Who’s On First?

I may as well just come right out and admit it — I’m not much of a baseball fan. In fact, despite having lived in Boston now for nearly 25 years, I have only a passing interest in the Red Sox.

I have nothing against them certainly, I just have trouble getting very passionate about the whole thing. I think if I were to put a team bumper sticker on my car it would be a qualified bit of encouragement, something like: “Go Red Sox! (But Don’t Feel Obligated On My Account).”

I do however, enjoy the big events, and with four members of the Red Sox as part of the starting lineup for the American League All-Star team, I felt a special, geographical obligation to watch the game unfold this past Tuesday night.

Unfortunately, and despite my best intentions to really dig in and root for my team, I got hopelessly distracted during the pre-game player introductions. The problem was the uniforms — they were all different.

In baseball — unlike basketball, football or any other sport where the players run all over the place and split-second decisions must be made regarding who’s on your team and who isn’t — the players don’t wander far from their assigned locations. As a result, there’s little potential for identity confusion, and no need therefore, for all-star team members to wear specially made National League or American League uniforms. Instead, looking like recent kidnap victims, the players simply show up wearing whatever they had on when they left home.

As a spectator, I found this to be a problem for a number of reasons.

First — and this is just my opinion so do with it what you will — the respective team dugouts, overflowing with young men in colorful, yet unrelated outfits, gave the whole event a vaguely unsettling “Village People Reunion Concert” feel to it.

Second, it’s just plain confusing. Every time a player was caught on camera — warming up in the bullpen, sitting in the dugout, standing on base, whatever — I found myself struggling to figure out which team he played for. Absent clear team labels emblazoned across the uniforms, it was up to me to make the connection, a chore which I don’t mind telling you, often proved too much for this casual baseball fan.

When it comes to your newsletter, you’ve also got an opportunity to simplify (or complicate) life for your readers. In this case, I’m talking specifically about your newsletter’s subheading.

Like a team name on a uniform, your newsletter’s subheading (a succinct, consistent phrase located near the top that explains who the newsletter is for and what it’s all about) helps to orient your readers, relieving them of the burden of remembering what your publication covers each time it arrives in their in-box.

Remember that 30 days goes by in-between each issue, and in the barrage of e-mails that your readers receive on a daily basis, some people will literally forget from month to month who you are and what you write about (or even that they opted in to receive your E-Newsletter in the first place). The subheading serves as a tool for reader reorientation.

The other benefit of a clear subheading is that it helps when one of your current subscribers forwards your newsletter to a friend(the double-play of E-Newsletter publishing). Given that many people forward interesting e-mails with the hopeful, but nonetheless vague, “thought you’d be interested,” a good descriptive subheading will help the recipient make sense of what’s just arrived.

Some examples of clear subheadings that I like include:

“A Monthly Guide to Finding, Hiring and Keeping Great People in Your Company.” (Sales and Marketing Search)

“Practical legal insights for the time and resource constrained smaller business owner” (Widett and McCarthy)

“A straightforward guide to effective selling, presenting and training over the web.” (Glance Networks)

In each case, even the most casual reader has little difficulty knowing what to expect.

Bottom Line: Your readers are busy, busy people, and it’s hard enough getting them to opt-in to receive your newsletter in the first place. Once they do, it’s your job to make the experience as easy and confusion-free as possible. Play ball!

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