Adventures in Mobile Marketing

Interview: Stephen Wellman

I’m excited to blog from the MarketingSherpa Email Summit, February 24-26, and, in preparation, got the opportunity to scour the speakers’ list and choose some folks to interview. This is the first of a series of interviews for the Email Summit. Check out the Information & Coverage microsite for posts from other bloggers on the Summit.

First up is Stephen Wellman- he edits the very popular INFORMATIONWEEK newsletters, that have serious tech content and a very avid, loyal readership. He’s presenting on “Building High-Performance Newsletters through Intelligent Content Selection.” I sent him over some questions this morning, and he just got back to me. My favorite comments:
- Solicit customer input
- Figure out the purpose of the newsletter in your organization (brand, community, etc.)
- Constantly test & tweak.

Enjoy!

AB: Anna Billstrom, SW: Stephen Wellman

AB: Can you give some recommendations for companies that want to leverage content- for a series of triggered/transactional messages or single newsletters that run weekly/monthly? Do you have any general insights for leveraging internal content?

SW: Companies should build newsletters with two factors in mind:
a. How much content do they produce and
b. Which content topics do their audience/customers care most about.

As for picking weekly, monthly, daily, or real-time, that all depends on a number of factors:
1. How much content does your company’s site produce.
2. How hungry are your customers/audience for content updates and
3. How do newsletters fit into your company’s business model

For publishers, newsletters are a no-brainer. Publishers need page views and good newsletters can help provide them. In addition, they provide extra ad real estate that can be monetized over the page views the newslettters drive. But for other companies, newsletters may need to be better aligned with detailed business objectives. Some companies, like retailers, seem to have plenty of reasons for newsletters while others may need to better define their purpose.

The key for all new newsletters is relevancy. Is the newsletter relevant to its audience and does it add value? If it doesn’t, it may create more harm than good.

AB: For companies who want a strongly voiced, active newsletter and microcommunity, what would you say are the guidelines in hiring someone to create that? This came up in a meeting recently – a strong writer, a strong community activist (someone in touch with the customer base through either customer support or evangelism), or a marketing/PR person who can handle brand and image?

SW: Great question. This really depends on the goals of the newsletter. Is the newsletter a branding vehicle, a community vehicle, or a engine for thought leadership? If it is a branding vehicle, I’d say you want a marketing/pr person. If it’s thought leadership you want, you need to find a smart person with an interesting voice and perspective. As for building community, I am a firm believer that communities follow strong content. If your newsletter offers good content, it will build a following.

AB: What would you say is the biggest challenge corporations & email marketing groups have in getting an effective newsletter off the ground?

SW: Fighting for space in the inbox. Putting it mildly, people are overwhelmed with newsletters. If you expect someone to sign up for a new newsletter in this age of email fatigue, you need to convince them that your newsletter is worth it, and your product better deliver on the brand promise.

AB: Have you noticed a trend of newsletter popularity- and periods of unpopularity, or a resurgence of the acknowledgment of the effectiveness of the newsletter? Any reason why you think newsletters don’t get any respect (if you think that’s true).

SW: I think newsletters still get plenty of respect. At INFORMATIONWEEK, our daily newsletter, the INFORMATIONWEEK DAILY, is a true community engine. It gets tons of response and readers follow it religiously. They bombard us with emails even if we make the slightest tweaks. The newsletter readers are among the top influencers in the enterprise it market — CIOs, senior IT managers — and they follow this newsletter closely.

AB: Any tips or highlights you can share from the talk you’re going to give in Miami (MarketingSherpa Email Summit)?

SW: Here are three tips:

1. Always be testing — test subject lines, layouts, templates, headlines, etc. Sometimes the smallest changes can pay off big.

2. Constantly solicit input — ask your readers what they think and what they want from your products.

3. Be relevant — constantly strive to make your newsletter more valuable. Ask yourself, what would CEO X in this industry need to know today? What would their marketing staff need to know? Know your audience and their needs, and respond accordingly.

AB: Do you have any comments regarding newsletters on mobile devices, namely iPhone ( I have one, and end up testing almost everything on it to varying levels of success).

SW: We’ve had some early success with our mobile website — wap.informationweek.com. As for using newsletters to drive mobile viewers, I recommend you identify your mobile readers and move them over to ASCII formats. HTML doesn’t always work well on devices like the blackberry, but ASCII seems to work great. We started this a while back and it’s worked for us.

AB: Can you speak to the role of RSS in newsletters, and in general leveraging content- also, how do email marketers manage/muster/struggle with the lack of metrics in RSS?

SW: Many people claim that RSS is going to kill newsletters — I’ve heard this now for years. But from what I have seen, RSS is actually creating more — not fewer — newsletters. RSS feeds can also be turned into email newsletters, giving readers two format choices for content updates. I see RSS as an email opportunity, not a threat.

AB: Do you have any comments or tips on making key decisions on content, and managing the editorial “real estate” of a newsletter (in classic brand/corporate environment, vs. media). Selling acreage on the top and far bottom, for example, based on click traffic analysis.

SW: No size fits all. For every best practice, I’ve come across another study that contradicts. And it also seems that once a best practice takes hold, it stops working after 6 to 9 months. As for where to put content, follow your site traffic. If you have content that is doing well on your site, it will do well on your newsletter. The biggest mistake you can make with newsletters is trying to use them to fuel underperforming content on your site.

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Written on Thursday, 07. February 2008 at 12:26 In the category EmailSummit, campaigns, interviews, strategy, techniques. Follow the comments via RSS here: RSS-Feed. Read the Comments. Trackbacks- Trackback on this post. Share on FriendFeed

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1 Comment »

  1. [...] out the entire interview with Stephen Wellman. Other Resources: Increasing Email Newsletter Sign Ups: a Guide for Non-Profits How to Set Goals [...]

    Pingback: Staffing Your Email Newsletter | Contactology Blog – 21. May 2009 @ 10:35 am

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