Get a Bigger Hammer, Part 2

Bigger HammerMy last post (see Get a Bigger Hammer) discussed needing the right tool for the job, regardless of whether it’s a traditional tool like a hammer or saw, or something more Web 3.0 like augmented reality browsers. I also mentioned how we use 3 easy questions as the basis for decisions, to set the tone for management and to give us a good foundation for deciding what to do and when.

Let me give an example of how those questions factored into our decision to revise our email newsletter, and then how we took those answers even a step further and invested in an email marketing service for delivery of the newly-designed missive.

Who is our audience?

We have an diverse mixture of what I would classify as “technical” customers (i.e., those who know their way around VS 2010), somewhat technical customers (i.e., those who dabble in programming and site building – who know the difference between FTP and RDP – but they don’t eat, sleep and breathe programming), and then those customers who know what the web is, but could care less about web hosting or anything having to do with building a website.

Now, this is obviously a rash generalization, but it’s made to point out that we have a large variation in our customer base; so meeting the needs of that customer base are just as varied.

What were we trying to accomplish?

We looked at our newsletter and had to make some hard choices about what we wanted to accomplish with it. In the past we tried many different approaches to the dissemination of information: we sent one looooong newsletter that hit everything, from new services to changes in plans to our latest promotions. We sent out two different newsletters, one that was more marketing focused and then one that was more technology-related. We finally went back to sending one newsletter and just cutting the content down to bare minimums. That de-evolved into not sending a newsletter at all.

With a revised communications strategy we wanted to get back to the newsletter, but wanted to be smarter about how it was developed and used. So we sat down and came up with five major goals we wanted to accomplish with the newsletter:

1. Be informative and educational
2. Be genuine
3. Be entertaining
4. Use the newsletter as a gateway to other communication methods like this blog, our Twitter accounts, etc.
5. Do all of this without overpowering and alienating any customer segment

In order to accomplish these goals, we took a hard look at not only what was presented, but how. That led to us reviewing a number of newsletters we all get, and deconstructing them into likes and dislikes, items we considered effective versus ineffective. The result is what was initially sent out in early September, and what we are going to continue to tweak and edit as time goes on:

1. Less “marketing” type content and wording
2. An abridged email that goes to your inbox, that is easier to scan for key words and phrases and with links to expanded articles
3. Varying where the detailed information is served: either in an expanded email format or blog posts, or a mixture of both
4. Highlights of educational information, like the “KB of the Month”
5. Pictures and other multimedia
6. A format that is compatible with all email clients
7. A tone that is more fun, without being frivolous
8. A focus on customers through Q&A columns, customer profiles, etc.

What was our expected outcome?

This was a tough question to answer, as we weren’t really sure what to expect. In the past, our newsletters were sent from the WebControlCenter, with practically zero tracking, metrics or information about who got what and when. To use a well-worn cliché (and everyone should, at least once a month) we were “flying blind” with only the occasional “take me off your list” response to let us know people were actually getting the newsletter.

That led us to look at outside alternatives to sending the newsletters (and other customer communication). We had an in-house application that was purchased years ago but never used. It proved useful but not as robust as we needed. That led us to choose a service-based company, and actually spending a monthly fee for the ability to manage our lists, track opens and clicks, and much, much more. We have since set a benchmark (thanks to our inaugural newsletter sent out in September) and can now make our modifications and changes to format and layout and actually track changes, good and bad.

And I tell you what; it’s a great feeling to know that information – even the bad.

So there you have it. Maybe a bit more transparent than I intended to be, but hopefully it helps one or two of you out there, and maybe sheds some light on how we do things around here.

Now the questions: How do you make decisions on the tools you purchase for your business? Are you the “I have to do this job so I have to buy a new tool” type, do you research various tools before making a decision, or do you just go to WalMart and buy what’s on sale? All that is figuratively speaking, of course, but let’s discuss…

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