Print Newsletters: Too Tired for a Wired World?

With all the information that’s available online, does it still make sense to pay printing and postage to send a paper newsletter?

It depends on your content, obviously. But for several of our nonprofit clients, the answer is a resounding “Yes!”

As we look at the numbers, two favorable trends stand out.

1. Relatively consistent performance.

Newsletters produce a fairly predictable stream of revenue. It can vary slightly issue-to-issue, depending on the season or the strength of a story. But as the chart below shows, for this client – who has been mailing the same four-page newsletter format once a quarter for the past 10-plus years – the return is relatively stable.

In fact, it has gone up over the past few months, while per-piece revenue from every other format is on the decline. What's not to love about that?

2. Stronger results from strongest supporters.

We recently suggested another client expand their two-page biennial publication to a four-page format. We were concerned less about telling more stories, but wanted to be able to tell more of the stories we shared.

Overall, the test version won by a slight margin. Looking more closely, we discovered some interesting differences, as the chart below illustrates. Among donors with cumulative annual giving of $100 or less (the majority of this file), the rate of response was actually down a bit, but that was offset by a slightly higher average gift; the test package produced just over 1¢ more per piece mailed (not a breakeven proposition, by the way).

The test package produced far greater results among those donors with cumulative annual giving of $100 or more … with double-digit increases in both rate of response and average gift ... and a whopping 92¢ higher return per piece. Our better donors appreciate more information even more!

Why does print work?

I’m not sure. A print newsletter offers a unique chance to provide tangible evidence of the work you do. To tell donors what their support helps you accomplish. To educate supporters. To explain your mission. To deepen the relationship.

Sure, an enewsletter can help accomplish those goals, too. But not in the same way.
  • A physical package can break through the clutter (think of sorting your mail vs. scanning your in box).
  • It may add longevity (yesterday’s mail is still on the counter; yesterday’s email is well past the preview pane).
  • It can reach people who can’t – or won’t – go online (there still are that stubborn few).
  • Maybe people are just more used to giving in response to print (we're seeing enews donations trend up, but not yet close to print).
Granted, the print advantage may not last forever.

But the beauty of watching your metrics is that you’ll know when your print newsletter is truly too tired.

Launching a blog in 2011?

15 years ago, in a column for the Kansas City Business Journal, I wrote an article about newsletters, encouraging business owners – before the launch – to ask themselves four questions:

• What do I hope to accomplish?

• What is my relationship to the audience?

• How badly is this information needed?

• What is my commitment to the project?

A newsletter cannot “earn its stripes” with a single issue, or even a single year’s issues. Establishing equity in a newsletter is a long-term commitment that may defy breakeven standards for a number of years. Continuity is critical as well. …

Today, those same questions could be asked about your organization's blog.

BlogPulse reports the total number of identified blogs at more than 152 million. Nearly 52,000 were launched in the last 24 hours. Nearly a million posts were indexed in the last 24 hours.

How’s that for competition?

At the time I wrote that article (as long as I'm just reminiscing), one of our main clients was a real estate developer. His biggest marketing challenge was that he wanted every property to be presented as a perfect location for any business. He was unwilling to focus on a single niche … for fear that it might turn away a business in some other niche.

If I were adding a fifth question to the list above (about newsletters, yes, but especially blogs!), I think it would be: Can you identify a focus that will allow you to differentiate yourself from that competition?

And, do you have the courage to stay with it?

If so, full steam ahead!

Happy New Year! Here's wishing you much success in 2011!

Want my attention? Share something worth sharing.

Content is king.

I read it all the time in industry pubs. I hear it at conferences.

As a copywriter, those three words make my little heart flutter. I love the idea that differentiation is—and will continue to be—driven by message.

But “content is king” deserves one giant, humungo qualification. Content is only king if it’s something the reader actually cares about.

Everyone knows that, right?

Uh, no.

Here are few don’ts inspired by real-life examples that fail the M&C “Who Cares” test. Excuse the vent.

  • Company tweets about weather, your mood, where you’re having coffee or anything else that would probably bore even your closest friends. Save it for Facebook (personal page), and you might even get hidden there if you’re not careful.
  • INSTEAD: Share industry news, new innovations, unexpected partnerships or brief success stories. Caveat—you can still go the random route, but make sure your musings are funny, witty, engaging or otherwise unexpected (but not inappropriate of course).
  • Web videos that last longer than 30 seconds—seriously folks, threshold for video entertainment is high. I feel robbed of moments of my life when it’s crap.
  • INSTEAD: Viral videos are good when they have a purpose, and it’s not just chestpounding. Check out YouTube for top viewed videos to get an idea of what keeps people interested.
  • An elaborate contact strategy telling me about your new logo. Trust me, you care more about your logo than the rest of us. Much more.
  • INSTEAD: A simple message about the change in look will suffice. Reiterate that the new look doesn’t mean you’re leaving your old personality behind. After all, you don’t want to scare your current customers who’ve come to know and love you.
  • An overcomplicated request. If I need crumbs, two Goonies and a GPS to understand what’s being asked of me, I’m out.
  • INSTEAD: Humans are simple creatures. Basic requests—consistent buttons—make the brain feel good. Test your marketing out with a variety of age groups to be sure.
  • Company newsletters filled with the 374 ways I can buy your product. It’s a waste of your time to create—and mine to read.
  • INSTEAD: I love newsletters—print and online—but think long and hard before creating one. They take a lot of work, and unless they’re done well, don’t deliver a great return. If you have one, go the extra mile to create articles with actual information (see #1 ideas) and not just re-packaged marketing copy.