A successful email newsletter takes more effort to develop than most people realize. Over the years I have assisted well over 100 companies/organizations launch successful email newsletter campaigns, and currently I publish 4 newsletters each month.
When I was growing up my dad always asked,"Son, why do you have to learn EVERYTHING... every single thing the hard way? It was no different when I decided to launch my first email newsletter. I hope the things that I learned along the way will help you out.
Here are the most common questions I'm often asked regarding launching a newsletter campaign:
Should I use "Single" or "Double" opt-in?
Use a "Double opt-in" subscription process. It requires a recipient to confirm that he/she has signed up to receive an email newsletter from you by asking them to respond to a confirmation email. This will ensure that:
- Your "Report This Email As Spam" complaint rate will stay very low, (if you have any at all)
- Friends of friends and/or enemies can't sign each other up for your newsletter
Some will argue that a Double opt-in process will result in a certain percentage of those who initially subscribe never respond to the confirmation email, and that is true. With my newsletters that number always hovers around 15-20%... but I can tell you that the high level of protection from spam accusations that a Double opt-in provides alone is well worth that 15-20%!
Should I send "text only" or HTML newsletters?
Ideally you should offer your email newsletter in both formats. Let recipients choose which format they want to receive your newsletter in. About 85% of my recipients receive my newsletters in HTML, but the other 15% are important too!
What type of "template" should I use for an HTML newsletter?
Keep it simple. You can download a self-extracting .zip file of some good email newsletter templates here:
The above templates are "ready to go", including graphics.
How often should I broadcast my newsletter?
I send my newsletters twice a month. That is 100% up to you. Just remember, content is much more important than frequency.
Quality newsletters give organizations a chance to build a long-term relationship with prospects and customers and are much more appealing to a reader than standalone sales pitch emails. If you send a weekly newsletter that has little or no value to your readers, your "un-subscribe" rate will increase. If you broadcast twice or even once a month and you make sure to include quality and relative content, your list will steadily grow.
With that said, it ain't always easy to sit down and produce high quality newsletter content twice a month. If you occasionally have difficulty obtaining newsletter content, there are some EXCELLENT resources out there for obtaining good content with the author's permission "built right in".
From the home page, simply search for an article containing relevant key words for the subject of your newsletter. Once you find a relative article, select the "Ezine Publisher" button located in the upper right-hand corner of the page. Then highlight, copy and paste the article. That's it!
(Just make sure that you include the author's information and article source in your broadcast).
Wow... This is a classic example of "exceeding expectations"! Thank you for such an incredibly informative responses to Russ's forum post.
I have a couple of questions... The first is not doubting your statement about double opt-in, but rather a truly inquisitive "how come?". I subscribe to dozens of eNewsletters, including The Ziegler Supersystems newsletter, which is one of my favorites. ADM readers can sign up using the form on the lower left side of the page at http://zieglersupersystems.com/ . Within ADP there are many executives from the DMS side of the business who want to learn more about digital marketing. So, I am known to subscribe many of them to various eNewsletters that I believe are relevant to that person... They call me the "Doctor of Digital Marketing" and I prescribe appropriate eNewsletters by enrolling them without their prior knowledge. If there was a double opt-in process, I believe most of them would either ignore the confirmation process, or our ADP email spam filters would block them. Likewise, I do believe some consumers enroll friends, family and relatives into various eNewsletters, just like many leads I have called and emailed over the years were actually online shopping on behalf of a friend, relative, co-worker and sometimes their boss. So, I guess I am wondering, is a double opt-in like going to confession on Friday and Communion on Sunday for a good Catholic? I mean, is it REALLY necessary?
My next question is about using outside service providers. I have used several eNewsletter service providers and in general I believe that companies like IMN and Outsell provide highly effective and valuable services, many of which would be tough for an individual dealer to execute in a DIY eNewsletter program... Whitelisting, for example, is nearly impossible for a dealer to do on their own. And the content that these professional eNewsletter providers offer as an alternative to a dealer's in-house authors, is, well... sometimes a lot better written. What is your take on the use of 3rd party eNewsletter providers?
Lastly, in my years of experience managing dealership eNewsletters it seems that less is more... What I mean is that the more I tried to pitch selling cars, the less our subscribers seemed to respond. And, the less I focused on selling cars and more on simply informing and entertaining the subscriber base, the more sales opportunities arose from each eNewsletter edition. What's your take on content? Should an eNewsletter be a series of sales pitches, or should dealers offer something other than "come in for the big sales"?
The details and comments already contributed by Ralph and J.C. should have you on the right track to develop your e-newsletter so rather than add to an already comprehensive list of do's and don'ts perhaps a different tact would be more helpful.
I have always fought over what to do - and what to delegate. Of course only you know your in-house resources and if they are best invested in a newsletter - which you have already found can be very labor intensive. Perhaps the answer is to "outsource" this activity to a specialist so you and yours can be free to handle the opportunities that I anticipate is your true reason for developing an e-newsletter to begin with? Unless of course it is the artist in your struggling to get out; If so, have fun!
Frankly, one of the most common mistakes made by auto dealers in constructing an e-newletter is that it is often too "hard sell" and customer's eventually opt-out becasue they see it as a perpetual solicitation - even if it isn't!. Anything generated by the dealer is suspect including well meaning content like puzzles, jokes, local news articles - whatever. One possible answer - if you decide to delegate or outsource your e-newsletter - might be to consider a company like Kihon Media that writes a custom third party quarterly online magazine and monthly e-newsletters with articles that are relevant to the customer backed by a third party website that has links back to either landing pages, coupons or even your home page for information that is integrated into the articles in a problem/solution format.
Seasonal articles on the safety of new wiper blades might link to a coupon for a FREE pair, or an article on how synthetic oil compares to regular oil in winter conditions might have links to your landing page on winterizing a vehicle - you get the point. The added value of the source being from a third party tied to a third party website that is wholly linked to you and yours insulates you from the paranoia that it is a sales pitch and it is not limited to your data base. The S.E.O. reach of your site is obviously enhanced by the online footprint of the site that you support PLUS it has the value of finding customers that search online for service and sales information that intentionally try to avoid a dealership; sound familiar!
Anyway, do it or delegate - just do it since either way it is a value added that will develop an acceptable R.O.I. Just be sure to factor in the cost of you and your time when youu start the equation.
That's J.C. Hurst. He is always willing to help. He modestly didn't say that we sometimes send more than 100,000 emails to opt-in databases in the automotive business as well as the speaking business and the 'entrepreneur' business. We have the ability to send targeted newsletters to as many as 180,000 opt-in subscribers in those three areas of business. We have done as much as $60,000.00 in a big month of credit card e-commerce with all of our sites combined.
When I was at Courtesy, our month eNewsletter contained an "Employee of the Month" profile on one of the people working at the dealership, a "Customer of the Month" profile and story about someone's business, job, charitable activities, etc., and a "Highway Travelling" tip of the month, along with a recipe, local AZ events calendar and a list of current rebates and incentives. The highest used link was those that went directly into our new and used inventory sections. When we would focus on sales pitches, the open rates and subsequent click-throughs would drop.
I recommend you tak a look at Outsell's eNewsletter program that comes with a staffed live chat system, or the IMN LoyaltyDriver program which has some great writers associated with it. Either way, you will get great results... The ROI from a properly run eNewsletter program is right there at the top of the list of Digital Marketing best practices.
If you do a Google query using: Courtesy call from courtesy chevrolet - the top organic result is an old newsletter I did using the IMN LoyaltyDriver platform. The dealership has since switched to the Outsell eNewsletter platform (after I left) because they like the engagement levels they get and additional sales from the Outsell Chat application that comes with their eNewsletter program.
And... you know what? Your question relating to Double opt-in made me realize that I had "tunnel vision" when I posted above.
Someone publishing a Dealer-based newsletter would definitely want as many people as possible to be able to register other people. I didn't even consider that the type of opt-in you choose should be determined by the type of organization your newsletter will represent, and what you want to accomplish with the newsletter. If "list building" is your primary goal, then Double opt-in would not work very well... (it can get confusing).
Another important thing to consider... will the subscription be directly tied to your brand? Will subscribers sign up directly from your all important main domain? (www.MyDealership.com) If so, you better use double opt-in!
THEN.... I read Phillip's response. WOW!
Friggin' tunnel vision again!
I would like to say something here...
I have developed relationships with many guys/gals that work in and run Dealership Internet Sales Departments. I also have friends who wear the same hat in other industries.
You folks are AMAZING... I honestly don't know how you do it! Seriously... compared to your colleagues in other industries, you folks have soooo many more obstacles to overcome. I personally believe that your determination to succeed along with your passion for the Automotive Industry is what sets you apart. WAAAAY far apart.
To "prove" my theory... I would submit the fact that both Ralph and Phillip, (who have caused me to totally re-evaluate the entire issue of email newsletter campaigns as they relate to Dealerships), became involved in this discussion on a Sunday evening! Umm... that's what I'm talkin' 'bout!
You won't find leaders in other industries doing that!
Russ, on this issue, I can help ya' with the technical basics, but as for "industry related" specifics... listen to Ralph and Phillip!!!
Thanks JC, but I notice that you are up late Sunday contributing some shared best practices yourself - and Russ was nice enough to surface a common problem so we could all share in the solutions that started from his forum - and Ralph started the whole thing by creating ADM -soooo, let's all take a bow! But then again,, what are friends for
Maybe if Philip and I had our act together we wouldn't be fooling around with blogging stuff on a Sunday evening! Well, for me it is a distraction from the dreaded expense reports I am working on... Anyways, I think we could all learn a lot from insights from professionals like yourself that see what is working in other industries.
I like th eidea of the double opt-in on the dealer's main site... But, how would you handle a list of, say, 40,000 email addresses and customer profiles you have in your database from a couple years of lead generation?
When a dealer signs up with an eNewsletter supplier, typically the list of emails that the dealer exports to that new supplier is primarily made up from leads that have been either purchased or self generated by the dealership.
In my own opinion, I believe that there should be some type of differentiation in the type of initial eNewsletter sent to Service customers, Sales customers, combined, and Internet Leads who have not bought anything from the dealership...
J.C., I know you know a lot about this stuff, so please share your opinion and forget about the any preconceived ideas you may have about car dealerships... What's the RIGHT way to handle different types of customer and lead databases?
TAAAANX Ralph... I can't sign-off with this one looming, (as my wife stands at the top of the staircase yelling... "It's time for you to come to bed!")
OK... now you're getting into specifics that, (after learning things the "hard way" over the years), I can accurately comment on... and it's the same for any industry.
Knowing where your leads come from is crucial! "Ground Zero"
First of all, if a Dealership has acquired a list of 40,000+ leads over a couple of years, THAT'S AWESOME! It can also be overwhelming!
If a Dealership is considering hiring a 3rd party eNewsletter supplier and providing them with a combined list of purchased and self generated leads, the Dealership is about to travel down a dead-end street.
Incoming leads need to be divided into specific categories from the start, (self gen., purchased, walk-in, bulk-mail response, etc.), otherwise, it's a total waste of time and money. (I know... that's a different topic all-together).
There are a few methods for playing "catch-up" in order to categorize an EXISTING combined list, (Excel formulas in a pain in-the-ass spread sheet), with a manageable level of accuracy, but why not do it right from the start?!
Once you have the lead categories locked down, decide which lead category you want to pursue first. If this is a first run and you're testing a new vendor, send them your "purchased" leads list only.
Unlike direct mail, where a 2% response rate is considered good, hard-and-fast benchmarks don't really exist in email. After the broadcast, monitor your CTR. I've found that if your CTR is around 4% or better strictly based on a "Purchased" list... your potential vendor is doing their job! Go ahead and shoot them your "self generated" list.
In general, a 60% or higher CTR on a self generated list is considered excellent. I see a unique open rate for my newsletters, (counting one open per unique email address), in the 65 to 70 percent range.
(Reports show that general email CTRs have decreased in recent years, but not many studies focus exclusively on email newsletters. In my experience, email newsletters have a MUCH higher CTR than "standalone" marketing emails).
The bottom line; build your lists with a specific purpose/category for each list. As technology advances and your business grows... you'll be glad that you did!
Thanks for such obviously sound advice... It always amazes me how the really good guidance rings true the first time you read/hear it. BTW, when I was at Courtesy, we generated OVER 120,000 email addresses in 2 years... Most were self generated online form fills, but a lot of them were Service and Sales customers from the showroom that received our paper based USPS letter asking them to save a few trees by registering their email address with us at www.ContactChevy.com . After I left the dealership all the domains (over 600) were moved by my replacement to GoDaddy.com but he never bothered to reroute them to the correect assigned DNS spec's, so most of that infrastructure was broken by the domain name registrar move, and remains broken to this day... But, hey, he saved money on the annual registration fees!
However, even though we were trying to manage huge numbers of customer database entries, we limited the eNewsletter database to 40,000 each month. We started with just 3 categories of customer profiles:
1. Vehicle Sold Customers
2. Service Customers (within prior 6 months)
3. Our Own Branded Website Leads
Each month we would drop 5,000 customers/emails that had not opened the eNewsletter and rotate in a new lst of 5,000 emails from customers in one of the above 3 categories.
After I left Courtesy, they stopped managing the list for awhile, and then they switched to Outsell, who now does the "optimization" of subscriber database for them. Of course, the customers who manually register for the eNewsletter are exempted from deletion, but the reason we always kept the lest as low as 40,000 emails was to control the expense.
With what i have learned during my tenure at Courtesy, combiend with what I have learned since leaving them to join ADP at the end of March, 2007 I can clearly see that some sort of subscriber list segmentation, followed by different content being created for each segment would be the most effective way to optimize the results for dealers who are successful at building large email databases.
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