Every Leaf You Rake

I finally broke down this year and bought one of those high powered leaf blowers for my lawn. I say “broke down,” because it’s always been my position that something as “back to nature” as removing fallen leaves should not be done with modern machinery. After all, if God had meant for us to use electric leaf blowers, he would have attached 50 foot extension cords to our bodies.

Anyway, at 43 years old, romance has finally given way to practicality, so last Saturday I took out my new toy and got to work. I learned two things very quickly:

1. In the world of leaf blowing, there’s no such thing as a helpful 4 year old. Having one of these by your side will do little to enhance your productivity.

2. It’s much more effective to hold the blower in one place and move slowly forward, than it is to continually, “sweep from side to side.” Although at first it seemed like a lot was happening, I soon realized that moving around constantly causes much activity, but very little progress. Focusing in one spot on the other hand, caused the pile to steadily move backwards.

Believe it or not, when it comes to producing an effective E-Newsletter, both of these lessons apply(although I only intend to address # 2 in today’s issue).

Here’s what I mean.

Almost every company we work with comes into the process with a bias towards covering a broad range of topics in its newsletter. In other words, a bias towards “sweeping from side to side.”

Granted, this does make some intuitive sense. After all, if our company does many things, isn’t a newsletter about these things an opportunity to show the world what we do, so that clients and others will finally understand our full range of services?

Yes. Unfortunately, that’s the wrong question to ask. The question is not, “What do we want to write about?” It’s, “What do our readers want to read about?” Your readers couldn’t care less about what you do(I know it hurts, take a minute); they only read your newsletter because the things you write about are of interest to them.

If you keep changing what you cover, or pick a very broad range to begin with, you’ll never attract a loyal audience of people who care passionately about your topic.

Think of it this way. Suppose the folks in charge of magazines at TimeWarner came to the following conclusion:

“Let’s see, we publish `Woman’s Weekly,’ `Salt Water Sportsman,’ and `Sports Illustrated For Kids.’ Why don’t we combine all three into one big publication, and just alternate the content each month? This way we could involve employees from all corners of our organization, and our readers would finally learn about the other products we offer!”

Although I’ll concede that anybody willing to approve a merger with AOL is capable of just about anything, even TimeWarner senior management wouldn’t go for this idea. Why not?

Because it’s obvious that each of these three magazines has a very narrow, very distinct audience. Combining them is to look at the world from the inside out (i.e. this is what we do), as opposed to from the readers perspective, which is what really matters.

Bottom Line: As the competition for online readers becomes more and more fierce, your E-Newsletter will either fall into the “must read” pile, or the “must delete” pile. The middle ground is quickly evaporating, and the days of people reading things that, “kind of give them what they want every once in a while,” are already over. To become a “must read,” you’ve got to stake out a narrow piece of ground, and deliver content that hits a home run with a specific audience every single time.

Next issue: We’ll cover how to conduct an effective focus group for a new product launch. (Nah, I’m kidding! We’ll cover E-Newsletters, like we do every time.)

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