Information And Promotion: Happy Together

Two years ago, at the conclusion of my son Jonathan’s last year of preschool, we inherited the school’s pet Box Turtle. We weren’t in the market for a turtle mind you, but the school had been told in no uncertain terms by the state of Massachusetts that the creature had to go.

Apparently, and on what I can only imagine was one hell of a slow day on the floor of the Senate, the state had determined that turtles are potential carriers of salmonella. Combining this discovery with the fact that the mean time between hand washing events for the average four year old is approximately forever, it was decreed that no preschool could house one of these animals on the premises. And so, in need of a home, Franklin the Box Turtle came along with us.

After determining that Franklin was in fact female (don’t ask), we renamed her Frankie, and found her a cozy place in the family room. In addition, and bearing in mind what the State had discovered, we instituted our own set of Frankie-care regulations.

I’m happy to share these with you now:

1. If you play with Frankie or touch her in any way, you must wash your hands (with soap) when finished.

2. When feeding her, use one hand to open her cage and remove her food dish, and the other hand to open the bag of lettuce in the refrigerator. Whatever you do, don’t mix the two hands up.

Believe it or not, when it comes to your E-Newsletter, you’ve got a similar challenge. Namely, it’s important to not mix your informational content with your promotional content. You need them both, but you want them separate:

• You need useful, interesting, relevant, informational content so that people will read your newsletter and pass it along to others.

• You need promotional content so that people will think highly of you, understand what you do, and call you when they have a problem you can solve.

Mixing the two however, creates a number of problems.

1. It causes salmonella. Ha, ha! I’m kidding. Problem #1 is that it calls into question the validity of the information you provide, and by association, your standing as expert. If you’ve ever read a “white paper” where a company — in a supposed attempt to shed light on a given issue — continually concludes that its solution is the best one out there, you know what I’m talking about. Even if the points raised are true, the reader can’t help but wonder what’s not being said.

2. It cuts down on newsletter forwarding. Good content gets forwarded — to friends, to colleagues, to clients, and to anyone else a reader thinks might benefit. When that happens, not only do the people on the receiving end see the promotional sections of your newsletter, many of them decide to sign-up for future issues. That’s good, that’s exciting, that’s what viral marketing is all about — your own readers doing your marketing for you.

But people don’t forward advertisements. And every step you take in the direction of polluting your purely useful content — in the mistaken belief that by sneaking in your name more often you will somehow increase your brand value — lessens the likelihood that your readers will share your words with others.

3. It drops you back into the pack with everybody else. Much of what’s out there today under the heading of “marketing and advertising” is deliberately misleading. Ice cream containers in the supermarket are surreptitiously redesigned into smaller sizes, so that we don’t notice the associated (per ounce) price increase. Companies claim that, “Nobody offers better service than we do,” which is really just an upside-down way of saying, “We all offer the same service.”

When you and I on the other hand, give away unbiased, useful information with no strings attached, we stand out. Your readers are so accustomed to waiting for the other shoe to drop, that when it doesn’t, not only will they believe what you have to say, they’ll come knocking on your door when they have a need you can satisfy.

Bottom Line: It’s fine (and important) to promote your business within the pages of your E-Newsletter. After all, the point of this is to drive business, not simply send out content. That said, you’ll get (much) more mileage from your monthly efforts if you draw a clean line between the information your readers want, and the information you want them to have.

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