The 10 commandments of B2B newsletters which are read, not deleted

Article by OneFish TwoFish.

It’s fair to say that both hard and soft copy newsletters have been rather overused. If we’ve read ‘Welcome to our Spring newsletter!’ once, we've read it a zillion times. This kind of Newsletter-For-A-Newsletter’s sake leaves us as cold as it does you.

So the trick is to take a completely different approach. Here are the 10 commandments of effective newsletter writing. Flout them and join a thousand other wasted words in the spam folder….

1. Don’t call it a newsletter
We hate newsletters. You hate newsletters. So don’t call it a newsletter. See Commandment 2 for alternative ways to describe your newsletter.

2. Make it useful
At work, we focus our time on activities that provoke thought/interest; make us look good in front of our boss; help us do our job better, or save time/effort on an existing activity. We’re in survival mode. If your newsletter doesn't tap into at least one of these, it is unlikely to survive.

Classify your newsletter into a high business-value communication which clearly signposts it as being for your particular niche e.g. Small Business FD business bulletin, Change Management Monthly Resource Book, Managing Sales Teams: Inspiration and Insight.

For example in the Results International newsletter, we title it ‘Ideas for Inspirational Leaders: 60 seconds on…’. As it’s pitched to Director/CEO level, we make it clear it’s for their level and highlight how quickly they can 'onboard' the new idea. The idea is for a member of your target audience to consider it so useful to their work, they just HAVE to subscribe.

3. Theme each edition
Unplanned newsletters can be a bit of a random jumble of whatever information is easily gatherable at the time of publication. This is confusing for the reader and not very memorable. By planning themes, you will signpost the great content much more clearly and also leverage future topics at the sign-up stage.

Let’s take the Change Management newsletter as an example. Possible themes might include: effective change programme communication, stakeholder management, project management, avoiding typical derailers, measuring success.

If I was a Change Manager I would be much more likely to subscribe to a newsletter which clearly laid out the content of upcoming editions. And when I received the newsletters, I would read more of each of them, knowing they knit together into a comprehensive concept.

4. Use regular features
The theming concept works well in partnership with regular features. This means a layout of article types which is repeated in each edition. These might include a thought article, an interview, a top tips section, a news feed, a case study, an interactive poll etc. The format depends on the focus of your newsletter.

A trick gleaned from successful magazines is that regular features help the reader navigate and quickly absorb the information as well as keeping their interest, edition after edition. To avoid ‘me-too-ism’ make sure you create sections that will work well for your content and give them interesting names. For example in the Xancam newsletter, we call the interview section ‘The Big Three’ and ask each VIP three killer questions on the topic for that edition.

5. Turn content gathering into prospecting
Use the process of pulling together content as an opportunity to engage with your target audience. For example if you have a very senior and strategic contact who is difficult to sell to (or to get on the phone for that matter), you could interview them for an article. It always surprises me how willing scarily-important-people are to speak when they know they’re not being sold to.

If you’re feeling particularly brave, why not pitch to a number of people you haven’t met but know by reputation. Tell them you think they’ll have something useful to say on the subject and would they consider contributing a quote, a piece of insight or a tip? With just five of these you’ve got yourself a pipeline – or at least the potential for one.

6. Don’t oversell or undersell
Ok, there are two ends of the spectrum to avoid. At one end is a pure advert. At the other is a newsletter full of fascinating content, all provided for free with no indication of the company behind it and what they do. Steering a course between advertiser and sucker can be tricky –here’s how:

  • If you have something very relevant to sell on the back of the theme, you can insert one advert for this. But it should be in the style of ‘find out how to…’ rather than ‘buy it here!’.
  • Always include a 'call to action' at the end of each click-through.
  • Make sure that as many sections as possible link through to something on your website.
  • Once people have clicked here, they will often click around to find out what you do.
  • Include your contact details and a short description of what your business does in every newsletter
  • Make sure all content links clearly to something you do. Be wary of writing anything which is interesting, but doesn’t conceptually link to something you can sell. 

7. Absolutely, positively no parish news
We’ve all done it, but we can definitively confirm that parish news makes you look small, inward looking and local. So no matter how great the Director’s wedding photos are, or how fun that Fun Run you all did for charity really was, keep it out of your client newsletter.

The only exception is if you can tie it clearly into the theme. But the link should be good and strong. Not tenuous (and definitely not tedious).

8. Make it look fantastic
There are lots of awful looking email newsletters out there – mostly created by non-designers using online newsletter building tools. If you refuse to pay a designer to lay out each issue for you, then the bare minimum is to use a system like Newzapp which will create a really solid template in your branding which makes whatever you add look good.

A key issue is monitoring how the newsletter will look in the preview pane, before the images are loaded. At this crucial download/don’t download stage, the newsletter has to look great or the decision will not go in your favour. Some recipients will read newsletters without ever downloading the images – so if yours is readable without images, so much the better.

9. Build your subscriber list
Size isn’t everything, but the larger the number of the right kind of subscribers the better (obvious really!). Optimising the organic growth of your list is a given. This means having a clear sign-up page (with all your forthcoming issues listed, plus examples of previous editions) on your website. Add ‘calls to action’ which link to this page from everywhere you can think of: your email signature, relevant articles on your website, other people’s newsletters, forum signatures, marketing collateral, press releases and so on.

Proactive growth of your list is optional – but it can be the only way to get started. If you have a list of people who already know you one way or another, send them a ‘premail’ explaining that you think they would be interested in your newsletter and that they can subscribe/unsubscribe below (your choice as to whether you force them to opt in, or opt out). You can do the same with cold contacts – but expect a far lower response rate. Don’t deploy ‘opt out’ for cold contacts – only opt in.

We have worked with organisations who just send their newsletter to bought lists and wait for people to unsubscribe. Technically this is not spamming (as long as it is a business email address, there is a clear unsubscribe option and you are using a list which permits this type of communication). However, this can often be perceived as spam with important brand implications – so treat this course of action with caution.

10. Be proactive with the clicks
Your newsletter provider should furnish you with a clever report explaining who opened your newsletter and who clicked each link. If your newsletter is non-salesy and insight-based, then any direct selling on the back of clicks will be poorly received (e.g. Hello Mr Burns, Big Brother tells me you innocently clicked on an article in our newsletter just now – I am now going to assume you’re happy for me to enthusiastically sell our services to you.). So don’t do this.

However, a bit of clever and targeted follow up can work wonders, for example:-    a follow up email to those who clicked on a particular link e.g. ‘If you liked this article, you might be interested in our webinar on 24th April.’ Or a follow up call for feedback to those who downloaded something e.g. ‘I saw you downloaded our white paper and wondered if you’d give us some feedback when you’ve had a chance to read it’.

To find out more about Onefish Twofish, visit their website here.

4 reasons why you need an ESP (Email Service Provider)

Email marketing is one of the most powerful marketing tools available but only when it’s done right. Using your standard email account (e.g. Outlook, Hotmail or Gmail) to send mass messages is not the right way to do it. Why not? Because your standard email account is not designed for email marketing and therefore has limitations that can actually undermine your email marketing efforts.

Here are four reasons why a good ESP (Email Service Provider) is a must for sending mass emails:

1. Higher deliverability
Because your typical email client, Outlook or Gmail for instance, is not built for email marketing, the messages you send out may end up labelled as spam by ISPs (internet service providers), not even arriving into your recipients’ spam folders, much less their inboxes. Most ESPs are whitelisted, or approved by ISPs as a legitimate permission based email delivery service. ESPs also offer easy methods to authenticate your email, which will prove to ISPs that you are who you say you are, a legitimate non spammer sending emails to those who want to receive the information.

2. Comprehensive tracking and analytics
Most ESPs provide customers with comprehensive tracking for all of their email campaigns. You can find out the number of people who opened your email, which links were clicked and by who, deliverability success and track your unsubscribes.

Some ESPs such as NewZapp will also provide you with Google Analytics integration, social media tracking and information on which email clients are being used to open your emails and whether your subscribers are on a desktop or mobile.

3. List management 
Trying to manually keep all your data up to date can quickly become a time consuming task. ESPs will store all your subscriber details, updating them as you import, removing the duplicates, unsubscribes and invalid email addresses.

Bounce management is also included with most ESPs - automatically removing hard bounces and soft bounces after a bounce threshold has been reached. Bounces often occur because the email address you're sending to is invalid or the mailbox full.

4. Easily create HTML emails
With WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editors, creating a professional HTML email is a breeze. There’s no need for HTML knowledge as the coding is automatically created for you. Most ESPs will also include several well designed HTML templates for you to customise and use for your own campaigns. There are also options for you to have bespoke templates created to suit your needs.

5 tips for a successful email marketing campaign this Christmas

It’s true that as Christmas approaches, email volumes rise, so it’s more important than ever to get your campaigns in top-notch condition and leave a lasting impression with your subscribers.

1. Embrace the season
It’s the season to be jolly so ensure your copy and images carry a Christmas theme. This is the time to drop your professional guard and put some personality into your emails. Lets be honest, who doesn't love a dancing Santa animation?

2. Timing
It’s important to have a look at your calendar and think about the best days and times to send your emails. Try and ensure you miss the potential days off and work Christmas party lunches, and deliver your message when your subscribers are most likely to have the time to read and engage with them.

3. Provide an incentive
With all these promotional emails landing in their inbox, subscribers are going to be hunting for the best deals possible, and this is where incentives can give you an extra edge. Your incentive can be anything from free delivery or gift wrapping to 20% off an order, just make sure you add that little extra something to make your campaign more appealing.

4. Don’t overdo it
Although Christmas is a great reason to get in touch with your subscribers don’t start sending more emails than you would normally. Recipients get used to your communication patterns, a sudden more aggressive strategy can irritate and may lead them to unsubscribe.

5. Don’t forget to send a card
Be sure to send a thoughtful, non-sales based ecard to your subscribers as it’s a great way to show the friendly face of your business. It’s also a good opportunity to include other bits of helpful information such as your holiday opening hours.

If you’re a NewZapp customer you can have one of our fantastic Christmas ecards uploaded to your account for free.  There are 40 designs to choose from and each one has editable areas for you to insert your own message and/or logo.

Including video in emails

There’s no doubt that using video engages your subscribers. It’s attention grabbing and adds a new dimension to your message that can generate more interest than text alone.

The millions of training, product, presentation, tutorial and demonstration videos out there testify to this.

But should you embed videos in your email campaigns?

Most Email Service Providers (ESP’s) have the facility to do this. The technology does exist and ESP’s aren't technically speaking against you using video, but as with most things, just because you can doesn't mean you should!

Why we wouldn't recommend using video in emails just yet:
  • You need the technical know-how to add the necessary code to your email which embeds video.
  • Very few email readers that will allow a video to play in an email.
  • The code used to embed the video will mean your email is more likely to get caught in filters and not even make it to your subscriber's inbox.
  • Video can take time to download, or as mentioned above, not work at all. In this time your subscribers could become frustrated and bored and delete your email without seeing your video content or clicking on other links.
  • You won't gain valuable click-through information that you would by recipients needing to click to view the video.
What you can do instead:
  • Use an image of the first frame of your video and use that as a clickable image link to the video online (your own web page or a page on your YouTube channel etc).
  • Make sure the image has a "Play" button/icon included to make it as clear as you can that clicking will enable you to view the video.
  • Double your chances of a click by including a text link as well, such as "Follow this link to view our video" (never worry about stating the obvious with hyperlink wording!)
As images aren't embedded in your email when using NewZapp, using this method of linking from a static image, instead of embedding video, means your email is "lighter" (smaller in file size) and easier to deliver.

Want to be a little more adventurous?

If you have the resources, try an animated gif as your image link, with some movement that reinforces the topic or just to get attention!

Points to remember with animated gifs:
  • If well made, animated gifs are usually relatively small in file size (KB), but keep an eye on this in case you drift towards the "slow to load" zone that we wanted to avoid by not embedding video in the first place.
  • Not all email clients will let the animation play. For example Outlook 2007-2013 and Lotus Notes will only show the first frame of your animated gif instead.
  • Weigh up the pros and cons of the time you'd be investing in making an animated gif, by checking what proportion of your database use Outlook 2007-2013 or Lotus Notes. Check the Client data of a previous campaign. If it's a really high percentage then you may decide to use a non-animated image to link from.
  • If you do go ahead, make sure that whoever is making your animated gif is aware that some email readers wont see the animation so that they can put the most important part of your message in the first frame.

As a summary - providing links to view your video will give you best chance of deliverability to the inbox, and a much clearer understanding of who is interested in seeing the video, thanks to the click data in NewZapp LIVE! Reports.

Recommended additional reading: 
An introduction to common email rendering issues and how to deal with them

Branding guidelines: Your links to social media websites

In my last blog I posed the question ‘Do you have branding guidelines?’ and just in case the answer was no, I set out some basic tips on how to start documenting your preferences as a starting point. This was because, in my personal opinion, you should never consider your company or organisation to be too small to require guidelines which others should respect.

Respecting branding guidelines is my next topic, and in particular when linking to third party websites. It’s a topic that has come to the fore recently with our own marketing material when it was brought to our attention that we were using icons on our website and digital material that might not be adhering to the owners’ brand guidelines.

The owners in question being rather large and well known brands such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn. Along with Pinterest and Instagram these are arguably the six most relevant social media outlets for businesses to reach out to and engage with customers and prospects, and communities in general. 

So what’s the problem as long as the brands get traffic?

Good question and probably what’s at the back of most people’s minds. "What’s the harm if my links are driving traffic to my page on a third party website, they should be grateful."

Don’t get me wrong they probably are! But let’s turn it around and look it from the other side of the fence. If a third party website wanted to link to your business and in doing so, took your logo and completely changed it to match their own colour scheme and style – how would you feel? Not really bothered? Well you should be (naughty step now, take five!)

Joking aside, there are reasons trademarks are registered and we are all at risk of being in breach of these when we publish graphics which don't conform. I'm not sure about you, but that's a fight we'd rather not pick!

Knowing where to look

Apologies for stating the obvious, but googling a brand name followed by the words "brand guidelines" should give you the page link you need as the top search result. Then when you find them, guidelines aren't necessarily as daunting as they may at first seem.

Here are a few examples of the type of rules you might find in relation to correct logo use:

  1. The 'Facebook Product Assets and Identity Guide' specifically states (page 67):

    Don't: Modify the “f” logo in any way, such as changing design or color. If you are unable to use the correct color due to technical limitations, you may revert to black and white. "

    A screen shot from Facebook's Product Assets and Identity Guide

  2. Likewise Twitter keeps it refreshingly simple:

    " Our logo is always either blue or white. The Twitter bird is never shown in black or other colors. "

    An excerpt from Twitter brand guidelines

  3. YouTube offers two formats - the version that you would recognise as their logo (eg the words YouTube) and the new-ish "play button" style of icon. This icon is useful where space is limited or if you want to provide a link to your YouTube channel in a "social media lineup" (row of little square icons).

    " The YouTube icon should be used in social media instances where the standard YouTube logo does not work because of size or format restrictions. "

    A section from "Using the YouTube Logo"

    Hands up anyone brave enough to let YouTube know that they need to update the Facebook icon in their example!
  4. LinkedIn is one of those brands where it starts to get tricky, with lots of requirements quoted in terms of size, clearance. A factor that often seems to get conveniently missed is that their logo had a Trademark (TM) or Registered (®) symbol next to it, according to where the site hosting the link is geographically based. There are also definite preferences to what background colours you can place the logo onto:

    " The preferred background color for the logo is solid white. When a solid white color is not practical, it may be used on a solid, light background color."

    LinkedIn brand guidelines

  5. Pinterest offer a really clear and comprehensive set of guidelines (covering the use of their logo and their badges), that kick off straight away with buttons to download high resolution copies - which makes absolute sense if they want to avoid seeing fuzzy copied and pasted icons appearing online.

    Pinterest brand guidelines with a range of do's and don'ts

  6. Whilst some brands are clear about the difference between a logo and an icon/badge, Instagram use the word 'logo' to describe three of their assets - the Camera Logo, the Glyph Logo and the Instagram logo. Camera and Glyph will be the ones of most relevance (and both downloadable from the  Press Center) if you're simply offering a link to your own Instagram account, and the rules are quite simple as to which of these to choose.

    " Where color is limited, use the Glyph Logo in any color "  Easy as peas.

    Instagram have a Press Center for downloading their logos 

Keeping up to date

Once you're happy that you are meeting brand guidelines for all third party links, keep an eye open for updates and brand re-brands (yep, this branding lark is never ending!). Things like using a lower case "t" as a link to Twitter, or a birdie with a tufty fringe, are so 2008!


One day we might all be famous enough to be known by the use of an icon that is made up of just the first letter of our name, but until then, we’re voting to show a little arrgh-eee-es-pee-ee-cee-tee, and staying on the right side of the law suits.

They might be cute and cuddly, but we’d like to see  a little less of this…

And little more of this please …

And yes you can get down now, but play nice!