For the Week of January 9, 2006
For a long time I was troubled by how the subscription numbers for this newsletter were declining. I seriously considered dropping the whole thing.
But, with so many other Internet technologies available, I have learned that the e-mail newsletter can be an effective marketing tool, and that keeping a list small may be the key to success.
When I launched this letter, nearly a decade ago now, size was everything, and clickthroughs were the measure of success. An e-mail newsletter was seen as a marketing vehicle, a pushed Web page, and Web sales metrics were the way to measure success.
The approach didn't see the cost of sending a letter which didn't arrive, which wasn't read, or which wasn't valued. The letter was seen as a free good. All the incentives were on the side of increasing list size. And as the spam tide rose (as it continues to rise) e-mail marketers found they could no longer justify their work on this basis. Clickthrough rates declined to spam-like levels, as many letters were treated as spam. List value plummeted, because you didn't know which names were readers, how many were phony, and whether the mail was getting through. (Not all bounces are recorded.)
Most companies ignored the problems, but small companies found opportunity. If you kept your list small, if you valued your list members, you could maintain brand equity at minimal out-of-pocket cost. Some learned the key values which good letters actually carry:
- They educate
- They maintain intimacy
- They increase loyalty
These are not values which automatically translate into sales - not in ways the "experts" measured things. But some letter owners found that, when times got tough, they could issue a call to their lists and suddenly find themselves with the sales they needed to stay afloat.
Letters can raise goodwill, and goodwill can be tapped, not all the time, but every now and then.
How do you maintain a successful letter?
- Keep it exclusive.
- Give regular readers something of value.
- Encourage feedback, and respond.
By keeping your list exclusive, you maintain list quality, and cause list members to value the letter enough to read it. Giving things away - tips, merchandise, services, etc. - helps maintain this exclusivity and keeps the value of each name high. Encouraging feedback, and responding right away to feedback, provides intimacy.
Notice how all these benefits reinforce one another?
For someone who already has a job, this is a lot of work. The sweat equity involved in maintaining a successful letter is enormous, on a per-name basis. I know. I've been doing it for nearly a decade. I spend several hours each week on this, time I don't always feel I can afford. But when I've felt down, or ready to quit, I've been able to reach out through this letter, tap its goodwill, and gain the strength to carry on.
What I've concluded, then, is that the cost-benefit of newsletter publishing makes any letter of more benefit to a small business than a large one. While a large business may gain a bigger list, intimacy declines as list size grows, and as the sophistication of the product increases. There's an equation which can be drawn on this, involving the per-name value of a list, and variables such as the percentage of letters which arrive, the percentage which are read, and the percentage which are acted upon when a call to action is initiated. But I'm a word guy.
The bottom line is this. E-mail is the most intimate medium the Internet enables. Treat your list members as your extended family, giving them whatever you can, whenever you can, with an eye toward the long term rather than the short. You'll find, when trouble comes, that you are indeed "the richest man (or woman) in town."
I've got a new job. I'm now editor of Atlanta voic.us, a Web start-up aimed at building a community Web platform with a real business model. I'm also all alone in writing the Open Source Blog for ZDNet. (When this started there were three of us.)
My last non-fiction book, "The Blankenhorn Effect" won the Computer/Internet category in the 2003 Independent Publisher (IPPY) awards. Write me for a PDF copy of my latest novel, "Baptists are for Dunking."
On my Mooreslore blog I've written a new novel, "The Chinese Century." It's a story told in real-time, with real characters, but entirely fictional, dealing with the consequences of the falling dollar. I'm beginning a sequal, "American Diaspora," exploring the themes of the first book but with more fictional characters. It's a true alternate history, but set in the present day.
You are encouraged to forward this newsletter widely. And if you have trouble subscribing let me know. Remember: it's journalism that keeps the Clues coming...
Best of the Week
I have long believed that the Internet makes us all journalists.
No competent legal authority has the facts justifying any charge. The Congress is the only such authority, and Congress has not investigated.
Broadband is the new chip. The speed of your connection defines your experience. So long as that speed is artificially throttled by monopoly and government protection of monopolists, we can't progress.
George may be looking for a good, cheap way to turn America into a new, more profitable direction, and here's one right here. Fund TeleTruth.
ZDNet Open Source
Clued-in is Greg Germani of Decatur, Georgia, creator of the Atlanta Time Machine . He takes pictures from the same vantage point as old pictures, and the results are stunning.
Clueless is Sony, now worth a fraction of Apple, and continuing to lose ground under Australian buffoon Howard Stringer.
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