What Makes a Newsletter a Trendsetter?

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Last winter, a study entitled “The Social Breakup” made the claim that “77 percent of consumers report being more cautious about providing their e-mail address to companies versus last year.” Yet this year, the fear of being un-followed seems to have subsided and brands are back to refocusing their collective creative energies on email marketing campaigns. Thanks in large part to smartphones and tablets, branded content like newsletters are actually getting readers. In the spirit of this resurgence, we wondered what makes a really great, readable digital newsletter?

The easy answer is, as always, creative content. Nobody wants to read or even glance at a newsletter with zero personality. The best newsletters floating around the web have videos, articles with eye-catching titles and snazzy layouts that make a delete-happy reader stop dead in their tracks. The latest tablets are now equipped with direct access to personal emails, meaning newsletters with that extra zing are more likely to be devoured like popular blogs and websites are by tablet enthusiasts. There is no reason a company newsletter shouldn’t have the same visual impact that an online magazine or blog has.

Another thing all great newsletters have in common is a diversity in articles. Three pieces blabbing on about the same thing is no one’s idea of a party. It’s refreshing to read a newsletter that can balance all the marketing mumbo jumbo along with the human interest stories, product profiles and a little dash of humor, too. A variety of voices in newsletters helps shake up the monotony as well while lightening the work load for the online marketing guru. We love it when we see articles in newsletters written by the CEO as well as the mail room clerk and receptionist.

Yet the biggest component of a great email newsletter has to be the front page. That study we mentioned at the top of the blog also found “91 percent of consumers have unsubscribed from opt-in marketing e-mails.” This means our newsletters have to look great, read brilliantly and load in a matter of seconds. Otherwise, we wind up deleted and dumped like the emails that 91 percent said goodbye to. But great newsletters can be a snap, especially if you have the right people (that would be us, by the way).

Google/YouTube grab billions of eyeballs in August

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According to recent August 2009 data from the comScore Video Metrix service, Google sites (including YouTube) garnered over 10 billion video views in the month of August alone. No other brands came close. Google has the majority of video views considering that overall numbers totaled 25 billion video views, according to the data. That’s a lot of traffic! Microsoft came in at a distant second with only 546 million views for the month with Viacom digital and Hulu coming in just behind in third and fourth place. It’s evident that Google/YouTube has deep penetration when it comes to online videos when you consider that they attracted 121.4 million unique viewers for August. Whenever you see numbers like that, you can expect to see advertisers and marketers flocking toward a medium that can capture that much traffic and keep growing. You can bet that video will be huge in the next year. Keep an eye out for more blog videos, how-to videos, branded content, viral videos, interactive videos, television shows, independent videos and all kinds of advertising to go with it. Let the proliferation begin.

Article marketing with a hammer.

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Labor day weekend is typically set aside for BBQs, beach trips and hard labor around the house. If you’re like me, you’ll be slotting in some time for do-it-yourself repairs and a trip to the hardware store. Before heading out, you can bet I’ll do a little research and scan some “How-To” articles on the Internets to get me in the mood. Intelligent online marketing companies like Ace Hardware are hoping to catch folks like me online this weekend. In a recent press release , Ace Hardware will partner up with open content network company Associated Content to deliver rich media, banners and auto-play video in context with do-it-yourself articles. According to the press release, targeted advertising will display in conjunction with articles that cover the following topics: “How to Replace Your Shower Head,” “Build Shelves to Organize Your Closet,” “Trendy Outdoor Accessories For Fall,” “Outdoor Lighting Fixtures for Your Patio,” and “How to Lay a Brick Patio.” How smart is that? I can see how this can be an effective method and may attract potential customers by advertising to them at the right time and place. Compare this with a traditional TV media buy. Let’s say you’re watching football this weekend on the boob tube and on comes an Ace Hardware commercial. Not only are you not thinking about diy-type projects, but your mind is probably focused on what kind of cold cuts are left in the fridge. Targeting your advertising and coat-tailing them on to content-rich articles is both unobtrusive and relevant. But are these banners enough to get your attention? I visited Associated Content and did a search for three of the articles just to have a look-see at the campaign. On two of the pages, the articles were surrounded by various branded Ace banners; both static and interactive. The interactive banner on top was activated with a rollover. What I thought was impressive is the use of rollover technology to give the user a mini-shopping site experience. The banner in the left hand area of the article offered video tips when clicking on the “helpful video tips” button right in the banner. The banners also display relevant products that take you to the e-commerce site for that product when clicked on. I thought it was pretty seamless and effortless. In the third article, a nested video played in the left column of the article. It was simple and caught my eye. The best part of the experience was that it felt right for the brand. Ace Hardware uses the tagline “The Helpful Place” and it seems to fit right into their current strategy. Advertising to me while I am looking for information on how to fix a shower head or laying a brick patio is helpful. But will this campaign be effective? I appreciated the fact that I got something out of it besides a hard sell, so I think it will be a successful campaign for them. But for me, I wouldn’t mind a little more creativity. If it were up to me, I’d work a little more on the creative to make it fun like this one for Lego Star Wars. But then Ace Hardware would have to change their tagline to “The Fun Place” , and that may not fly over at corporate.

How much E-mail marketing can you stuff in your mailbox?

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According to a recent Adage article, email marketing is expected to more than double in the next five years. How is that possible? I’m already getting enough email to choke a digital horse. Advertisers are projected to spend 2 billion dollars in e-mail marketing by 2014. The reason for the increase is that marketers have figured out that doing an email campaign is cheap, can be easily tracked and will report whether the campaign is working or not in an instant. It took them a while, didn’t it? Wouldn’t it be great if your mailbox could hold a finite amount of marketing mail? Just like in the real world, your mailbox is only so big. In some European countries I’ve even seen neighborhoods that had two mailboxes for each household”“one for mail, and one for marketing materials and newspapers. If someone were smart, they’d figure out how to deploy the same kind of two-mailbox system on the Interwebs and offer it to “target markets” so they could sort their mail without having to click delete a thousand times. Maybe I should do it. But who’s got the time? I’m too busy reading emails.

Branded content. It’s a jungle.

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In 2001, advertising agency BBDO launched a series of online mini-movies called “The Hire” . The films showcased the latest BMW cars and were viewed over 11 million times in four months. The Hire caused a flurry of interest in branded content and the production of branded entertainment. Fast-forward to 2009, where marketers are doing an about-face and clinging on to the traditional forms of advertising because they know exactly what they are getting with a TV buy. In hard times, tried-and-true measures trump taking a risk on the untamed world of the Internet. YouTube spawned numerous viral videos for big brands that were seen by millions. But, who was watching? And did it move the needle for sales? Being able to target and track audiences online is like herding wild water buffalo. According to a recent Adweek article, “an oversupply of content for what is now a trickle of advertising dollars, the recession, a lack of metrics and a fragmented market” means that branded content has taken a back seat for most marketers. But branded content isn”™t a new idea. Remember “Mutual of Omaha”™s Wild Kingdom” ? Mutual of Omaha was a good example of how a brand could create content that had nothing to do what they were known for; insurance. But it worked. And perhaps, if the stars align just right, it will work again.

I want my Wikipedia TV.

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A recent MIT Technology Review entry claims that Wikipedia will soon offer video clips. The importance of video on the web is ever increasing, and so is the attention put on companies to either offer video content or support it on their websites. Is it any wonder that Google threw down 1.6 billion dollars for YouTube? Having video content on Wikipedia seems like a natural progression. What got my attention was that Wikipedia also plans to, “offer ways for users to search the entire Web for importable videos, and plans to provide tools to edit, add to, and reorganize the clips within the Wikipedia website, just as is now done with text.” So now any regular Joe can become a Ken Burns while still in his/her underwear at home. Sounds like a really powerful tool. But, in my opinion, it points to the overall flaw of Wikipedia; the information is being provided by and maintained by regular Joes. I’d rather have the real Ken Burns.