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Janet Roberts

Are You Being Served?
By Janet Roberts

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With all the time email publishers have had to spend on technical issues such as delivery and filtering, it's easy to forget that you still need to put something worth reading in the newsletter, once it hits the in-box.

What's the one thing that will get readers to open your newsletter as soon as they see it? "Powerful information your readers can use right away," to borrow a claim popular with publishers of certain Internet-marketing newsletters.

In other words, are you nice to read, or do you perform a service?

Essential content has always been the quality mark of any ezine, but in the last couple of years, many publishers had to divert their attention from content to delivery, thanks both to spam and to the efforts to contain it.

Assuming you do reach a few readers, you still need to capture your readers' hearts and minds. You do it by providing material they can use.

It doesn't matter what kind of audience your newsletter attracts. "How-to" pieces are the most common, but not every newsletter lends itself to the how-to concept.

That doesn't mean you can't serve your readers. If you publish a humor newsletter, for example, your readers might judge you on whether you provide good material to pass on at the water cooler or to forward to friends. You serve your readers by hunting down fresh, topical humor instead of recycling the same old jokes that your friends forwarded to you.

Once your readers can count on you to provide a useful bit of information in each issue -- you make it worth their while to open your newsletter -- they'll anticipate your newsletter and be more likely to open it.

In the print world, this is "service journalism," which doesn't so much report the news as provide an essential service. Consumer Reports is a prime example.

I found lots of examples in the e-newsletter world. Here are some of the better ones.

  •, the online division of the San Francisco Chronicle, publishes a seasonal Snow & Ski Newsletter, which lists key snow numbers for a list of ski resorts in and close to California: recent snowfall, snow depth, how many lifts are operating and how many runs are open. It also links to the site's extensive snow-sports page and offsite information sources, all relating to weather, travel and snow sports.

  • The Cleveland Plain Dealer's site publishes a bi-weekly gasoline price survey, using information from the Cuyahoga County Auditor's office. Each issue lists the current average price, plus the highest and lowest prices, by service station, in town and around the suburbs. A recent issue showed gas prices around the Cleveland area can vary by up to 30 cents a gallon.

  • Email marketers can play the service game, too. Roche Laboratories publishes the FluSTAR Flu Update, which sends personalized newsletters updating recipients on the status of influenza outbreaks in their areas, based on the postal codes they provide when they register for the newsletter. It also manufactures flu-related medicines, but the newsletter has no overt promotional material; even the Roche logo doesn't link back to company sites.

Are you being served?

Ezine-Tips for April 07, 2003

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