The Occasional E-Mail Newsletter

You’ve heard me talk plenty about e-mail newsletters. I’ve praised their value as vehicles for customer relationship management and their potential for minimizing necessary media spending (thus extending existing media budgets).

It’s likely you’ve come across online marketers who are quick to tout the role e-newsletters play in the success of their businesses. As these marketers will tell you, an e-mail newsletter program requires a sizeable investment. It’s an endeavor associated with costs many small businesses aren’t necessarily able — or willing — to shoulder.

If you’re one such business that’s has the good fortune of already having a database of opt-in customer e-mail addresses, you’re probably searching for a way to maximize communication with these customers, however sporadic (and erratic) it may have been in the past. Believe it or not, there are some companies out there who are utilizing e-mail as a marketing tool without the newsletter moniker — or the attending investment. They’re coming up with some clever ways to get inbox attention in the process.

A few days ago as I was checking my e-mail, I noticed a message from Coach, the leather goods retailer known for quality craftsmanship, and of course, those great bags. I receive e-mails from Coach from time to time, though there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to the delivery schedule, at least not in the eyes of the consumer.

The message I’ve seen always resemble a page from a mail-order catalog. There’s a sampling of new product styles, along with standard Web site links. For the average fashion maven wanting to keep up-to-date on the latest trends, the format’s sure to appeal. It provides a comprehensive overview of current products and entices Internet users to see more online. Those who don’t happen to have handbags front-of-mind when they receive the message — people who may be at work, for example — are more likely to send it to the deleted items folder, not giving it a second thought.

I can’t say whether Coach suddenly became aware of this scenario, or whether they were just in the mood to try something new. But speaking as a woman with a moderate interest in fashion, their latest attempt is a vast improvement over the catalog-style messages. It’s one I suspect will garner a notable lift in response.

The e-mail, simple in design, features a column titled “How to choose the perfect bag for fall.” Included are 10 tips for purchasing a handbag. The list includes advice like “Let the way you live your life dictate the bag you buy,” “Look for practical features that make your life easier,” and “Pick a shape, material and color that transcends trends.” The tone of the e-mail is decidedly objective, a refreshing change from the self-serving advice we’re used to reading in retailers’ e-mail (falsely impartial promotion doesn’t fool anyone, and ultimately only succeeds in making the associated business seem egocentric and obnoxious).

To many, these tips sound rather trivial. But considering the nature of a company’s target audience and their common interests, and I’m sure you’ll agree Coach hit the nail on the head. The creative engages just the right set of consumers, while setting up potential sales in a welcomingly subtle manner. It also packages a message with information that’s easy to digest by delivering it in the form of a list. Clearly, the tactic doesn’t apply to e-mail newsletters only. It can be employed in nearly all forms of consumer communication.

Despite my penchant for praising e-newsletters, I’ll admit the programs, despite all the hype, can have their drawbacks — especially in today’s environment.

E-mail newsletters may provide customers with targeted (and often customized) information they crave. But now that most major retailers and businesses have embraced them, consumers are bound to feel a little overwhelmed.

Subscribing to e-mail newsletters can be likened to receiving a bundle of magazines in your mailbox each month. You’re bound to run out of time and interest in some. Their fate is to end up in the recycling bin, unread. Occasional electronic correspondence, as opposed to a regularly-published dispatch, may actually result in increased consumer interest.

The quantity of unsolicited e-mail will always be an issue. A useful and appealing message, from a trusted brand, is sure to attract user attention. What an ideal opportunity to engage consumers with interesting content and portray your business in a positive light. Perhaps you’ll even make a sale.

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Tessa Wegert plans and implements online advertising strategies and promotional campaigns as media manager at BAM Strategy, a Montreal-based interactive marketing agency. With a background in print advertising, consumer marketing, and copy editing, she also freelances as a technology and e-marketing writer, online and off.

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