If you want to communicate more effectively with the people you work with/for (whether they’re customers, fans, staff, participants or stakeholders), email newsletters are a great place to start. Write them well, and your audience will look forward to receiving them, value what you have to say, buy from you or get involved, and even tell other people about you. Here are some tips to help you get the best out of yours.
Why have an email newsletter as well as social media?
More and more music and arts organisations, musicians and bands are jumping straight into social media. It’s a powerful tool, but if it’s the only way you’re communicating, you’re missing a trick. Why? Because …
1. Email is a more direct form of communication. Social media is one to many, but you can, and should, make email newsletters feel like one-to-one (see later for ‘why?’).
2. You can be more certain that your news will reach people. Your message can easily get buried in someone’s social media newsfeed. Of course, email newsletters can get filed or deleted: but get the subject header and content right, and people will want to read it.
3. You ‘own’ the contact details of your readers. If your social media account is hacked or taken offline for some reason – bam, there go all the followers you’ve so carefully built up. By capturing email addresses (which you should do via your website, prominently, and ideally with an incentive – ie sign up for the mailing list and get xxx), you retain control.
4. It’s great for reviving ‘inactive’ customers. If you do it well, people feel it’s worth reconnecting because they will be getting useful content that interests and/or helps them.
5. You can monitor how effective you are. This can range from tracking who/how many opened your e-news, when, and what links they clicked on, to testing the response to different subject lines, offers, times for sending. (You can do some of this with social media too).
6. E-news software is easily available, effective, and often free. I use MailChimp, but are many others. If you’re part of a local authority and worried that they might be nervous about you using new tools, check if your ‘comms team’ are sending an e-news. They may already use one of these tools and you could use the same.
Tip 1: Work out what you want to achieve
Whoever your newsletter is going to, it’s aim will ultimately be to influence the way a reader thinks, feels or acts. Think about what you want and ideally, define the single most important objective. This could range from an immediate response, to creating a feeling, attitude or response over time.
Tip 2: Be clear who your reader is and what they want*
A newsletter is about you understanding the reader, not the other way around. Think about:
• what s/he is like, his/her interests
• what problems/concerns are at the forefront of her/his mind, and that you can respond to
• what s/he thinks about your service/the subject matter (even their views/preconceived ideas)
Try not to talk to too many interests groups in one newsletter. Readers won’t take the time to work out why/which bit is relevant to them. If necessary, have ‘sub-groups’ of your lists: the content could be the same, but the emphasis different. Or you could create ‘sections’ for different groups: make them really clear so people can scan and quickly see the bit that’s relevant to them.
Tip 3: Work out what your core message/s are – in order to prompt the response you want
What do you want your reader to think, feel or do and what messages will persuade her/him to do so? Why do you want them to know this (is it really in their interests or just yours?).
It may seem tempting to skip this part of the process. But the more time spent planning and thinking, the easier you’ll find writing the newsletter – and the more likely you’ll be to achieve your aims.
If you already have a marketing and/or communications plan (and you need one because it’ll make life easier!), you’ll probably have covered much of this.
Still with me? Now onto part 2, When you write …
When you write
Tip 4: Write as if you’re talking to ONE person
This will make your writing far more personal and engaging.
Try to get a strong sense of an individual who will be reading what you’re writing.
Tip 5: Write about what people need not (just) what you can provide
Talk about how you can solve their problems, respond to their hopes and concerns. You may find it useful to list out six key questions your readers most often ask, or the top six challenges you know they currently face.
Tip 6: Use the subject line to show how you/this e-news can solve a problem for them
It’s a wasted opportunity if you just write ‘(Organisation name) April e-news’. Remember:
Grab ATTENTION (with your subject header and opening paragraph )
Arouse INTEREST by appealing to people’s motivations/needs
Stimulate DESIRE with your offer
Encourage ACTION with a strong call to action and ideally deadline
Tip 7: Don’t sell! Well, don’t just sell: give added value and tell stories
Give useful information that people will genuinely want to read. Include interesting links, industry/insider info or news stories – as long as you’re sure they will be relevant and interesting to them (not just you!). Tell stories too: and in doing so, don’t be afraid to appeal to people’s heart/emotions as well as their head/intellect. Which leads me on to …
Tip 8: Be yourself, or at least, be human!
People buy from people, not organisations. They also are more likely to buy from/respond to people they trust and feel they know. Write as you’d naturally talk, and perhaps start off with a personal welcome and note/thought. Write in the first person – use I, we and us, rather than the name of the organisation.
Tip 9: Include success stories – as well as other evidence
There’s nothing more persuasive than real life stories. These could feature end beneficiaries: eg the child whose language skills have improved as a result of singing. Or they could focus on individuals similar to the reader: eg the head who has reduced low attendances through music activities, the tutor who has taken part in CPD and as a result, been offered additional work.
If you have statistics or anecdotal evidence about the impact of your work, include these too – using short, memorable statements.
Tip 10: Express your organisation’s personality and its values
To really stand out and be memorable to your customers, everything you do needs to reflect the personality of your organisation (ie the people within it, its values and what it stands for). So as well as ‘what we do’, try to get across ‘the way we do it/why we do it’ and ‘who we are’.
Tip 11: Make your text scannable
Break up your text with sub-headers, bullet points, hyperlinks, quotes and of course photos. More on this in a future blog about ‘writing for the web’.
Finally, a few really useful things to remember about your reader*
She or he:
• Has better things to do.
• Never reads from start to finish, all the way through.
• Always reads between the lines (listen to your own inner cynic for clues: ‘do I really mean that?’, ‘have I contradicted myself?’ ‘am I being honest and authentic?’).
• Is constantly asking her/himself ‘Is this useful/relevant to me?’, ‘Am I enjoying this?’, ‘Can I be bothered?’
and the killer question, ‘so what?‘
• May be reading in a variety of situations – on a mobile, on a computer, printed-off; at work, at home, in a quick break.
• Probably has other options – both for reading, and for what you’re offering.
• Is not an idiot. Good writing isn’t about trying to dupe, con, or hoodwink – and readers won’t put up with being talked down to. Showing both empathy and respect are fundamentals of convincing copywriting.
* I’ve taken many of these final insights about the reader from Lindsay Camp’s book: ‘Can I change your mind? The craft and art of persuasive writing’.