Tails, You Win

Like you, I’ve been toying lately with the idea of growing a tail. Nothing too elaborate mind you, just something long enough and furry enough that when I wag it, you can tell I’m happy.

The truth is, I wish everybody had one.

Think about it. Never again would you have to sit and wonder whether or not your husband really likes your family. If you saw his tail wagging, you’d know. Granted, this kind of evolutionary upgrade would require that most of us purchase an entirely new set of pants, but on the whole, I think it would be worth the adjustment.

The one place where what I’m suggesting would help the most of course, is E-Newsletters. I say this because in our current, tail-free business world, there’s no easy and obvious way to directly measure how much readers like and appreciate what we’re sending each month.

Unlike its more trackable marketing cousins — things like direct mail, Google ads or telemarketing — most of what’s going on with your E-Newsletter occurs behind the scenes, in the home, office and mind of your reader.

The fact is, to measure the effectiveness of your E-Newsletter, you’ve got to look in a number of different places and, like assembling a puzzle, it’s left to you to arrange the pieces into something meaningful.

With that in mind, and in descending order of importance, here’s what I recommend you pay attention to:

  1. Is your phone ringing / inbox dinging with clients? We all want to create and publish a great newsletter, but that’s not an end in itself. The point of all this after all, is to attract “good clients” — defined as companies and people with whom we want to do business. If publishing your newsletter creates this kind of activity, skip the rest of today’s issue and go buy yourself some doggie treats. Your newsletter is getting the job done.
  1. Is your phone ringing / inbox dinging with non-client offers? Calls from journalists, invitations to speak or appear on industry panels, questions from colleagues, etc. Activity resulting from your standing as expert — while admittedly not client work — is still a sign that you are viewed as an authority in your field. If your newsletter is positioning you in this way, you’re definitely on the right track (i.e. buy the doggie treats, but maybe don’t eat them yet).
  1. Are people you’ve never heard of adding themselves to your mailing list? It’s great (and recommended) to acquire new subscribers by asking people you meet if they’d like to be on your list. But the true test of quality is when strangers request your stuff. With nobody twisting their arm (except maybe one of your current readers enthusiastically forwarding an issue — another good sign), this is about as pure an indication that your newsletter is valued in the “information marketplace” as you’ll find.
  1. Are readers interacting with your newsletter? When I say “interacting,” I’m lumping together both e-mail comments sent back to you when you publish, and clicks made on the various links within the newsletter. Both of these are good, often early signs of future clients. In my experience, people tend to snoop around and feel you out before they pick up the phone and hire you.

    So while “interaction” by itself doesn’t necessarily mean anything (lots of people just like to interact, but will never become clients), if you’ve got the opposite situation — no clicks and no e-mail from readers — your message may be falling on deaf ears.

  1. What’s your e-mail open rate? I mention this one because I know you’re paying close attention to it, although frankly it’s not a very accurate measure of what’s going on. As a result of a few technical developments over the last couple of years (click here to read my newsletter from last year for more details — scroll down to the “Interesting Tidbit” section), this number has so much noise in it that it offers only a blurry glimpse of how much your newsletter is really being opened. So I’d keep an eye on open rate, but only in the context of all these other pieces of the puzzle.
  1. What’s your newsletter opt-out rate? Lots of people swear by this statistic, and in particular, how low it usually is: “Our newsletter must be good because we hardly ever get any unsubscribes.” I don’t know. To me this makes about as much sense as gauging the quality of your piano playing by tracking how many rocks your neighbors throw through the window. Just because your newsletter isn’t bad enough to complain about or request removal from, it doesn’t mean anybody’s reading it.

    With e-mail, it’s just as easy for the recipient to click delete or assign your newsletter to the junk mail folder as it is to unsubscribe. A low opt-out rate may only be measuring what it’s measuring (if you get my drift).

Bottom Line: An E-Newsletter is an incredibly powerful and effective marketing tool. However, because it contributes to your business on so many different levels, in so many different ways, and across a long period of time, it’s hard to put your finger on one metric that tells the entire story.

If it’s bringing you the clients you want, that’s terrific — keep doing what you’re doing. If it’s not, pay attention to these other measures, and see if you can get a handle on possible areas for improvement. Woof, woof.

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