Customer newsletter

What should a customer newsletter contain?

Author: Terry Freedman

Terry freedman is a freelance ed tech writer and consultant. He blogs at ICT & Computing in Education, and tweets as @terryfreedman.

Once a school buys your product or service, a newsletter is a great way of keeping them informed of new developments. In this article, we look at what kind of content works well.

Who should subscribe?

The obvious answer is “customers”, who ought to be subscribed automatically when they make a purchase, with their permission of course. However, should they use a generic email address, such as depuythead@gasworkslane.sch.uk, or a named email address like fred.bloggs@gasworkslane.sch.uk?

The advantage of the latter is that being addressed to a named person, your emails are probably more likely to be opened. However, the disadvantage is that if Fred Bloggs leaves the school your newsletter emails to him will be rejected. Perhaps a compromise solution would be to sign up both email addresses if possible.

So what are the attributes of a good newsletter, and what should it contain? The following list will, hopefully, give you some ideas.

1. Quick read

If the newsletter is going to be read by teachers, making it a quick read is probably a good idea. If you wish to provide in-depth articles, use the newsletter to link to them on your company blog. (You do have a blog, right?). This suggestion was made to me by Chris Bradford, Product Director at Bee Digital when my own newsletter was starting to rival War and Peace in the long reads department.

2. Practical tips

Rather than simply a list of links to guides on your website, include a practical tip or two. This could be something like a keyboard shortcut that will save people time. Or it could be in the form of “Did you know that…”, suggesting an alternative way of using a feature, or highlighting a feature that people might not know about. 

3. New developments

If you are bringing out a new version of your product, a sister product or are making some changes, tell people what they need to know, and what, if anything, they need to do.

4. But not just marketing

By all means, announce new developments, but try to avoid sending out a newsletter that is only one big hard sell. By and large teachers, like others, need convincing of the benefits of something before spending money, especially given constricted school budgets. Try gentle persuasion instead.

5. Customer surveys

One good use for a newsletter is to find out through a survey what people like about your product, and what new features or products they would like to see. It’s a nice way of helping your customers to feel important and involved.

6. Relevant research

Is there a way that customers could use your product effectively by applying the results of independent research? For example, as described in 7 Insights from nudge theory, an experiment found that sending parents a postcard asking them to improve their kids’ attendance and punctuality had a positive effect. That finding could, presumably, be applied in many different circumstances. Telling your readers about it could prove useful to them even if it doesn’t directly involve your product.

7. Humour

Given the pressure teachers and schools are under, especially at the moment, it’s nice to have a bit of light reading. I’m not talking about irrelevant stories beginning “A funny thing happened to me on the way to school”. The humour could lie in groanworthy puns. For instance, in his Next Draft newsletter, Dave Pell includes headings such as “Corporate punishment”, “Copping mechanisms” and “Sometimes, life is fare”.

8. Insider tips

Obviously, you can’t give away confidential information, or the contents of a new report before it’s been released. However, if you’ve been involved in the discussions that have led to the report’s publication, you can be among the first to comment on it when it is published, and to suggest what its implications might be for the users of your product.

9. Good subject line

It’s good to experiment with different subject lines, especially if the software you use enables you to carry out A/B testing. There is plenty of advice on subject lines on the web. Three of the most effective kinds I’ve discovered for my own newsletter are an intriguing question, a summary of the main contents, and a list headline like “10 ways to improve…”.

10. Use the top of the newsletter real-estate

If your email software allows, create what is known as a pre-header for your newsletter. This is the text which shows up in many email programs before the recipient opens the email. Indeed, the main point of the pre-header text is to encourage people to do just that. The screenshot below shows an example of pre-header text as viewed in a web browser. There’s an article giving more information about the pre-header text here. 

11. Industry open rates

Finally, publishing a newsletter won’t do much good if nobody opens it. A couple of useful measures are the percentage of people on your mailing list who open your newsletter (Open Rate), and the percentage of people who open the newsletter that clicks on a link. This is known as the CTR, or click-through rate.

What constitutes a good Open Rate and a good CTR will depend on the industry you’re in. For education, according to Mailchimp, the averages in 2020 were just over 23% and just under 3% respectively. Different email list providers give different figures, but they are all in the same ballpark. Therefore, if your open and click-through rates are around 23% and 4% or higher, you’re probably doing something right!

Terry Freedman

Terry Freedman is an independent educational ICT consultant and writer, having had a long career in Education, including teaching, advising schools and inspecting. He publishes the ICT and Computing in Education website at www.ictineducation.org, and the Digital Education newsletter at www.ictineducation.org/diged. You can follow Terry on Twitter @terryfreedman.

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