Finding Eyeballs for Your Electronic Newsletter: Here Are a Few Suggestions about Gathering Critical Mass of E-Mail Addresses in Order to Start an E-Mail Periodical for Your Business Customers

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E-newsletters have grown into the most popular form of e-mail marketing to businesses, according to a 2005 survey by MarketingSherpa. When this organization asked business-to-business e-mail marketers about their priorities for 2006, e-newsletters ranks at the top.

E-newsletters have been described as the point where customer service and marketing converge. Forrester Research said in a recent report: "Bank sites don't sell, they let customers buy. Big difference. The hard sell doesn't work online--but advocacy does."

One of the biggest challenges facing marketers starting an e-mail marketing program is to accumulate a solid database of addresses. Let's discuss some of the more successful list-building strategies for e-mail newsletters.

Pass-along readership

If you are like most people, you regularly forward to friends or colleagues information you receive via e-mail.

This kind of information-sharing is known in marketing circles as "advocacy marketing" or "viral marketing." By simply adding a "forward to a colleague" icon to your e-newsletter, industry issue special report or client success story, you can begin to grow your e-mail database.

How effective is advocacy marketing? Consider the following example.

A small accounting firm decided to send an e-newsletter to its clients just prior to tax season. The e-newsletter suggested 10 ways to save money on taxes and concluded with an invitation to click on a hot line to forward the 10 tips to a colleague. This "forward to a colleague" strategy worked so well that, as a result of this newsletter being forwarded again and again, the accounting firm was able to increase its opt-in address list by 400 percent.

Direct mail

Postcard mailings can be an effective and economical way to convert your direct mail database into an e-mail database.

You can use a postcard to highlight your e-newsletter topics and entice readers to go online to view full-text versions of each article. Once a reader goes online you can invite them to "opt in" to automatically receive future newsletter editions via e-mail. The same teaser promotions can be used to entice readers to go online to view industry issue special reports or client success stories. It also can be used to promote webinars or other online events as well as in-person contacts, such as conference presentations and special events at your conference exhibit.

You also can use communications you already mail to clients to grow your e-mail address list. Include a mention of the availability of your e-newsletter and other online content on invoices, bank statements and product notifications and so forth. Look for new and creative ways to get the word out.

Really Simple Syndication (RSS)

Many e-mail marketers are now boosting their e-newsletter subscriber base with Really Simple Syndication (RSS). RSS is a content-formatting technique that optimizes your newsletter's content to be picked up by what are commonly termed RSS feeds, or content aggregators. In simpler terms, RSS is search engine optimization for newsletter content. The content is run through special formatting software and uploaded into one or more RSS news feeds for keyword optimization.

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Syndicating your newsletter can significantly increase your readership and provide another opportunity to grow your opt-in list. For example, a financial executive may go to Goggle and put in a search for "positive pay" solutions. If you've done an e-newsletter article on positive pay and have it on an RSS feed, your article will likely appear in the search results.

Enlist help from calling officers

Take advantage of all of the current touch points your organization has with its customers. If 20 calling representatives provide the e-mail addresses of their 50 best clients, you will have an e-newsletter database of 1,000 names. …