“Well, who are you? (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
I really wanna know (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)”
– The Who
“We’re not funny.”
I have to admit that when it comes to reasons for not launching an E-Newsletter, I thought I’d pretty much heard them all:“We don’t have the time;” “We don’t know what to write about;” “Our list isn’t big enough;” “We need to hire a new marketing manager first;” etc.
“Not funny” however, that was a new one. And yet there I was, standing at a networking event, drinking a beer and talking to my friend Laurie, as she explained why her consulting firm had not yet taken the E-Newsletter plunge.
She said it again. “We’re not funny. Your newsletter is funny and that works, but we’re not, and when we try to be, it sounds forced.”
So I asked her, “Do your current clients wish you were funny?”
“No,” she answered without hesitation. “We do serious work for serious people and they don’t want us clowning around.”
Given that, I assured her she had nothing to be concerned about. If her firm did in fact want to launch an E-Newsletter, un-funnyness was not going to be a barrier to success.
Here’s why. To the extent this newsletter “works” for me (i.e. it causes the phone to ring with prospective clients on the line), it’s because it’s an accurate reflection of who I am in real life. I walk the Earth telling dumb jokes—and for that matter, telling stories about my kids and appreciating penguins—and the voice and tone of this newsletter is no different than my real voice and tone.
The newsletter’s effectiveness is not however, the result of my having discovered some kind of universal E-Newsletter content truth, such as: Humor + Small Children + Flightless Aquatic Birds = Success. There is no such thing, just as there is no such thing as a “right” personality and company culture for a consulting or financial planning or business coaching or whatever-it-is-you-do firm.
Different companies have different styles, and what one client may like, another may hate. That’s fine—your job in publishing your E-Newsletter (and the same goes for your web site and other marketing collateral), is to figure out what your style is and present it accurately.
Think about it this way. Suppose Laurie’s firm were to find a way to publish the most entertaining, most hilarious newsletter on the planet. Would it help them? I don’t think so.
Because although it might bring them newsletter readers, it wouldn’t bring them consulting clients. Why?Because the people who like “funny” would be disappointed when they met Laurie and her colleagues, and the people who “don’t want us clowning around,” would be put off by the newsletter and never call.
Here’s a quick test you might want to try. Take one of your newsletters and print it out (no graphics, just plain text). Then find two or three other newsletters from firms who do the same kind of work as you. Print theirs out the same way. Now, find somebody who knows you pretty well (a client, friend, spouse) and ask them to read through the pile and pick yours out. If they can, you’re on the right track. If they can’t, it means there isn’t enough of the “real you” in there.
Bottom Line. I understand that it’s tempting (and comforting) to find a model that seems to be working and copy it. And I don’t deny that there are best practices in putting a newsletter together—just as there are best practices in playing an instrument, writing a screenplay or giving a speech. Don’t however, lose yourself in the process.
Your newsletter works best when it feels like what it feels like to do business with your firm —whether that means “reliable” or “meticulous” or “evenhanded” or “serious.” If there’s any common element, it’s authenticity, in whatever flavor you happen to come. Get that right, and you’ll be laughing (or maybe in your case, just quietly walking) all the way to the bank.