Tag : newsletter

70: Getting Engaged on Your Birthday

InboxToday’s my birthday.

Apparently, it’s public knowledge.  This week, I got an email from Panera telling me that they put a surprise on the MyPanera card in my wallet.  I got another birthday email from NFL.com, showing my last name on a Ravens jersey—a nice touch.  I would be more impressed, if these actions and emails weren’t generated by a database sitting on a server in Nebraska somewhere; but I’ve got to tip my hat to these companies for putting something other than solicitations in my inbox.

It’s not just mail-merged birthday greetings I noticed this week.  Staples sent me advance notice coupons in Wednesday’s email.  (In the past, they’ve snail-mailed me invitations for Rewards-member-only store hours and sales.)  As they regularly do, American Express sent me an email with links to four articles for entrepreneurs; and Ink by Chase sent me an invitation to an upcoming small business conference.  The makers of MapMyRun, one of the few paid apps on my iPhone, emailed me articles related to health and wellness.

Birthday Emails
What these companies know is that our culture craves autonomy.  We want corporations to treat us like people, not numbers.  We’ve been burned by Enron and BP, Congress and Wall Street.  We want our voices and purchases to count.  We don’t want to be told by Madison Avenue mad men what to want.

That’s why Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other social media sites have seen unprecedented growth.  It probably explains why shows like “Dancing with the Stars” and “American Idol”—shows to which we can contribute—trump the ratings of scripted shows.  Beyond self-expression and acceptance, we crave more personal interactions with people, not conglomerates.

So, the entities that engage relationally gain advantage over their peers.  It’s not just that they have a Facebook account, a Twitter feed, or a birthday list.  It’s what they do with them.  They invite conversation, respond to expressed concerns or praise, and give away products, services, and/or information for free.  Instead of a broadcast mentality, where emails and status updates are all sales pitches, they’ve found the social in social marketing, the 2 [way street] in Web 2.0.  They know the difference between radios and walkie talkies—and choose the latter.

So, how do you engage the individual in your marketing?  What special offers do you give your prospects or clients?  I’ve heard of auction companies offering MVP parking or seating, permanent bidder numbers, and bidder receptions.  What intellectual property or advice do you send their way?  Some auctioneers conduct free bidder seminars; others offer FAQ documents or how-to videos on their Web sites.  Do you have a blog or newsletter?  If so, is it solely horn-tooting; or does it contain practical content?

You don’t have to be the birthday fairy to build an interactive brand.  But if you want what you have to go viral, you have to get close enough to people—where they are—for them to catch your contagions.  Go to the events and environments where they congregate (both online and offline); authentically join the conversation.  Listen to needs, themes, trends.  And say something more than, “I’ve got something I want to sell you.”
[tip]

I’ve been in a Tuesday night study of the New Testament book of Acts, seeing things I never saw in a whole semester of Acts during college.  One of the truths that has jumped out of the narrative is how evangelism was conducted outside of the synagogue.  The apostles and disciples started with where each respective unbeliever was at that moment.  Peter and John told the lame beggar, “We don’t have money, but we have Jesus’ name to heal you.”  Philip asked the curious Ethiopian Eunuch, “Do you understand what you’re reading?”  Jesus asked a murderous Saul, “Why are you persecuting me?”

Few people want to be converts, stars on a performance chart, or numbers at a “bring a guest” Sunday.  At a core level, we want to be known and understood, loved and respected.  If someone were to change your mind on faith—a deeply personal asset—what approach would most likely woo and convince you?  What would that process look like?

Knowing this, is that the approach you take to share the faith you hold dear?

[footer]Stock image used by permission through purchase from iStockPhoto.com ©2010.[/footer]

Newsletters & Fruitcakes

NewsThe word newsletter used to evoke an internal groan akin to the one for holiday fruitcake.  For decades, newsletters were more blessed to give than receive.  With desktop publishing and internet technology constantly improving, though, in-house newsletters have made improvements by leaps and bounds.

That said, not all newsletters are created equal.  I’m not just talking about printed pieces versus email or online versions.  See, some build positive recognition of their company’s brand.  Others are still wrapped in their green cellophane.  The recipient knows the sender means well, but they’re not going to stop from their mail sort to absorb the content.  So, here are some tips to keep that from happening to your newsletter.

Establish Your Expertise
The primary function of the newsletter is to inform the reader in a way that establishes your company as an expert source.  The residual effect of newsletter investment may take years.  If you need to borrow articles to fill the space, you are still communicating your knowledge prowess—because you know where to direct others for information.  Just make sure to obtain permission and properly attribute the source(s).

Serve the Reader First, Your Company Second
You wouldn’t want to read your local used car dealer’s run down of his sales reports.  Your prospects don’t want to read your litany, either. But if your local car dealer sold the first off the assembly line or accepted a trade-in from a celebrity, then he’d have your interest.  What’s in your piece for your reader? Make them care about your business by caring about their interests.  Save your “sold!” gallery for your web site.  Spend time to obtain quotes and supporting materials that will make your newsletter more journalistic, more professional, and more engaging.

Graph-fiti Like a Gang Member
If you want to illustrate your accomplishments, don’t toot your horn with paragraphs of text.  Give your successes context with chart and graphs.  I recommend showing sale prices in relation to appraisals/assessments or sales by day of the week or month of the year.  Compare types of auction properties, or map types of properties per geographic area.  Chart online bidders versus live ones over a span of sales.  Make abstract ideas concrete by illustrating them graphically.

Use Large Photos and Lots of White Space
If your piece looks more like a bible page and less like a magazine spread, seek professional help.  This isn’t high school yearbook class or “BUS 107: Intro to Business Forms.”  Your newsletter carries your brand as much as any other media you place in front of your audience.  Break stories up with pull quotes, statistic boxes, charts, and inset photos.  Don’t’ crowd content, especially text.  Use action photos as much as possible.  Use a test audience, especially one unfamiliar with your news.

Stay on Schedule
Determine a schedule—whether monthly, quarterly, or annually—that will allow for you to consistently generate original content.  You want to develop a distribution pattern, even if a sparse one.  If you have extra material for one release—rather than try to shoe horn it into this issue, save the least time-sensitive content for the next issue.

You can save your newsletter from the round file the same way you would protect a Christmas food gift investment: give something the receiver will want to eat.  Put some thought into it.  Avoid the non-refundable bargain bin.

And make sure the old family “special recipe” stays at home.
[tip]

The underlying message of your newsletter is, “We are experts.  You can trust your business with us.”  What is the underlying, almost-thematic message of your life? Do you sift your actions and goals though the sieve of that statement?

For me, I want it all to match my life goal: to live a creative nonfiction life of spiritual and physical adventure that, with integrity, will draw others into the same.  It doesn’t take too long on my web sites and facebook pages to see the ways I pursue that (successfully or not).  But the chase makes the mundane less so, the necessary a contribution—and a positive legacy possible.

Is the way you’re writing the pages of your life story pulling people into the bigger picture?  If not, you can still edit and rewrite the remaining pages—starting with today’s.

[footer]Stock image(s) used by permission through purchase from iStockPhoto.com ©2008[/footer]

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