Knock, Knock, Knockin’ on Readers’ Doors

I don’t think you’ll be surprised to learn that I enjoy Halloween: The scary costumes, the childish pranks, the haphazard wandering in search of treats. It’s like Congress, with a little bit of candy thrown in.

This year, however, my Halloween was decidedly different.

Why? Because for the first time since 1992 – the year before my wife and I began having children – I was at home answering the door.

Yes, my friend, I have officially graduated. The kids are now too old – my youngest is 11 – to have dear old dad trailing behind them, toting a flashlight and shouting time-tested trick-or-treat guidance such as, “Careful of those hedges!” or “Don’t pet that dog.”

So I stayed home. Wow … totally different experience:

Outside, you’re focused on things like weather (it’s always colder than you expect), efficiency (some driveways just aren’t worth the walk), and capacity (how much more can we possibly carry?).

Inside, there’s none of that. Here, I discovered, the conversation is mostly about monitoring the candy supply to make sure you don’t run out and negotiating with your wife Linda over whose turn it is to answer the door.

Technically the same holiday and obviously the same evening. But the difference between being on the outside vs. the inside of the front door was revealing.

I mention this to you today because it occurs to me that writing a newsletter reflects a similar dichotomy (don’t worry, that’s the most difficult word in today’s edition).

What I mean is that those on the “outside” (the ones who write and send the newsletter) and those on the “inside” (the ones who receive it) are in two very different states of mind and have two very different levels of interest in the publication itself.

Those on the sending side tend to focus on things like, “telling our story,” “getting the word out,” “promoting our services” and “involving the entire organization.”

The recipients, on the other hand, care little about all this; they’re largely indifferent to your company, your services, or your people. Instead, they are selfishly focused on themselves (scoundrels). They want information that will help them do their jobs easier and/or live their lives better (or that at least proves to be an entertaining distraction for a minute or two).

What that means for you is simple; put yourself in the shoes of your readers:

  • Follow the 80/20 rule. There’s nothing wrong with your newsletter being somewhat promotional. After all, we’re not publishing for its own sake. But the content needs to be overwhelmingly valuable. The further from this 80/20 ratio you move – whether in the name of “monetizing the newsletter” or just out of sheer self-centeredness – the fewer engaged readers you will have. (Hint: engaged readers are to clients as acorns are to trees.)
  • Do something that everyone else isn’t already doing. I lost count in the first hour the other night of how many kids showed up as pirates, ghosts or hobos. But when the two kids dressed as robots arrived – complete with flashing lights and trap doors for inserting candy – they got my attention.

    Likewise, your newsletter is easily lost in the barrage of e-mail that fights its way into my inbox every day. I need a reason to read it – a voice, an edge, a point of view … something. Something that makes it stand out from the pack.

  • Know what you’re writing about. Focus is essential for compelling writing. That’s why I begin every client discussion with the same question: “Where’s my check?”

    But immediately after that, I ask: “What’s the point?” If you can’t explain the central point of your newsletter in one sentence, you’ve got work to do. It’s fine to tell stories along the way, but you need to clearly and deliberately take your readers down the path to a “So what?” … an insight that leaves them better off than they were when they started reading.

Here’s the bottom line. There’s an old saying in advertising: “It’s ‘direct mail’ if you send it; it’s ‘junk mail’ if you get it.”

The same “Which side of the door are you on?” concept applies to your newsletter. Make sure your content is valuable from the perspective of the reader, and you’ll get more treats than tricks all year long.

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