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You've heard the pitch--marketing newsletters are supposed to attract customers. They're sworn to build customer loyalty. And, the rumor is, they'll help you increase profits. All that...and they are incredibly cheap to produce.

But what if your newsletter's falling short of its potential?

Ideally, all the elements work in tandem to create a company newsletter that's the right balance of promotion and information for your target audience. But lining up each aspect in the precise position takes a lot of research, application, and testing.

Get a look at the line up of the usual suspects in an effective newsletter: the first timers, the repeat offenders and the lifers.

The First Timers

1. Focus. What should your newsletter do? Establish name recognition? Position your company as the widget expert? Attract new customers? Retain your current customers?

If you're working to establish expertise, include case studies that demonstrate your solutions. If retention is the goal, capitalize on the reasons customers choose you over the competition. If yours is the best customer service, feature a customer service rep in each issue.

2. Measurement. The only way you can know if your newsletter is successful is if you track it. Click-thrus, read-rates, and actual purchases can all be helpful, depending on your goal, as can subscribe/unsubscribe rates.

The proof that your newsletter positioned your company as the widget expert? Perhaps it's contact from a reporter on the list seeking input for an industry piece. Customer loyalty and conversion increases can be easily recorded through coupons. Just make sure to include a new tracking number in each issue.

3. Format. Appearance may not be everything, but if your newsletter's hard to read, chances are, subscribers won't bother. From whether to offer an HTML version, to where you should put the Editor's Letter, chances are you'll hear many opinions.

Generalities can be made, but your decisions should be made based on your reader's preferences. (HTML does perform better overall and Letters from the Editor are typically very popular. But you may have valid reasons to do neither.)

The Repeat Offenders

1. Nameplate: The nameplate (the area where your newsletter's name appears, sometimes mistaken for the masthead) should be consistent from issue to issue and should give both your newsletter's name and your company name.

For HTML newsletters, tie your nameplate to your company's image using the same colors, fonts, or a logo. All newsletters should work to establish a tie between each issue and your company.

2. Masthead: All email newsletters should have contact information. Make it as easy as possible to contact you (and don't force readers to visit your website to do so).

Make email and website addresses clickable and maximize the masthead's impact by keeping it brief and consistent each issue. The masthead is a great place to include a brief section on what you do to familiarize prospects with your company.

3. Tagline. All newsletters should have a sentence that describes the newsletter's subject and audience. A line like "Basic basket weaving for kids" tells potential subscribers at a glance whether or not your newsletter's what they're looking for.

A good tag identifies: a) audience, b) subject matter, and c) benefits. The tag appears near the nameplate or in the masthead and can also be used as your email signature. It should be brief yet memorable. Save the pitch for something else--the last thing you want is for potential readers to think the newsletter's "salesy."

The Lifers

1. Content. Good articles are fundamental to any good newsletter. The right content will be objective and targeted to your ideal reader. It'll fit their preferences and reading styles.

Make sure that the majority of your content isn't about you at all, but don't be afraid to be a little promotional (make sure to link the newsletter to what you do).

Include testimonials, case studies, links to recent press, and sales or special promotions. For best results, consider outsourcing this crucial newsletter function to a professional newsletter writer.

2. Distribution. From personalization, to the sender's name, email distribution requires making choices.

Consider using a distribution service that allows the reader's name to be added to the subject line and body. Also, if you're using HTML, will you have two separate lists, or will you use multipart MIME (a "sniffer")?

Set up the to and from fields so the newsletter comes from the editor and goes specifically to one reader's email address. Of all the newsletter issues, distribution can easily become the most complicated, so don't just select the first provider you find.

3. Subscriptions. Obviously, the more ideal your subscribers, the better your results. That's why a list of 5000 subscribers can out perform one with 500,000.

Where do you look for these perfect subscribers? Clearly, you'll want to encourage website visitors to sign up (please, only require their name and email address!)

Also, consider the places this audience spends time--post helpful solutions related to your newsletter on discussion boards (using a brief signature to promote the newsletter) and advertise at selected websites. By filling your list with targeted subscribers, you'll improve your results exponentially.

4. Ask! In each issue, make sure you ask your readers for action. Whether you want them to call and set up a consultation or place an order. You'll need to ask to get real results.

A newsletter that delivers business isn't far off if you round up the usual suspects. Take care to establish a firm foundation, ask for what you want, and get ready to record the results.

In no time, yours will be a newsletter that attracts customers, builds loyalty, and increases profits.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jessica Albon (jcalbon@designdoodles.com) assists companies develop newsletter strategies that expand profits, attract customers, and build loyalty at The Write Exposure (http://www.designdoodles.com)