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E-Business Secrets

The secrets of the most successful e-mail publishers
Make content useful to your readers

By  Brian Livingston December 10, 2002  

Every e-commerce site worth its salt ought to have an e-mail newsletter to keep its customers abreast of the latest. But this is trickier than it looks.


As a new report puts it, "In TV, there isn't a commercials-only channel." Your newsletter needs content that's useful to your readers, not just blurbs about who was promoted to vice president lately.

That's the beauty of Marketing Sherpa's "Top 25 Case Studies on Marketing with E-mail Newsletters." The report's co-authors, Alexis Gutzman and Anne Holland, shine a light on the qualities that the best e-mail marketing efforts have -- and how you can convert those success stories into big wins for yourself.

1. B-TO-C MARKETING. Lands' End is one of 10 case studies on e-mail marketing from businesses to consumers. When the company hired marketer Bill Bass in the spring of 1999, he decided to let the Web site do the selling, and focused the Lands' End e-mail newsletter on folksy stories with a small-town flavor. Opt-in subscribers rose from a puny 28,000 at that time to half a million today.

Given a choice among weekly, twice-monthly, or monthly frequency, 95 percent of subscribers choose the weekly feed. "Nobody's going to buy every week, and it could get old really fast to keep saying '20 percent off on sweaters' or something," says newsletter writer Thom Pharmakis. The newsletter's laid-back approach seems to be working: online sales at Lands' End grew to $218 million in FY 2001 from only $61 million in FY 1999.

2. B-TO-B MARKETING. The Franklin Covey group's sales performance classes for the corporate market start at $8,000 and go up from there. When Microsoft asked the company to set up an in-house training course for 90 of its sales staff, the experience became one of the 11 noteworthy business-to-business case studies in Marketing Sherpa's report.

Microsoft wanted a structured follow-up plan to occur after the seminars. So Franklin Covey prepared 90 days of newsletter delivery to reinforce the training's message. Each recipient can customize the e-zine with content from the group's trainers, and a "forward to a friend" button is prominently displayed.

In one year, the "Helping Clients to Succeed Tip of the Week" newsletter grew to almost 2,000 subscribers, mostly at Fortune 500 companies. It's generated 70 highly qualified sales leads for high-ticket events. "We got one just a few days ago for potentially 400 people to train, and that's a significant amount of money," says newsletter editor Crickett Willardsen.

3. ADVERTISING IN E-ZINES. The report wraps up with four case studies of successful advertising campaigns that used ads in other e-mail publications. Chutney Technologies sells $150,000 infrastructure for Web services. The company -- largely with e-zine advertising -- was able to build an opt-in list of more than 1,200 highly qualified executives who have that kind of budget authority.

Vice President Greg Govatos tried various campaigns, which resulted in him strongly favoring top-of-issue placement. "We've gotten middle positions a couple of times," he says. "Response rates were about half of the top position, which doesn't make sense when you're paying 70 percent of the top position." (You should test this kind of variable in your own efforts.)

"Top 25 Case Studies on Marketing with E-mail Newsletters" is a 119-page download that's a bargain at $95 for anyone who's serious about building a customer base. For more information, check it out at: http://www.sherpastore.com http://bri.li/?4e78

The new report is a companion to Marketing Sherpa's 180-page offering that I reviewed last week: "Best Practices in Marketing with E-mail Newsletters." See it at: http://www.sherpastore.com http://bri.li/?6200

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Considering the potential of e-mail communications (see above), it's a crying shame that the growing flood of unwanted spam is making life difficult for legitimate opt-in publishers. In desperation, ISPs and e-mail recipients have installed crude filters that now keep 1 in 8 opt-in messages from getting to a users' inbox, according to a recent white paper by AssuranceSys.com.

To help the "good guys" test their e-mails before they're blocked for containing suspect words, Ken Evoy of SiteSell.com has started a free service:

1. You e-mail your message to spamcheck@sitesell.net.

2. The word TEST (in all caps) must be the first word of your Subject line, or your mail will be discarded.

3. SiteSell e-mails you back a point-by-point rating, derived from the widely used filter called Spam Assassin, showing how "spammy" your text is. This can help you avoid red-flag words and phrases.

Marketer Evoy is the author of "Make Your Site Sell 2002," a 1,500-page insider's reference guide to making profits with an Internet site. The latest edition -- with twice the material of the original best-selling version -- is only $25.53. (U.S. buyers currently enjoy a very favorable exchange rate from the Canadian price, which is $39.95). For more information, visit: http://myss.sitesell.com http://bri.li/7588

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1. Smart shoppers are avoiding shipping charges and the mall: http://www.ecommercetimes.com http://bri.li/440

2. Amazon.com's search bot hammers some affiliated sites: http://www.internetnews.com http://bri.li/828

3. Pew study suggests most users aren't feeling overloaded by e-mail: http://www.wired.com http://bri.li/c10

4. The b-to-b exchanges that failed can teach us valuable lessons: http://wharton.upenn.edu http://bri.li/ff8

5. A free, but often overlooked, way to improve your rankings: http://www.stickysauce.com http://bri.li/13e0

6. Personal video recording becomes easy with new Microsoft software: http://www.salon.com http://bri.li/17c8

7. How I fixed a network that couldn't send e-mails more than 500 miles: http://www.seanm.ca http://bri.li/1bb0

8. Programs turn any video into a Flash-compatible format: http://hotwired.lycos.com http://bri.li/1f98

9. Having the right information will kick-start your Web services: http://www.builder.com http://bri.li/2380

10. Now your own Web site can tell your friends when you've died: http://www.diedonline.com http://bri.li/2768

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You know those inspiring signs you see in corporate lunch rooms, with exhortations to exhibit teamwork, goals, and commitment? One of the funniest sites on the Net, Despair.com, strikes a blow for irony by selling "demotivational" posters with a more jaded view of the workplace. Here are just a few gems:

-- "PROCRASTINATION. Hard work often pays off after time, but laziness always pays off now."

-- "DELUSIONS. There is no greater joy than soaring high on the waves of your dreams, except maybe the joy of watching a dreamer who has nowhere to land but in the ocean of reality."

-- "CONSULTING. If you're not part of the solution, there's good money to be made in prolonging the problem."

The link below takes you to Bluehaze, an Australian site with the best overview of the entire collection. It jumps directly to pages of Despair. You'll bust a gut laughing: http://bluehaze.com.au http://bri.li/c3a8

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E-BUSINESS SECRETS: Our mission is to bring you such useful and thought-provoking information about the Web that you actually look forward to reading your e-mail.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: E-Business Secrets is written by InfoWorld contributing editor Brian Livingston: http://SecretsPro.com

Research Director is Vickie Stevens. Brian has published 10 books, including:

Windows Me Secrets: http://www.amazon.com http://bri.li/0764534939

Windows 2000 Secrets: http://www.amazon.com http://bri.li/0764534130

You'll receive a gift certificate good for a book, CD, or DVD of your choice if you're the first to send Brian a Top Story or Wacky Web Week he prints. mailto:Brian@SecretsPro.com

Brian Livingston is publisher of BriansBuzz.com. Send tips to him at brian@briansbuzz.com.

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