Print vs. e-newsletters

Don Sadler When you begin publishing an e-newsletter, it’s very tempting to think that this can replace your print newsletter. After all, it’s a lot cheaper, since there are no printing or postage costs (although it’s not “free,” as is commonly misperceived). So why not just take everything you’d publish in print and push it out to your readers in an email?

This mentality ignores the basic fact that print and electronic are two totally different media. To simply take the one and force it upon the other is to miss out on their respective strengths. See the chart at the end of this article for a detailed breakout of the key differences.

Props for print

Print is still the most portable medium for most people, and it’s the preferred way to read large documents (three or four pages and up.) Print also gives you total control over the look and feel of your message, which is extremely important when image is a critical component of your program. Ironically, print doesn’t have to compete with as much “noise” as email does. Most people get five or six pieces of print mail per day — contrast that to the 50 or 60 or more emails many professionals get in a given workday, not to mention all the spam.

By their very nature, however, print newsletters don’t enjoy the inherent benefits of online marketing — things like interactivity, opt-in, serial content, etc. Print newsletters are great tools for enhancing brand awareness, deepening credibility and building customer loyalty. They’re primarily about depth and volume.

In other words, you can pack each issue of your print newsletter with in-depth articles and multiple messages and ideas, because frequency is limited due to relatively high production costs. Given this, the typical newsletter produces quarterly (or maybe bi-monthly or monthly) and includes between 4 and 8 pages and at least that many separate articles, typically of moderate to long (500–1,000+ words) length.

Email envy

Electronic media, conversely, is about access, speed and convenience. The relatively low production costs allow for a subtle but very important difference in your content strategy: You can focus each communication on a single message or idea, and you can deliver these messages as frequently as you want, based on the model or format you believe will best help you accomplish your goals.

Email is also a great relationship builder. A recent study published by the Nielsen-Norman Group showed that many readers become emotionally attached to e-newsletters and look forward to receiving them if they contain timely and useful information. And unlike print, customizing content for your readers is easy and inexpensive with email. Email’s speed, of course, is without equal, which enables you to take advantage of opportunities as they occur.

With these inherent benefits, what kind of content strategy would tend to work best for an e-newsletter? Primarily, one that maximizes the number of touches, because repetition is the key to any successful campaign. You also want to keep each communication short, focused and impactful. And you should allow readers to choose what type of content they want to read. This adds to the interactivity of your program and will increase the number of opt-ins, since readers will receive only information that is of specific interest to them.

An example of what not to do

Here’s a true story from marketing consultant John Graham that illustrates the potential danger of dropping a print newsletter for an email version:

An association had published a print newsletter for years, and each issue included a plug for the association’s fee-based courses, a big revenue generator for them. When they decided to drop the print newsletter for an email version, course reservations dropped instantly. By the time they reinstituted the print newsletter, they were in serious financial difficulty, and it took more than a year to build revenue back to the previous level. “An e-newsletter can be a great way to save money — and lose your customers,” Graham quips.

Use them together

It’s clear to see that the differences between print and electronic media are significant enough that just relying on one will leave your customer communication program severely lacking. The most effective communication programs use both print and e-newsletters together.

But how do you do this effectively? Stay tuned — we’ll address this in detail in our next issue.

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