I get lots of newsletters.  I don’t know if I’m a junkie, exactly, but sometimes it feels like my email is swimming with these things.

But it gives me an opportunity to form opinions about what works best.  And what doesn’t.

There’s a whole group of messages which look like plain old emails which were sent to hundreds or thousands of people.  Sure, this is the least expensive approach, but it’s not giving a great impression of the company.  If you’re a one-person company, and proud of that fact, and you have a small distribution list of people who know you, well, OK.

When you want to create a larger presence, though, people start expecting a header, footer, logo, colors, unsubscribe information, and so on.  It needs to look fairly decent on a wide range of browsers and mail readers.

But honestly, it’s more about the content.  I get lots of newsletters which are pretty, but devoid of value.

Here’s a great example.  It seems that a lot of people in the real estate and lending business have jumped on the bandwagon.  But it’s real obvious when the newsletter content has been entirely written by some corporate group, and MAYBE there’s a picture of “your local representative” in the corner.  Sorry, folks, if I’m interested in the state of the national real estate market, I’m not going to be interested in that coming this way.

Especially because, I’ve discovered, this information tends to be very late.  It’s not surprising to get a message in February talking about the previous year’s numbers.  If I’m interested, well, I’ve seen the information weeks ago.  If I’m not interested, then it’s just noise.  The fact that it takes your company weeks to have all the approvals and revisions just makes me less inclined to work with you in the future.

So I’ve come up with a few simple criteria for useful newsletters:

  • Interesting
  • Relevant
  • Useful
  • Timely

OK, and a little entertaining as well.  It’s nice to have a personality.

I admit that “interesting” and “relevant” are tricky, because it totally depends on the audience.  Fair enough.  But it might mean that you need to target certain segments, rather than blasting the same content to every person on your distribution list.

Here’s a great example:  There’s a guy who’s in the real estate business who I met at through the local Chamber.  He’s part of a larger company, but his newsletter is clearly written by him or someone who’s directed by him.  He talks about local events, and relates what’s happening to the local news.  If there’s a new company moving into town that may create some jobs, he’ll probably talk about it in this week’s message.

I’m not looking to buy real estate right now, but I stay subscribed because this is interesting and relevant to my life.  It’s not relevant to people in another state, but he’s not talking to them.

I admit this is challenging to maintain over time – we’ve had regular discussions about how to best use Small Fish’s newsletter.  As our base of readers continues to expand, it’s not easy to keep it interesting and fresh over the course of years.  Part of our approach is to keep it honest, informal, maybe just a little irreverent – because that’s what our brand is.  I’m not sure I’d want my banker to use that exact formula.

What works for you in the newsletters you’re receiving?