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Why Most Newsletters Don’t Work

part one: Success and How to Monitor it


Some people believe that newsletters don’t work. Often, they’re right. In a world where most newsletters don’t work, confusion about how to define newsletter success is common.

what’s it good for

Over the past twenty-plus years, I have paid attention to many newsletters. I can tell you why most don’t work. It starts with confusion about what newsletters are good for. Confusion about how to monitor success comes from that.


how many next-day phone calls

Many newsletter issuers expect their newsletter to generate measurable results soon after the latest issue arrives. Most newsletters do generate results. Yet, when the results expected are new sales promptly following each issue, many newsletter issuers eventually conclude that newsletters don’t work. By that gauge of success, they’re right.


check your perspective

From a short-term sales perspective, an ineffective newsletter should be cancelled. Consider other perspectives. For example, think from the perspective of the impression left on readers. What impression would it leave on you to receive a few newsletters, then none at all, from your accountant? your lawyer? your investment advisor?


what newsletters do

Because of mismatched expectations, many who issue newsletters conclude either that newsletter success is hard to achieve, or that newsletters just don’t work. Yet, I see something in these situations that often escapes people struggling with an unsuccessful newsletter: A newsletter shapes people’s perceptions.


four brand effects

Every newsletter functions as a reputation-shaping instrument of brand management. Any newsletter will:

  • leave a first impression, or
  • validate a formed impression, or
  • mould an already-formative impression, or
  • confuse a formed impression.


a newsletter makes an impression

How does this fit into a context where more sales and good referrals are wanted now? Consider the following example.


maintain meaningful contact

Thousands receive a newsletter from their local credit union and would never attend a competitor’s grand opening in their own neighbourhood. They’re so loyal to the credit union that they don’t want the bank’s cupcakes or mouse pads. A good read every time, the credit union’s newsletter refreshes their loyalty every three months. It maintains meaningful contact with them. It’s a tool of client retention. Good referrals come unsolicited from its readers.


effective at what

The problems solved by the credit union newsletter in this example include:

  • competition of extrinsic incentives (e.g. “Free gift when you sign up!”)
  • vulnerability to client attrition (low-loyalty clients leave easily)
  • the costs of acquiring new clients
  • the opportunity cost of losing profitable clients’ future business.


watch the numbers

Watch-the-books managers of enterprises that issue newsletters should measure and monitor:

  • business per client – segmented by profitability per client
  • referrals per client – with a profile of clients providing referrals
  • client attrition – with a profile of clients lost and why
  • net increase in clientele (including clients gained and lost by all means).


monitor over time

Review these metrics on a quarterly basis and compare each quarter for at least two years while issuing a newsletter that readers like. Use this review to adjust newsletter performance goals in tandem with updates to business performance goals.


steady; no spikes

A good newsletter might not cause a spike in sales. It can prevent losing a client to wooing by competitors, though. It can also get clients to broaden the range of business they bring to the newsletter issuer (e.g. a mortgage renewal application after years of just chequing accounts). What business problems do you want to solve? Is it reasonable to expect a newsletter to help solve them?


client relations success

Newsletters shape market perception, first and foremost, and can help to maintain hundreds or thousands of business relationships with meaningful engagement. Those who accept this and apply it wisely can make their newsletter a good investment. Those who expect each issue to boost sales or to bring new customers ought to consider other methods to achieve those objectives. A newsletter regarded as good by its readers can improve business measurably over time as a tool of client relationship management


- Glenn R Harrington, Articulate Consultants Inc.

Part Two: For Effective Content, Get Real


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