The Doctor Won’t See You Now

About twenty years ago, I had a dentist who always kept patients waiting. No matter when you arrived — even, it seemed, if you were the first appointment of the day — he would have a waiting room full of people.

One day however, I walked in for my appointment and the place was deserted. Figuring there had either been a bomb scare or somebody had finally linked flossing to cancer, I asked the receptionist what had happened to all the people.

She smiled cheerfully. “It’s part of our new program to serve patients better,” she explained. “To cut down on long waits in the waiting room, we now have patients wait in exam rooms as soon as they arrive.”

I looked at her with the same puzzled look you’ve now got on your face. Because while her boss’s new approach had clearly solved the problem of, “long waits in the waiting room,” it had done nothing to address what was at the heart of patient unhappiness: Long waits to see the dentist.

I mention this today, because I often see the same logic applied to E-Newsletter delivery.

Concerned that #1, readers don’t have time to read long emails, and #2, that it’s difficult to read text on a computer monitor (both legitimate concerns), many companies have come up with a “solution.”

Instead of sending the entire newsletter via e-mail, they send an “announcement e-mail.” The announcement e-mail includes a short summary of newsletter articles, and encourages recipients to click over to the company web site to read the entire thing.

Granted, this approach does have some advantages: It allows the sender to track which specific readers have clicked on which specific articles and, thanks to the scaled down format, may reduce the likelihood of the newsletter getting caught in corporate or Internet Service Provider (ISP) filters.

And it has some disadvantages: Unlike a newsletter that’s delivered in its entirety, an announcement newsletter requires (at least) one additional click — a hurdle which can only hurt readership. Not only that, but this format precludes reading the newsletter when not connected to the Internet (e.g. on an airplane).

But either way — and this is the key point, so put down your novocain needle for a minute and pay attention — an announcement newsletter does nothing to improve problems one and two above.

A too long newsletter is still a too long newsletter. Like my dentist who “fixed” his waiting room problem by moving me into an exam room, asking your readers to click and view your newsletter on your web site — while certainly shortening the length of your newsletter e-mail —doesn’t help them get through your information any faster or with any less eye strain.

Bottom Line: If your newsletter’s too long, nobody but you and (possibly) your mother is going to read it. Cutting it into pieces isn’t the solution; shortening the content is.

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