Dos and don’ts of Email newsletters

The variable cost of emailing is so small, they’re practically free. So if you’ve got the type of boss who throws pennies around like manhole covers he’s going to love them. ‘I want you to send emails, lots of them. Then send some more. Blitz ‘em, flood the damn database.’ A bit extreme but you get the picture.

The boss of HMV’s communications must employ a similar tactic. After ordering a DVD earlier this year at the inbox onslaught started. Obviously I got the confirmation and order shipped mail etc, but in 30 days since exiting their checkout HMV sent me 34 emails. Even Jonathon Ross can’t be that interested in his movie and music collection.

Granted, there isn’t a hard and fast rule for the number of emails to send potential or current clients but interrupting (yes, your message is just that) people more than once a week with shopping tidbits is likely to devalue your brand credibility. ‘But what about my business’ true disciples, those who want to know about everything we do, the minute it happens?’ RSS updates are the answer for what are surely the minority of your clients allowing you to not lose favour with the overriding majority.

The biggest winner here is ‘branding’. Newsletters should be part of your online tactics but don’t expect a sales silver bullet. This is a chance to touch your customers and show them what’s new with clever design and thoughtful copy. He’s my two penny’s worth on how to play it:

DO –

  1. Communicate regularly with those who’ve given you permission (cue Seth Godin).
  2. Outline objectives before creation – who is your audience (age and sex for starters) and what do they want (maybe more Big Brother than Business Brunch)?
  3. Provide great content – even great design can’t compensate for an empty message.
  4. Give them something – advice, top tips, a freebie, insider information (e.g. a book reseller interviewing a popular author) etc.
  5. Provide lots of text or you’ll be blank to all those users with their images switched off (very common) and it’ll avoid some mail clients thinking you’re spam.
  6. Have a call to action.
  7. Be as personal as possible – don’t show me all your offers, make them relevant to what I like (HMV send me weekly game deals. I’ve never showed an interest on their site by searching/browsing games, but I browsed business DVDs for 20+ minutes).
  8. Be humble. How would you address 1,000 clients if you could assemble them in the street? Give it the same respect and diligence you’d do if you had a megaphone and eye contact, not a keyboard and remote access.
  9. Write a punchy subject line to stand out from the crowd with interest and a desire to be opened.
  10. Have an easy opt out – if enough put you in their spam folder you can be blocked by ISPs.
  11. Offer alternative views – online, HTML and plain text.
  12. Test, monitor and improve. Repeat…


  1. Expect great conversions and massive sales take up unless your offer is spectacular or rare (e.g. a half price iPhone or an interview with the Queen).
  2. Abuse people’s attention with pointless rubbish that’s neither ‘news’ nor ‘offers.’
  3. Send more than one per week (again, RSS is a different ball game, as is a news site).
  4. Forget the ‘from’ opportunity – admin or sales don’t inspire.
  5. Send huge images that take an age to load.
  6. Miss your alt tags on images (which you’ve used wisely).
  7. Let CSS snobs ignore the functionality of tables that might get less managed en route.

This is a subject which is going to evolve considerably in the next year or so. Please let me know what I’ve overlooked in the comments section.

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