LISTSERV at Work L-Soft
Issue 1, 2009


Ask the Email List Guru:
Your Visual, Virtual Presence: The Zen of Email Newsletters

Q. What's your advice on how to start developing email newsletters or improve existing ones?

While style can never trump substance, your organization's face in the universe – shown by your website, email newsletter and other communications – is of high importance. While you may never meet many of your customers, members or supporters in real-life, everything you do is a meeting, a contact, a connection in virtual life.

So let us take a look at how style and substance can come together in harmony for the greater good of your organization. In more specific terms, we are going to explore how to make your organization's visual, virtual presence – in the simply perfect package of the email newsletter – best represent what is most important to your organization and subscribers.

Email List Guru

By applying the inner Zen of email newsletters, your organization will make clear its mission, market niche and business or organizational philosophy while forging and strengthening relationships with the customers, members and stakeholders that sustain it.

To ensure the best image in the virtual and real world, your organization must chip away the organizational-speak and catch phrases you may be accustomed to. Instead, it is essential to find and give visual and verbal life to what lies at the deepest layers of both your organization and the people it serves and who, in turn, are its sustenance.

Here are three Zen exercises to get you started – or to take your current email newsletter to a higher level of synergy with your organization and the people it reaches and serves:

1. Look deeply into your organization.

Take a deep breath, and take a mental "step back" from your work and from your organization in the external sense. Focus your energies and attention onto your organization's DNA (to invoke a popular yet useful cliché), in other words, that which lies at the core of your organization. Let the thoughts, images and words flow with an open mind.

Consider: Which words and images come to mind to crystallize what you stand for, what you do and how you do it? What are the key values of your organization? Which words capture the unique mission – and if appropriate, competitive edge – of your organization? What are the people of your organization like? How would you characterize your website's presence?

Note, this can be limiting because, although it is beneficial for email newsletters to work within the general look and feel of your website, you may find the website itself may be needing to change and grow based on this deeper-level assessment.

Don't limit yourself to adjectives. Come up with words of all types, be they nouns, verbs, adverbs or adjectives.

For example, when meditating on L-Soft, some words could be: original, pioneer, LISTSERV, Eric Thomas, global, email lists, opt-in, blue, orange, silver, humanitarian, support, connection, humor, expert, arrows, circles, community, power, technology.

2. Look deeply into your customer, member, subscriber or stakeholder base.

Take another deep breath. Clear your mind of any concepts or constructs regarding your organization. Turn your thoughts to the customers and members that you serve, and particularly subscribers to your newsletter, if applicable, and subscribers to your other email lists. As mentioned in a previous guru column, keep the focus on these groups as people because that is what they are (unless someone is running a highly experimental email list laboratory, which is beyond the guru's current qualifications to address). And beyond that, keep front-of-mind that these are the people who are the very lifeblood of your organization, the people who choose to build and maintain a connection with your organization and its products and services.

Consider: How would you describe your subscribers, customers or members? Are there sub-groups within this group, and what are the considerations and resonances for each group? What do people want and expect from your organization? Why do they choose your organization for its given products or services? Why don't some people choose your organization? What kinds of things are most important and appealing to the people? Again, you have free range to let words and images present themselves. You are by no means limited by these questions.

Remember, subscriber tracking data, which will be individualized based on levels of permission, as well as surveys are important tools that serve as a basis for further depth of reflection, which in turn informs the important choices you will make in step 3.

3. Choose newsletter formats, images and content that reflect the findings of the previous two steps.

Break the meditative stance and bring yourself back to a more worldly frame of mind. Now that you have a list of words, thoughts, feelings and images to work with, set your mind to seeing how your current newsletter meshes with these – or what you would be wise to consider and choose in a new newsletter you are creating. For example, do highly contemporary graphics and technical content best fit the expert-level IT customers you serve? How do you reconcile and blend the graphic and editorial profile to also embrace the proportion of your customers who are communication or domain area experts?

To further delve into this portion of the exercise, please turn to L-Soft's technical wisdom in the Feature Spotlight: Building Attractive HTML Newsletters with LISTSERV article to start putting your inner Zen into the outer reality of creating your organization's visual virtual presence: its one-of-a-kind email newsletter.

Ask the Email List Guru is a column in LISTSERV at Work, designed to bring vision and wisdom (with the power of the crystal ball) to everyday challenges of email list communication and email marketing. Post your questions and the guru will respond to the most intriguing topics in each issue.


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