as very self-centered, selfish people when they are reading your email newsletter. Here’s why: if the content isn’t immediately relevant and valuable to them as individual human beings, they’ll delete it in an instant. We know what’s in it for you, but what’s in it for them?

As you write your newsletter articles, keep asking yourself these questions: How will this article make our readers feel? How will it make their lives easier or better? Does this article show our readers how important they are to us?

2. Send frequently - if you have good content.
How often should you send your email newsletter? In general, I recommend no more than once a week and no less than every six weeks. You want people to remember you and look forward to receiving your newsletter, but you don’t want to drive them crazy either. Your email schedule should be determined by how often you have great content to send.

If you are providing on-target, valuable information each and every time (or darn close), your readers won’t feel bugged by frequent mailings. If you don’t have enough content for a newsletter every two months, you either don’t know your readers or aren’t thinking creatively about ways to talk about your work. See 15 Places to Find Article Ideas for Your Nonprofit Newsletter on my blog.

Here’s a sweeping generalization: most nonprofits send e-newsletters too infrequently. If you aren’t sure whether to step up your publishing schedule or not, I’d say go for it. If your unsubscribe rate goes up, ask why people are leaving your list and if frequency is the problem, back off.

3. Make it personal.
People give to and support nonprofits for highly subjective reasons. Your supporters get something deeply personal out of their affiliation with your organization as a donor, volunteer, or advocate. So why would your response back to these passionate people be institutional, monolithic, and completely objective?

Break out of the “The 501(c)(3) speaks to the masses” mode and make it more personal. I’m not suggesting that you turn your newsletter into a vehicle for personal rambling or try to elevate your executive director to cult status. But you should consider ways to make your newsletter sound as though it is written by one staff person speaking directly to one supporter. Do articles talk about the staff, donors, or volunteers involved in the work? Do the articles have bylines? Are the articles written in a conversational style, even if they aren’t bylined? Have you included some headshots or other people photos? If someone hits “reply” to the newsletter, will a real person see it and respond, or will the reader get an auto-reply about that email address not being checked?

4. Make the next step as easy as possible.
Once your supporters read your newsletter, what’s next? Do you have a call to action? Do you want them donate, volunteer, register, tell a friend, learn more, write a email, make a call or what? Include specific calls to action and links that make following through as simple as possible. Make it, as Katya Andresen says, a “filmable moment.” Could you film your supporters following through on your call to action? If it is clear and simple enough, your supporters should be able to easily visualize themselves and others doing it.

5. Put an unmistakable name in the “From” field.
For most nonprofits, this will be your organization’s name or a well-known campaign or initiative. Don’t use a staff person’s name unless at least 80% of the people on your mailing list will recognize it. If you decide to use a person’s name (it is more personal after all - see #3 above), I recommend including your acronym or other identifier after the name. This should not change from issue to issue; you want to build up reader recognition.

6. Use a specific, benefit-laden “Subject” line.
The busier your supporters are, the more likely they are to look at your email subject line and nothing else before deciding whether to read it or delete it. Pack your subject lines with details about what’s inside, emphasizing the benefits to the reader of taking a few extra seconds to see what’s in the body of the message. That’s a tall order for 50-60 characters, which is the rule of thumb for subject line length. Do your best and track which newsletters have the best open rates to see which subject lines seem to appeal most to your readers.

Your subject line should change with every edition. Don’t waste space with dates, edition numbers, sender info, etc. The only exception would be if you have a very short, memorable, and meaningful newsletter title. You can put the title first, often in brackets like this: [E-News Title] Subject Line Specific to This Email’s Content. See Best Practices in Writing Email Subject Lines (MailChimp).

7. Design a simple, clean newsletter that’s mostly text.
People expect to read email, which means they are looking for words. They don’t expect the same visual stimulation that they do when they visit a web page. It’s much more important to say something timely, interesting, or valuable than it is to produce a newsletter that’s visually stunning. At the same time, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use a stylish design and photos. Just make sure that the text gets top billing and wraps cleanly around any graphic elements, especially since those items will appear as big red Xs to a big chunk of your readers. And don’t worry about needing serious design or HTML skills to produce an email newsletter. All of the major email newsletter service providers offer many templates to pick from.

8. Write and design for the preview pane.
Most people don’t actually open each email message. Instead, they use the preview pane to view them. That means you’ve got a fairly small space in which to impress your reader enough to make them either scroll through your email or open it fully.

Images near the top of your newsletter can hog that important space or waste it entirely if images are turned off in the email program. For example, if you want to use an image as your newsletter header, keep it “short” - say under 100 pixels high - so that it doesn’t fill up the whole preview pane. Be sure that you have plenty of compelling text near the top of the newsletter so that even if images are turned off, the reader still sees some interesting text. Also be sure to include ALT tags with all images. See Images in Email and Email Newsletters: Dos and Don’ts and Writing Great ALT Tags for Your E-Newsletters on my blog.

Never send an all-image email newsletter. You’ve seen those emails where the entire preview pane is filled with a big red-X box. They are trying to send you a pretty email by including all the text in a graphic. The problem is that many email programs don’t show images by default. Therefore, you see nothing but the box. I automatically delete emails like this.

9. Appeal to skimmers: Use lots of headlines, subheadings, and short chunks of text.
People scan and skim email before they read it. Short paragraphs and sentences are easier to skim. Descriptive headlines and subheads with active verbs and vivid nouns will grab your supporters’ attention and nudge them into actually reading the text. See Copyblogger’s How to Write Magnetic Headlines series for tons of examples. I also teach a webinar several times a year on online writing dos and don’ts, focusing specifically on how to make your online writing skimmable. Check the webinar schedule.

10. Use an email newsletter service.
If you have more than 20 people on your mailing list and you want that list to grow, you need to use an email newsletter service provider or ESP. Many online client database/fundraising service providers include email marketing in their packages. You can also use companies that specialize in email marketing, like EmailNow. These providers can automate many functions that you shouldn’t be wasting time on, including managing subscribes, unsubscribes, and bounces. They also help you comply with the CAN-SPAM law; strongly encourage you to use best-practice, double opt-in procedures; give you the code for an email newsletter sign-up box for your website; and offer great tracking tools that are nearly impossible for you to implement on your own. The cost of using an email newsletter service is minimal and the benefits are huge.

While these tips are solid advice that will work in most cases, what’s most important is what works for you and your supporters. Test what you do and make adjustments accordingly.

THANKS KIVI for donating your time and expertise!


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Tue, February 26 2008

Mickey Mouse Marketing

Katya Andresen's avatar

Author, Robin Hood Marketing

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Filed under:   Marketing essentials •

I read an interesting story in the Washington Post today.  Apparently marketing staff from Disney are training Walter Reed staff in customer service.  The hospital serving wounded soldiers has made headlines for its poor conditions and crippling bureaucracy.

The Mouseketeer Marketers apparently say it’s all about the audience.  No magic there - just smart marketing.  Customer service makes all the difference - just ask Snow White.

[Kris Lafferty, a trainer for the Disney Institute], who was a Navy lawyer before she started a second career with Disney, led the audience in a discussion of similarities between Disney and the Army hospital. (Both are dedicated to “making people feel better”; both are “subject to media scrutiny”; both are named after famous people named Walter. )

The Walter Reed employees learned the Disney lexicon. Employees are called “cast members.” Customers—or patients—are “guests.”

Then it was on to what Lafferty called the “Disney difference”: “You have to know and understand your guests.”

Much of it involves paying attention to details that matter to patients and visitors, Lafferty noted. “If I go to the doctor’s office and all the plants are dead, I don’t have a good feeling,” she said.

A wheelchair with frayed padding on the arm rests leaves a lasting impression, Donnelly said.

As a contrast to the irate Donald Duck, the trainers showed a slide of a beatific Snow White, holding a broom in a spic-and-span room and surrounded by happy animals. (Lesson: “You can’t sweep it under the rug,” Lafferty said.)

During breaks, some Walter Reed employees expressed surprise at the relevance of the training to their jobs.

“This is good,” said Jan Yatsko, head nurse for vascular surgery at the hospital. “It’s not what we expected.”

I think it’s sound advice - at a price.  Apparently the Disney training is around $800,000. So let me save you some money: Listen to Snow White.  Your customer service really, really matters.  It’s true in the Magic Kingdom, it’s true for the famlies of wounded soldiers, and it’s true for charities. 

The main reason donors quit supporting a charity is HOW THEY WERE TREATED BY THAT CHARITY.  How people experience you when they give, when they call you and when they benefit from your programs is everything.  Give to your own charity and see what happens.  If you provide human services, use them as a visitor.  This may be depressing.  I have yet to work for any organization that is consistently fantastic at customer service - and it’s especially hard for small, underfunded organizations.  But we can’t afford not to try better.

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Tue, February 26 2008

The small business/nonprofit connection

Katya Andresen's avatar

Author, Robin Hood Marketing

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Filed under:   Marketing essentials •

A couple of months ago, Erick Brownstein of Ideablob.com wrote me with an interesting question: Are the challenges of how to start, run and develop small nonprofits different than those of the small business owner? 

He thinks not.  Here’s what he said:

Just as the vast majority of small businesses in the US are really ‘micro’ businesses with less than five employees, nearly 80% of the approximately 1.5 million US nonprofits have less than $100k in assets and/or revenues. Oftentimes, it’s one person running the show and these individuals are seeking support for issues ranging from health insurance to marketing to technology. Regarding what’s necessary for success, there are far more similarities than differences between the small nonprofit and the small business.

Advanta Bank recently launched Ideablob.com, an online community where people from diverse industries with different interests can help each other grow and develop their ideas…with a $10,000 monthly prize for the idea that the community votes as the best.

Originally conceived as a place for small business owners and entrepreneurs, the site has been attracting significant participation from small nonprofits. But what’s in it for them? Vying for the monthly prize offers a fun and engaging way to get feedback from supporters as well as other ideablob community members. In addition to the chance to win the money, these finalists (with Advanta’s support) have generated significant publicity for themselves. Several of the finalists have been nonprofits and last month’s second $10k ‘best idea’ winner was Marci Bossow Schankweiler, president and founder of Crossing the Finish Line (CFL), a PA-based small nonprofit that provides excursions for young adult cancer patients and their families. 

“If a company can do something that is good for its customers, that in turn is good for the company.” For Advanta, this is an experiment in the new landscape of social media where clearly defined business models aren’t yet established. For those who run small nonprofits and small businesses, Ideablob is an experiment in exploring the value of openly sharing new ideas with a wide range of people and their varied perspectives and an interesting tool for promotion and engagement.

I think this is quite wise marketing on the part of Advanta, and I’m intrigued by what Erick says.  When I was writing Robin Hood Marketing, I often turned for inspiration to marketing writers who catered to small businesses.  Like Duct Tape Marketing.  I think Erick is right that we—small business and nonprofits—have a lot to learn from each other.  Here’s some evidence: someone posting an idea and the responses they got. 

And apparently nonprofits have some good ideas: 7 of 8 of this month’s finalists are nonprofits.  Try it out.




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Mon, February 18 2008

Why a good story sells (even sweaters)

Katya Andresen's avatar

Author, Robin Hood Marketing

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Filed under:   Cause-related marketing •

My beloved writer cousin Elisabeth just sent me this email yesterday, which I’m reprinting with her permission:

I just totally thought of you—I had a “marketing moment” looking through this catalog from “Fair Indigo.” Have you ever heard of it? I hadn’t. It’s “fair trade clothes” which sort of look like Ann Taylor Loft with maybe a sprinkle of J. Jill. Lots of t-shirts and stuff, “made fairly in Buji, China,” etc.. But as I was going through, I started dog-earing pages and making these grand plans to overhaul my wardrobe, and I suddenly realized I was going to buy a ton of stuff not because I really like the clothes (they’re ok) but because I want to buy tons of new clothes while congratulating myself on improving the lives of women in Buji, China. Almost every page has a story about how great these factories are, and what a difference they’re making. I was getting so into it when I realized, what a great marketing angle and application of K. Andresen’s marketing principles! Even the cover line is “Fair Trade Fashion helps change the world,” and here I am in the kitchen with Alistair thinking, I’m a world-changer! Let’s get that sweater in latte, too!

I love this story because it shows that good stories - and especially stories about good - sell just about anything.

We buy so many things because of their storyline, and we are especially likely to spend when we aspire to be a character in that story.  Imagine helping raise someone out of poverty on the other side of the world just by being fashionable - that’s being a heroine.

Remember this!  Your storyline is essential.  If you have a corporate partner, your cause-related marketing effort needs a compelling storyline.  If you’re about to email an appeal - check if there is a story there.  Is the reader going to feel a part of it?  No?  Then start rewriting now.  You need a good protagonist, a high-stakes conflict or challenge, and a resolution with meaning.  Even fashion catalogs have them.

You can check out Fair Indigo’s fine website here.

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Fri, February 15 2008

Listen to Your Valentine

Katya Andresen's avatar

Author, Robin Hood Marketing

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Filed under:   Fun stuff •

Since it’s a day when we’re focused on winning hearts, I’m going to take a moment to highlight in red what we all adore: being recognized and loved for who we are and connecting with those we love.

Treat those you want to reach in this world with that kind of affection.  Listen to what they say.  Acknowledge and appreciate who they are.  They will respond in kind.  Great marketing is about love.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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