Don’t Hate Your Newsletter, Fix Your Strategy

5 Tips for Better Open Rates and Click-Throughs

How does a 40 to 50 percent open rate sound to you?

Pretty good, I’m guessing. With the right strategy, you only have to invest about two to four hours a month for this type of satisfying return.

Liam Dempsey of LBDesign
Liam Dempsey of LBDesign

Liam Dempsey, owner of LBDesign (and a friend of mine), recently revealed his secrets to success in a Google+ Hangout and at a marketing meetup in Chester County. Let me share with you some of his results:

  • Open rate of 40 to 50% (average is 20.3% per MailChimp)
  • Click-through rate (CTR) of 3.5 to 11.5% (average is 2.9% per MailChimp)
  • Increased client interaction—compliments, referrals, etc.
  • Enabled connections between clients who otherwise wouldn’t have been introduced
  • Discovered and entered into a relationship with a valuable new business partner
  • Attained new clients and new business with current clients
  • Grew distribution list by 22% in 9 months
  • Received only three unsubscribe requests

See Liam explain his own methods and strategy behind his successful e-newsletter in this Google+ Hangout, and I will summarize some tips for you below:

Tips for an e-Newsletter Readers Can’t Resist

Know that not everyone will be able to take the same exact steps as Liam to replicate his success, but you should be able to walk away with ideas that will vastly improve your e-newsletters and other email campaigns.

Tip #1 – Craft a Strategy that is Reader Focused.

A snapshot of the August newsletter
A snapshot of the August newsletter

In this era of online sharing, Liam came up with a newsletter that is all about sharing and is interesting at the same time. Each month, his newsletter includes:

  • 2 client-focused articles that explain recent work accomplished and give background on each client
  • 1 “Introducing Our Friends” article
  • 3 links to articles of interest found online, with brief summaries for each.

Tip #2 – Be Thoughtful about Your List.

LBDesign is a small business, so Liam had a very manageable list of less than 1,000 contacts to begin with. He then culled that to a little more than 100 people who he thought would want to receive his newsletter.

So, at this point, you might be saying, “Well, I can’t do that, I have 5,000 (or more) people on my list.” Well, maybe you shouldn’t have that many people on one list.

The key to Liam’s success in business and in his newsletter is the relationships he builds. Are you building relationships with your customers or are you just looking for subscriber numbers? If the latter is true, that’s much like focusing only on getting “likes” for your Facebook page. Sure, you get short-term satisfaction and may look good on the surface, but is anyone really engaging? Are you—or your audience—getting any value from your effort?

Everyone can put more thought into their email lists and if you have thousands of contacts, that’s what segmentation is for.

Tip #3 – Be Brief.

Don’t use 500 words if 50 will do. Liam keeps his newsletter to three articles and none of them have more than 100 words. Most use between 50 and 75. Not only is this reader-focused but it saves you time as well.

Tip #4 – Keep It Predictable.

Not the stories, but the timing and the newsletter overall. Set yourself up for success from the beginning—do not overcommit. If you’re starting a newsletter, send it out once a month on the same day at the same time. This repeatable pattern gives you a deadline and gives your reader time to look forward to your next email.

Tip #5 – Use a Service that Does Much of the Work for You.

Google “email marketing services” and a bunch of companies come up—your web host may provide this service as well. LBDesign uses MailChimp, which is free if you have less than 2,000 contacts and send less than 12,000 emails per month. I recommend you start there and then compare others to their services, especially if you can use the free version.

For more tips and information, check out Liam’s SlideShare presentation from his night at the Chester County Marketing Group event.

You Have Content But Do You Have Style?

AMA Manual, Chicago Manual of Style & AP StylebookRecently, I talked here about editorial calendars and also posted a presentation on SlideShare on why content marketers need an editorial calendar. Now, I’m going to explain why you need a style guide and what you should put in it.

Every business that has a website and creates content — web pages, marketing materials, blog posts, white papers, etc. — needs a style guide. The larger your business and the more people that you have creating content, the greater the need for a style guide.

Why? Because you’re building a brand. Every piece of content you publish represents your brand. Without guidelines, you’ll have a sort of content chaos. Your pieces may all be designed similarly and share the same colors and logo, but don’t let that fool you into thinking that your branding is complete.

Brands are made up of every action a company takes. Imagine your audience’s response if they get emails from your company in a tone that’s friendly and informal and then click through to a website that’s jargon filled and formal. Do you know what that disconnect represents? It represents doubt. When you put out marketing communications, blog posts, press releases, ads and other collateral that aren’t consistent in voice, tone and style, you are planting seeds of doubt in your customers’ minds. They can’t tell who you really are — and that’s a big problem.

It’s a problem that can be solved with a style guide.

Your style guide can be as long or as short as you want, as long as it has enough direction in it to be effective.

3 Style Guide Needs

1. Voice

Voice of a company should never vary. To determine your company’s desired voice, you need to consider two things: (1) Who is your target audience? and (2) How do you want them to see you?

Your audience could be teachers, doctors, lawyers, women ages 30-55, men ages 20-35, etc. There are too many options to list here, but you get the point, right? Now, how do you want to come across to them? Authoritative and formal? Authoritative yet friendly? Relaxed and consumer focused? Serious and trustworthy? The answer to that second question above is a result of how well you know your audience and how you want to be seen as a company.

For example, if your audience is doctors, you don’t want your voice to be so casual that you seem unknowledgeable about healthcare and the doctors’ needs or too self-focused and uncaring. So, if you’re selling software that will help their offices, you may choose knowledgeable (some might choose innovative) and understanding.

2. Tone

People often confuse tone and voice, but as long as you carry the same voice throughout all company communications, you can alter the tone to reflect the subject matter. Using the example above, let’s say you have two communications to go out. One is telling the doctors about a new add-on to the software they have that will help them process claims faster. The second is an email telling them about a software glitch that needs to be fixed. Are you going to use the same tone in both? No! But you will use the same underlying voice.

When telling the doctors about your new product, the tone of the piece will be engaging, excited and a bit sales-y. You’ll approach the sell and surrounding language with the understanding of why this product meets the doctors’ needs. You’ll be knowledgeable both about your product and about how it will impact the doctors’ day-to-day lives.

The email bringing bad news won’t bring the same excited and engaging tone. Instead the tone will be more serious, straightforward and sympathetic. You’ll tell them briefly what’s happened and when and how it will be fixed. Your voice will remain steady and not throw any doubt on your expertise, but will instead leave the doctors with the feeling that you will inconvenience them as little as possible because you understand their needs.

The point is both communications will sound like they come from the same company.

3. Style

Style includes grammatical style and word choice. If you want to use plain language and ban jargon from your communications, put that in your company’s style guide. Which rulebook are you going to follow? You can pick an already established one as a guide — AP Stylebook (which you’re probably already using for press releases), Chicago Manual of Style or the American Medical Association (AMA) Manual of Style. These guides layout rules on:

  • Grammar and punctuation
  • Capitalization
  • Abbreviations
  • Numbers, and much more

You might be wondering who will care about those things, especially if you already take care to proofread and make sure your content is error free. The one-time customer probably won’t care, but you want long-term customers, right?

Consistency is key to your brand. If you’re sending out messages that all look different, how will your customer know who you really are?

A style guide not only helps your customers, but it helps your employees as well. And in business, we call that a win-win!

On Writing Well, The Grammar Devotional & Woe Is I
Try these other guides to good writing and share with your coworkers.




Haiku Deck & Canva: Two Tools for a Quick Design Assist

One terrific result of the uptick in content marketing is the online tools available to help. Haiku Deck and Canva are two I’ve begun using recently, so I thought I’d share my experience for other small business owners and do-it-yourself marketers.

Haiku Deck Gives Your Presentations Visual Oomph

Haiku Deck Gallery of PresentationsI found Haiku Deck simply by Googling “presentation software,” after I found out that SlideRocket wasn’t accepting new users while they integrated with ClearSlide. Who has time to wait, right?

Haiku Deck’s philosophy is “Simple, beautiful and fun.” They wanted to make it easy for people to create visually stunning presentations that have impact. Use it to create presentations that have few words per slide and visual impact. Here’s a presentation I recently created, on editorial calendars:

Editorial Calendar – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires

Easy to use – even for non-PowerPoint users – Haiku Deck really is a tool anyone can adapt to quickly and start creating beautiful presentations. Sharing is built right in, and you’ll see all the options once you complete your deck.

My only complaint is that the system can be a little buggy, but that might be due to compatibility issues or internal bugs they’re working on. Search for photos with certain keywords and the results don’t always make sense. However, this is a minor complaint because you can still find photos you want pretty quickly, or upload your own. Oh, and I would like a little more control over font sizes, but, hey, it’s free.

Canva Brings Out the Designer in You

“Canva makes design simple for everyone.” Those are their words, but they are true. Whether you’re a blogger looking for photos and graphics for your blog, a content marketer interested in making your own infographics, or a small business owner trying to manage content marketing and design on your own, Canva can help.

The best part? Canva is free to use and then certain images and designs cost a teeny one dollar a piece. I’ve used it a few times now (note the header image on my website as one Canva piece), so I can tell you that you can do a lot on the site for free.

Coreen Tossona, CTMarCom, CopywriterGuy Kawasaki, who signed on as the Chief Evangelist, says, “Macintosh democratized computers; Google democratized information; and eBay democratized commerce. In the same way, Canva democratizes design.” Read more about the reasons Guy joined, how he uses the content marketing tool, and how the startup has rapidly grown to reach millions of users, in Canva’s blog.

So far, my only complaint is that I can’t always find the layouts I want. I think that problem will be solved as I use it more and as Canva grows.

If you’ve used either design tool or have suggestions for others, feel free to comment here.


5 Rules of Good Content for Copywriters & Content Marketers

5 rules of good content for copywriters and content marketers

Content marketing has grown exponentially over the past two to three years. Understandably, marketers and small business owners have felt pressure to race to get content out there in front of their target audience. The key is to focus more on the quality of content than the race everyone’s participating in to get their content seen and heard above all.

Be relevant to your audience slide, audience is listening

1.  Be Relevant to Your Audience

This one is self-explanatory. If you want people to pay attention to your company and your marketing communications, you have to give them something they’d be interested in and present it in a unique and engaging way.

Photo shows military man "Serve a Purpose"2. Content Should Serve a Purpose

What is your content’s mission? Each piece should have a purpose — to sell, to educate, to inform or to entertain. You must have a reason for creating and sharing all your content — from blog posts to web pages to infographics, videos and more. Don’t just create something because you (or your chief marketing officer) wants to produce something “cool and edgy.”

Without a concrete mission that relates to what your audience wants or needs, most content ends up rambling and unfocused, and as a result customers drift away.

An eye and text: Make content easy to understand

3. Make Content Easy to Understand

Making your content easy to understand is about two things:

  1. Using plain language and describing concepts in language your audience will understand.
  2. Making copy less dense so it’s easier for your time-crunched consumers to pop in and find what they want immediately.

There’s a myth that using simpler words and descriptions is “dumbing down” to your audience. It’s not. Doctors, lawyers, engineers and others all want to be able to consume your main points quickly. The easier you make that for them, the more likely they are to stick around. Your audience will appreciate you respecting their time and making things convenient for them.

Beach scene-make content visually appealing

4.  Make Your Content Visually Appealing

One of the nice things about being in the content marketing age is that many websites and apps have popped up that help you create graphics and manipulate or gain photography more easily. You don’t have to be an artist or designer to make your content appealing (though it does help!). Here are some quick tips to follow:

  • Segment your articles with headers; use clean, short lists; and include photos, charts or videos.
  • Ask yourself: Does your website look easy to navigate or do people have to study the page to find their way through? Leave enough white space to make your website and anything you create clean-looking at first glance.
  • Capture the viewer’s attention within moments in your videos and keep the length as short as possible to get your message across yet still be compelling.
  • Use graphics that complement the rest of the page and help people understand your message.

Rule 5-consistent brand voice represented thru choir

5.  Keep a Consistent Brand Voice

Content marketing is used to build your brand, so it’s vital that all pieces of content you create seem like they come from the same place, with the same overall strategy behind it. If you have several people creating your content, give them guidelines to follow so that the content looks like it comes from your company, not from individuals with different personalities.

If you follow these five rules to good content, you can talk about all sorts of topics (relevant to your expertise and your audience, of course) and never run out of ways to serve the people you value most — your customers!

I adapted this blog post from a presentation I gave for Philly ‘burbs WordPress Meetup. You can see the original on SlideShare.

Editorial Calendars: 10 Things to Know Before Creating One

Editorial calendars are the key to organizing your content marketing, whether you’re a small business with just a blog or a larger business with a strong social and content marketing setup.

Below is a list of things you should know before creating your editorial calendar or giving up on one. If you have 30 minutes though, check out part one of the webcast Carla Wilson, Jeff Tincher and I did on editorial calendar creation:

10 Facts about Editorial Calendars

1. Editorial calendars are NOT one size fits all!

Looking at what your peers create can be a terrific resource that informs your calendar creation plan. However, keep in mind that just because something works for them doesn’t mean it’ll work for you. Design your calendar based on your content marketing needs and your team structure.

2. Your first month will suck.

Building an editorial calendar takes work and often much trial and error. This first month of more intensive work is where most marketers abandon their efforts. Know this: as you incorporate your editorial calendar into your daily marketing tasks, the time you spend on it will decrease. Be ready for complaints from your team and keep the end goal in mind.

3. Your calendar doesn’t have to do everything all at once.

Start simple. Know what you could most use your editorial calendar for and begin by mapping that out. If applicable, test using this tool with internal communications only and then add external marketing efforts to it. Your editorial calendar can be as encompassing or as minimal as you need or want it to be.

4. The structure and features of your editorial calendar will change–that’s a good thing.

What you begin with will probably not be what you end with, and that’s okay. Especially when working with a marketing team (instead of just your own personal editorial calendar), understand up front that as you use your editorial calendar, you’ll see ways to adapt it and make it more useful.

5. You don’t have to spend money.

If you’re budget conscious–and who isn’t these days–you may be hesitant to add yet another paid service to your marketing budget. Good news! You don’t have to pay if you already have Microsoft Excel. I highly suggest starting with Excel anyway, so you can figure out what options you prefer before looking into a paid service. Google “editorial calendar template” and check out all the different ways companies use Excel to organize their content marketing efforts.

6. If you have money to spend, great online editorial calendar options exist.

Kapost, DivvyHQ, Percolate and Coschedule are just some options for cloud-based online services you can use. You can also view a list of 7 Editorial Calendar Tools from SproutContent or try Trello, which isn’t advertised as an editorial calendar but can certainly be used as one.

7. Forget perfection–you don’t have to stick to your calendar like glue.

No editorial calendar is going to be perfect, especially not for everyone on your team. But, don’t use that as a reason to give up on it. If a crisis hits or you’re getting feedback from customers on an important topic you should address, postpone what you have already scheduled and put more relevant content in its place. The editorial calendar is meant as a guide, an organizational tool that helps you manage all your content marketing efforts. It’s not law.

8. Involve your team when creating it.

Buy-in is crucial. Let your team know the value of the editorial calendar, the goals and the reasons for it before you create it. Then, involve them in the creation. Everyone who produces or distributes content should give feedback on what should be included and how the calendar is set up. Once you begin using the editorial calendar, set up a system for feedback so you can quickly adapt to what’s working and what’s not. Trial and error is key to developing a fantastic system.

9. Your team will hate your editorial calendar.

Some people may be on board right away, but you’ll also have team members who hate the idea, seeing it as more work for them to do. Remember the “first month” rule listed above. Prepare everyone for a more work-intensive first month, and remind them of the value and the end goal. The more you focus on number 8, the fewer complaints you should have.

10. Your team will love your editorial calendar.

Okay, maybe “love” is a strong word, but everyone should come around to liking it and seeing the value it creates. After all, your content marketing efforts should become more efficient with this tool in place.

If you have questions or need help creating an editorial calendar, leave a comment below or contact me directly.