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More Powerful Than a Web Site: The E-mail Newsletter

By: Marcia Yudkin

Marcia Yudkin's nine books include Six Steps to Free Publicity, Persuading on Paper and Marketing Online, all from Plume/Penguin Books. Based in Boston, she serves as a commentator for WBUR radio, and her Marketing Matters column is syndicated by Paradigm, The Syndicating Agency. Her Web site is at

One of these months I'm going to need a business attorney, and of the half-dozen or so I've met, I have one in mind, a woman named Jean Sifleet ( We only spoke face to face for about a minute once, and I have never visited her Web site or seen her brochure. Yet I feel as if I know her capabilities - through her e-mail newsletter.

If memory serves, she bought a book of mine last year and sent me an issue of her newsletter. I subscribed and stayed on the list because I liked the sample. Every couple of weeks, she sends advice on some legal issue affecting sole proprietors or owners of small companies.

She clearly knows her stuff and has a sensible approach to keeping clients out of hot water. I don't know where she went to law school, how much she charges or whether she's ever been sued for malpractice. But based on those contacts with her over time, I'm inclined to trust her.

Those who provide a personal or professional service or sell informational products won't find a more powerful Internet marketing method than the humble and inexpensive e-mail newsletter. This regularly distributed entity consists of an article written by you, someone on your staff or a writer from whom you've commissioned relevant original material.

Introducing the E-mail Newsletter

Unlike a Web site, which someone has to remember to visit, an e-mail newsletter shows up at intervals without further effort on the part of subscribers. Over time it reinforces your perceived competence, educates clients subtly about their need for your services and makes you the provider of choice when recipients decide it's time to hire someone like you. Publish a newsletter rich in expertise and you'll be repaid in a wider sphere of influence, deeper credibility and greater top-of-mind awareness.

I receive close to a dozen of these, not counting my own weekly Marketing Minute ( One of those that I find especially effective comes from a guy in Auburn, California, named Dan Lucas ( As with Jean Sifleet, my knowledge of Lucas comes almost completely
from his e-mail newsletter.

Lucas and his associates teach the Sandler Sales System to people who sell for medium-sized and large organizations. Every issue of his newsletter presents an absorbing case where a sale went awry, Lucas's diagnosis of where and why it went off the tracks and a solution for dealing more effectively with the problem.

From his analyses and diagnoses, I have evidence of his expertise in complex sales. I'd recommend him without hesitation to someone facing the kinds of sales problems he highlights in issue after issue. Following his case in every newsletter are paragraphs about his upcoming boot camps and teleclasses, winding up with instructions on how to subscribe and unsubscribe.

Preparing the Newsletter

Lucas started his e-mail newsletter a year or so ago and has about 600 subscribers, he told me. Each issue takes him from two and a half to four hours to write. He begins with a real situation and brainstorms about it, then types out a draft of his ideas. He goes back to shorten the sentences, clean up grammar, check its readability score, then read it out loud and clean it up further. A professional editor does line-by-line corrections and ensures that it makes sense.

You might be thinking, "Only 600 subscribers? How can it be worth his time?" Lucas knows it gets passed around to people who have never met him, because he regularly receives e-mail from non-subscribers who have read it and he receives registrations for his programs from people who are not in his database. "Interestingly, people often pass the newsletter around throughout their organization but they won't give us the e-mail list for the organization," he says.

And subscribers with whom he's been playing phone tag for a while get mobilized to take action to hire him when a particular case or analysis strikes a nerve.

Launch It Right

A friend of mine, inspired by what he saw of my weekly Marketing Minute newsletter, created a list of movers and shakers in his industry and researched their e-mail addresses. He wrote an inaugural issue that highlighted his specialized knowledge. Then with some help from a technician in his company, he pressed "send."

Later that day when I checked my e-mail, I found more than a dozen messages queued up that seemed to be from this friend. The first was his newsletter message, riddled with typos. The second read, "Take me off this #%*&@ list!" The third and fourth and so on were increasingly more irate and vulgar variations on that theme.

He'd made three mistakes. First, some recipients got annoyed because they didn't know him and had not requested the newsletter. Second, because he sent it off unedited he made a poor initial impression. And third, compounding the first two mistakes into a calamitous blunder that prompted some victims to call him up and scream, his technical helper had misconfigured the list so that everyone who had received the original e-mail also received the more and more vociferous complaints.

His reputation did not quickly rebound from this incident.

There's more than one better way to launch an e-mail newsletter. I got the first 500 subscribers to my Marketing Minute by sending postcards to a few thousand people who'd attended my seminars. From there I mentioned it when I spoke, described it in my brochure, cited it on the air during a weekly television segment, sent an e-mail about it to a Boston Globe columnist who mentioned it in print and eventually, when I had my own Web site, created a page that invited people to subscribe.

Other methods of generating a permission-only body of subscribers include running print ads, sending press releases, and posting to discussion lists with a sign-up invitation in your "signature." Reminding subscribers to forward the newsletter to people who might be interested helps you reach people once and twice removed from your
original subscribers.

What to Include

To keep busy people from unsubscribing, you need both consistently valuable content and clean, correct writing. In almost 150 issues, I have twice misspelled a word and once wrote "inertia" where I meant "entropy." All three times I received scoldings within minutes.

As for length, shorten it. Then shorten it again! Of the newsletters I subscribe to, I always read the short ones and often skip the long ones. According to the feedback I receive, many others react that way, too. My Marketing Minute contains just 180 words because that correlates with a minute out loud on the TV show where I used to perform a weekly segment on marketing. As with most e-mail newsletters, I preface the 180-word article with identifying information, comparable to a publication's masthead, and follow it with a special offer of the week and subscribe/unsubscribe instructions.

A good rule of thumb is to fill your e-mail newsletter with at least 80 percent meaty content and up to 20 percent promotional material. As for frequency, promise only what you can deliver, even when you get busy. Part of its impact comes from the dependability you demonstrate by showing up on schedule week after week or month after month. Occasionally I've written up my Marketing Minute the Wednesday morning it was due to go out, but I try to have several weeks' issues "in the can" at all times.

If you don't get measurable results from your newsletter right away, stick with it, because it works over time. Bob Baker, who publishes an e-mail newsletter for musicians called The Buzz Factor ( and also consults and has information products for musicians, says, "Of my 3,400 subscribers, only a small percentage of them are ready to buy during any one week. But when one of them is ready, I will hopefully have built up trust and proven myself to be a reliable source of information. Judging by the steady amount of sales I get, that theory is working."

Much the same confirmation came from someone who called me the other day who'd been receiving the Marketing Minute for more than a year. "I read it every week and pass it around to a lot of other people who like it too. I knew that when I finally needed help, I'd call you. It was only a matter of time."

© Copyright 2001 Marcia Yudkin. All rights reserved.

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