Getting the Most from E-newsletters

October 17, 2012
Written by Andrew Hind
With technology advancing daily, people are getting more and more of their information via computers, smartphones and tablets. As a result, the Internet is increasingly relevant to every retail category. Whether in terms of pricing, merchandise mix, service or marketing, retailers need to keep a close eye on what’s happening online and devise new ways of reaching customers that factor in the changes the Internet has brought to consumer attitudes.

One way of capitalizing on this consumer trend is with an e-newsletter, one of the most cost-effective ways of getting your name out there and staying in touch with customers. The cost of an e-newsletter is inconsequential compared to the price involved in printing and mailing a hardcopy newsletter to thousands of customers, and thanks to the ever-growing reach of the Internet, the potential reward is incalculable.

According to recent research, more than three-quarters of Canadian Internet users have registered for permission-based email on at least one website, and more than half say they are willing to provide their email address to retailers and other companies when requested. Ninety per cent of those who refuse to share their email address say their reluctance is due to spam and the sheer volume of useless emails cluttering their inbox. The message for garden centre marketers is that once they have permission to include customers on an email list, they must hold their readers’ interest by providing relevant and intriguing content.

If put to good use, an e-newsletter will forge a valuable link between garden centre and customer, cultivating loyalty and providing people with information that will help them become more satisfied shoppers. This article is intended to help garden centres get the most out of their e-newsletters.

Content
So what kind of content should be included in an e-newsletter? First and foremost, keeping the newsletter short is the key. Many people, after all, will be checking their emails on the small screens of smartphones and tablets. In addition, readers don’t want to be bogged down with too much information covering too many topics.

Keep the content fun, entertaining and focused, and you will get people to read the newsletter. Not everyone will open every email you send, but if you send really good content over time, it will make an impression and customers will begin opening them more consistently. Short, snappy pieces that feature notable happenings at the garden centre – including new arrivals, special deals and coming events – are a must. Consider also including a sneak peek at sales before newspaper ads or flyers arrive, or newsletter subscriber only specials. This helps add value to becoming a subscriber and loyal reader.

A good newsletter is more than an advertisement, however, and should include practical tips or feature stories. These can be planned months in advance. In fact, some garden centres make a calendar at the beginning of the year, or at least seasonally, to determine which feature articles should be included in particular issues of the newsletter. It’s far easier to write features (which should be no more than 500 words) in the slow seasons and store them away than it is to find time to write in the hectic summer months. Planning is crucial.

You may consider approaching a local horticultural society to contribute a brief column. This is a fantastic way to encourage community support and interest while also lightening your workload.

Get customers involved
Customers will prove valuable in determining the content of your e-newsletter, so get them involved from the start and keep them engaged.

Use an online survey to get feedback from new and existing customers. This is the most effective way of finding out what other services and products you can offer, both within the context of the newsletter and in your store in general. It’s about creating a dialogue with your customer – that’s what modern marketers want when they talk about a communications campaign. The days of talking to customers are long past. Today we must talk with them in a two-way conversation. Making the newsletter suit their needs and interests is one way of demonstrating that you acknowledge this fact.

Why not turn questions you and your staff get in the garden centre into e-newsletter material? For example, perhaps a customer queries about how to prevent blossom-end rot on their tomatoes. That’s an article right there. Using customer questions makes for interesting content that can be written quickly, and you can be sure that if it’s relevant to one customer, it will be to others as well.

Another means of getting customers involved is to ask them at the point of purchase or on a website if there are any topics they would like covered in the newsletter. If you use the idea, attribute it to them and perhaps even offer a small special offer. This is a great way of getting customers invested in what you’re sending out.

To launch your e-newsletter, have a place at the cash register where customers can sign up and have a mock-up of what they can expect to receive if they do so. Ensure staff members promote the newsletter while serving customers. Also have a prominent place on your website for customers to sign up.

Linking the newsletter to Facebook, Twitter and other forms of social media will not only spread the word faster but will also make the newsletter interactive, a sort of community with your garden centre as its heart. Customers love to build relationships with the retailers they patronize, and this is a great way of doing just that. Remember, a good newsletter is not just about informing existing customers, but also about attracting new ones.

Finally, to ensure your e-newsletter stands out from the glut of emails people will receive in their inbox, make the ”from” line instantly recognizable and the “subject” line more interesting than merely “Monthly Newsletter.”

Provide an easy, one-click opt-out system in all newsletters and on the website so people can choose to no longer receive issues. It might seem a small matter but an important one because you don’t want to frustrate or annoy the very people you want to attract with unwanted emails. Also, the Fighting Internet and Wireless Spam Act  (FISA) makes this opt-out feature a requirement under Canadian law.

The ever-growing reach of the Internet offers an astonishing range of opportunities. E-newsletters are a cost-effective means of applying the power of the Internet, both to inform existing customers and to attract new ones.

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