Adventures in Mobile Marketing

Interview: Jeff Cram

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. Check out other coverage of the summit on the Information & Coverage microsite. This is the second in a series of interviews for the Email Summit.

Second up is Jeff Cram, Managing Director and co-founder of iSite Design. He’ll be speaking on the “Un-newsletter.” Jeff’s got a stunning January Newsletter that highlights great dynamic, community content. Enjoy- and hope to see you at the conference!


AB: Anna Billstrom, JC: Jeff Cram

AB: Could you expand on the concept of the soft-sell, and more importantly, do you have any tips to marketers who want to hard-sell the soft-sell (haha) concept to their bosses?

JC: I’d say our approach is more of a “don’t sell.” We believe that if we lead with education and value that we’ll end up with more loyal customers and build more business in the long term. With that said, there are certain businesses that need to rely on more direct selling via e-mail. It’s not an either or approach. The key is to segment your audiences, set the proper expectations up front and deliver the right value at the right time. The perfectly timed sales e-mail can be just as useful as a thought leadership piece. The best advice I can give to people selling the concept internally is to convince your boss it’s not about your company – it’s about your customers. Find ways to provide value and not be an interruption. There is a huge opportunity to establish your company as a thought leader, but it takes a genuine and lasting commitment.

AB: I love the January newsletter! I noticed it’s pretty short compared to other newsletters I subscribe to- can you speak to that?

JC: Thanks! We haven’t made a conscientious decision to keep it a certain length, but we do want it to be crisp, easy to read and have bite size content that people can immediately take away and use. We hide some of the depth to the content behind the scenes once a user clicks through to an article.

AB: Can you provide open/click and deliver metrics for this newsletter?

JC: We have a small, but engaged list in the thousands of people. Open rates vary based on the e-mail, but we hover around the industry averages (20-30%). The most notable statistics are the open to click rate, which have been rising quite steadily. We’re finding that people are clicking on multiple links and spending a lot of time in the content.

AB: Wow, that’s great.

A few years ago, I was not a fan of newsletters. I found them a waste of great content that you could pace out over a well-timed relationship with a customer, instead of all-in-one, once a month. Since then I’ve come around, but what would you have said to me to convince me they’re a good idea? So to be clear- this is not promotional email vs. newsletter, but a lifecycle of CRM/educational emails vs. newsletter.

JC: I think it’s a fair statement to say content-driven newsletters are being replaced by blogs and content that you can easily share and participate in. I agree it doesn’t make much sense to have all that content locked up in the inboxes of a select group. For our purposes, we view the newsletter as a key brand impression. I liken it to the magazine version of our content. A packaged, branded and well thought out communication that provides a great overall experience. I don’t feel RSS has the same experience, yet we want to make sure people have options on how to consume our content. Our newsletter articles are also featured on the site and available via other means. We try to leverage the same content in different ways to different audiences. The next version of our site coming out will even better incorporate the personality, content and brand that you see in our newsletter.

AB: I have a hunch that soft-sold customers and prospects have a higher purchase point, lifetime purchase, and perhaps richer general experience with the seller than simply promotionally contacted customers & prospects. I haven’t tested this out, but do you agree and (hopefully) have any stats to the same tune?

JC: I’ll reiterate that we don’t feel like we’re selling them anything. But you’re right in that we’ve seen that people who consistently find value from our newsletter have a deeper relationship with us. So if they come to us for some project work, they have a better understanding of the way we think, the value we can bring and who we are as people. At that point, they have selected us and we can skip the sales mumbo jumbo and go straight into a conversation about their needs. I don’t have hard statistics, but we certainly have had many clients that started their relationship with us as newsletter readers. People actually thank us for sending it which is rewarding in itself.

AB: How does iSiteDesign staff the newsletter, and, in a question I posed to another interviewee, who would you select to lead the effort: a PR person, a solid writer with a good “voice,” or an employee more in touch with the community, such as a customer support rep or customer evangelist?

JC: Being a small company (45 folks), the newsletter is actually led by myself (one of the owners). It helps I have a journalism background, but I think it’s important that you find a voice that is true to the company. With that said, it’s a complete company effort to produce it – which is what I think makes it so great. Staff submit bookmarks, tidbits and stories. I’ll work with select staff members to author feature stories and our creative team designs original artwork and illustrations for most of our features. It truly is a reflection of our entire team. I highly recommend that companies have an editor who above all else understands the end reader and has a point of view that is both interesting and supports the company’s goals.

AB: Have you encountered any territory wars over the real estate of the newsletter- departments or brands competing for space, trying to turn it into a more salesy pulpit, trying to wrest space from other groups? How do you contend with this

JC: Not at all. If we have a problem it’s freeing up enough of our staff’s time to contribute. We’ve been busy! More and more people are volunteering story ideas and original thoughts which is exciting.

AB: Any comments or response to the use of multimedia in newsletters?

JC: There are limitations to what you can deliver in e-mail, but we’ll be exploring with some rich media features in 2008. We want to keep things fresh for our readers. We did an audio podcast “Internet state of the union” address last year which was fun.

AB: If, or when!, you are dry for ideas on newsletters, where do you go for inspiration?

JC: We’ve got lots of ideas. Perhaps too many. If we’re short of anything it’s time. We have to continually prioritize the newsletter to ensure it gets sent out with a consistent level of quality. So far so good, but it’s not easy!

AB: A lunar campaign calendar- that’s great.

Did you go with a company that had a template, or did you build it yourself, and if so did you have internal resources to leverage?

JC: Being an interactive agency ourselves, we did everything in house. In fact most of the design work for the feature articles are custom illustrations and art. For example the Web Hero story is a custom illustration.

AB: How do you manage feedback?

JC: We have a select group of internal people that review the newsletter before it goes out. While we solicit a lot of input on content, it’s a pretty closely held editorial process which keeps our brand and voice in tact.

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Written on Friday, 15. February 2008 at 14:34 In the category EmailSummit, campaigns, interviews, metrics. 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. [...] Note how his entire staff pitches in on the newsletter project but there remains a “chief editor” who manages the whole process. For more great ideas from Cram check out his interview with Adventures in Email Marketing. [...]

    Pingback: Staffing Your Email Newsletter | Contactology Blog – 12. May 2009 @ 9:31 am

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