How to Reform an Enewsletter

There’s so much to stay up-to-speed on nowadays, it’s easy to get passed by.

That’s what happened to me at one point last year, when one of my email campaigns got stale real quick.

Something can always fall through the cracks, even if you put alot of time into planning and strategy. So when you’re stuck in a bad email situation, get refocused quickly, take a good, long look at best practices, and make some changes to your email program to turn a bad campaign into an opportunity to re-engage customers quickly.

I just wrote the following article for Chief Marketer (access the original piece right here) that summarizes how I switched up the sitch and turned that stale campaign into a winner again.

Healthcare Enewsletter Reform Perks Up Response

With email marketing, there’s more to stay up-to-date on than ever before: integrating social and email, reactivating inactive customers, personalization, accounting for mobile users, deliverability challenges, testing, using content and relevance to drive engagement. Add all that to the day-to-day tasks of your job, and it’s inevitable that something may fall through the cracks.

That was the case for one healthcare client I worked with. I certainly spent a lot of time on testing and solid planning, yet a period came up where work volume skyrocketed and I lost sight of performance on one of our email campaigns. So what had started out as a great member newsletter turned into a stale email that lacked engaging content, with increasingly poor metrics as a result.

I needed to change the system and implement some real healthcare reform to get this email program back on track. Three simple steps led the way:

  • reducing frequency
  • investing saved time in creating better content
  • refreshing the template to align with best practices.

The problem
The client was Massachusetts General Hospital, for whom I managed marketing strategy for its live and online educational programs directed to clinicians in mental health, oncology, and other specialties. As I mentioned in an earlier article, a big challenge in the healthcare market is the huge number of critically important emails that healthcare professionals receive every day—emails about patients, medications, procedures, new research, all of which take priority over marketing messages. And then, of course, healthcare providers are also affected by the other issues regarding email marketing, such as inbox clutter and deliverability.

Last year, a bimonthly newsletter for the Massachusetts General Hospital Academy went from average open and click rates in January (based on all my email campaigns for that client) to open rates of less than 5% in August and click rates of…well, you don’t want to know. It was that low.

Part of the reason was content. During that busy time I mentioned, there was less time to dedicate to content development for a biweekly newsletter. So copy blocks became longer, the content became less informative, and some of the articles and announcements mirrored what we sent in our more marketing-oriented emails. Without unique content, the newsletter no longer compelled recipients to open or read it.

Mass General Newsletter Before

Mass General newsletter before reform

The solution
The first step in the solution was to pull back on frequency from bimonthly to monthly. We did have other email campaigns, and the target audience receives all those other important emails I mentioned above. So I believed that sending fewer emails—at our highest-performing send times—would create a greater impact and help our emails stand out amid the clutter.

The second step was to take the time saved by sending fewer emails and invest it in developing better content. With more time I was able to better leverage content that was already created by the hospital’s various service lines and treatment centers. Because it hadn’t appeared in the other newsletters that subscribers received, this content was new to them.

Indeed, you don’t have to create all-new content for your newsletters. It can be just as valuable to link to important content already out there that your audience may not know about or to provide your own analysis on important news and research.

Third, I had someone on my internal marketing team redesign our HTML template. We moved away from the image-heavy header area to a small, HTML text header with a right-column logo as the only image. We include “Massachusetts General Hospital Academy” in the from line, because it lifts open rates, so we no longer needed the logo to occupy valuable upper-left real estate.

We added a brief table of contents in the top 300 pixels that linked down to short copy blocks. The copy was written to entice clicks rather than tell too much of the story, and we used small images to liven up the template and create visual points of interest. We ensured that the images, however, would not damage the integrity of the layout if a recipient’s email client blocked them. We fit key links in an unobtrusive location opposite the table of contents and in the upper right, and added in a few profiles of key hospital thought leaders in the right column opposite the copy blocks.

Mass General Newsletter After

Mass General newsletter after reform

Overall the redesigned template was much easier to skim and engage with—and was exactly what the doctor ordered in terms of results. In just the first email, sent out in September, the open rate went up 13%. Further subject-line testing and content testing increased the open rate by 30% by the end of the year. Click rates also jumped significantly, and while they were certainly skewed toward the most interesting content, they were also spread out across the entire template, which clearly showed users were reading past the scroll.

Based on these results, when it comes to refreshing a stale campaign, here’s a prescription for the problem:

  • Consider decreasing volume, even if for a short time. Give your customers a minute to breathe. You’ll find that less is more when the message is right.
  • Make sure those fewer messages have better-quality content. Spend the extra time you have on creating relevance and personalization that matter.
  • Ensure your templates are optimized for today’s email clients and user habits. Rely less on images, use HTML text for key action points, optimize for the mobile channel, etc.
  • Provide numerous ways to engage, by leveraging interactivity, linking to video content, and integrating with social media, among other ways.
  • Sanitize your data. Subsequently we scrubbed out some long-inactive records that depressed metrics and messaged those users separately to reactivate them.

So don’t panic if you get distracted and your email campaign comes down with a case of bad metrics. Refresh your strategy, optimize your design and your approach to content, and in a very short time your emails will be healthy again.


When Sales and Marketing Don’t Mix, Part 2

Since it’s part two of the story, I’ll share two examples of ineffective sales strategy.

And even though I say “sales” in these cases, if you take a good, long look it’s clearly marketing that shares the blame. As a marketer, you have to align with and win over the sales team, and implement a holistic strategy that gives the customer consistency and value all the way through the value chain. If you don’t then you’re not doing your job. And making your job harder at the same time — because crappy sales contact leads to customers who don’t respond or come back in the future.

Example one is from a company in the meeting business. I get an email out of the blue from someone I don’t know — which in itself isn’t terrible, although we all know that the From Line is the most important factor in email open rates. We won’t even red flag this. However, the subject line of the email was “(E-mail Subject)“. Literally, that was it, character for character. Tells me this is a broadcast email gone wrong. That’s red flag #1.


Red flag #2, as you see in the graphic above, is that the company’s logo doesn’t appear correctly. So not only does it push down the message in the email, it takes away from the brand and the message because it’s cut off. Again, this is a broadcast email done terribly — or a horrible cut and past job by the sales person who sent it. Lastly, red flag # 3 is the damn message is all about the company, nothing about the customer. No questions about my need for such services, no inquiries about my goals and problems, no facts about my industry. No dialogue.

I’ll actually throw in one more red flag too — when I asked how this person got my email, her response made it clear that it was harvested off of a website where it appeared. Now, that’s fine if you send me a personal email — but if you’re harvesting to broadcast, you’re setting yourself up for some very unfortunate consequences if you hit a honeypot and an ISP blacklists you. Did you know there are more than 43 million email addresses being monitored as spam honeypots?

Example two is from a genious operation (sarcasm) called Same old story: unexpected email from sales rep, message that’s irrelevant to my business because they know nothing about me, terrible email copy and message. Well, all that and the fact that the email did not provide an opt-out mechanism. So now we’ve moved from just terrible judgement to actually violating the CAN-SPAM law. However, this person was actually — and sadly — all too honest when I asked how he got my email address. His reply was “One of my web spiders picked it up I guess.” Are you kidding me? Then after I informed him what a horrible practice this is and that not providing an opt-out for commercial email is illegal, he say “Thanks for the heads-up. Didn’t realize it was illegal.”

Now, this person is either a really clueless sales rep, or it’s a strong example of why you need to provide your sales team with training and messaging with which they can engage customers. Clearly these examples show that if they lack clarity and guidance on how to make the customer experience value-laden from the first point of contact, they will create an environment that’s actually counter-productive to things that customers value and that makes it harder for marketing to do its job. And while email is the most popular channel for these kind of abuses, it can also extend to telemarketing, direct mail and social media channels like Twitter.

So charge ahead right now and make sure your sales team isn’t engaging customers in any was similar to what’s mentioned above.