by Lisa Merriman and James Whitaker
Newsletters, used properly, can be targeted effectively toward your clients and prospects.
Are you invested in newsletters? Using newsletters in your business is a lot like investing in real estate. Both can be great investments if pursued with diligence and a long-term strategy.
What Makes Newsletters an Effective Marketing Tool?
Of all the marketing and customer service tools available to you, it would be hard to name one that does as much for as little cost as the newsletter. Like a brochure or an advertisement, newsletters present your audience with an image of who you are. But they have some important advantages over those media. Newsletters cost a lot less, build image consistently, and present timely information that keeps readers up-to-date on real estate developments. They also deliver results with a soft-sell approach, informing readers while subtly reinforcing your image as a reliable source of information about the industry. To prospects and customers, newsletters say that your firm wants to add value to your customer relationships. Finally, newsletters, used properly, can be targeted more effectively toward your existing clients and prospects.
How Do You Integrate Newsletters Into Your Marketing Strategy?
You can distribute your newsletters in three different ways: in person, by mail, and by e-mail. Each has its advantages and disadvantages.
Some land title firms hand their newsletters out personally, using them as a way to regularly visit their clients and prospects. Mike Snyder with Fidelity National Title in West Long Branch, N.J., for example, says, “I do very limited mailing because for us it’s all about face-to-face marketing.” He uses a newsletter program to market to clients and prospects, with an emphasis on prospects. “The main benefit to me is name recognition. I want my newsletter to be informative and educational. I use it with prospects as another reason to go to their office on a monthly basis for a face-to-face visit.”
William Exeter, president and CEO of Diversified Exchange in La Jolla, CA, also uses newsletters to stay in front of prospects and clients. However, he mails them out. “I speak at between five to ten 1031 exchange workshops each week, and it’s impossible to call and follow up with each attendee—there’s not enough time and it’s not cost efficient. So the newsletter is a great way to contact attendees each month, with information that’s timely and content they really want to read.” Karen Hines, customer service manager at Chicago Title, Prescott, Ariz., also mails her firm’s newsletter. They take a different approach though. Their newsletter goes “to all real estate agents, lenders, and associates in our county. We mail to everyone, and while we don’t follow up, we do get several positive responses whenever we mail.”
Some firms also e-mail their newsletter to a portion of their client or prospect list. E-mailing costs little; however, paper copies are much more effective. With spam now making up about 80 percent of all e-mail, it’s easy for people to overlook an e-mailed newsletter.
The CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 also imposes certain conditions on commercial e-mail messages. Unless you have a prior business relationship, an e-mailed newsletter would likely fall under the Act’s definition of advertising. Therefore, you will want to make sure any e-mail messages to prospects meet CAN-SPAM’s requirements. First, CAN-SPAM requires that any commercial e-mail be identified as an advertisement and include the sender’s valid physical postal address. Second, your message must give recipients an opt-out method. You must provide a return e-mail address or another Internet-based response mechanism that allows a recipient to ask you not to send future messages to that e-mail address, and you must honor the requests. Each violation of these provisions is subject to fines of up to $11,000.
Keep in mind, too, that many people do not like to read text on a computer screen. One way to minimize that problem is to have your e-mail newsletter formatted in portable document format (PDF), which closely resembles a printed page.
To ensure your e-mail marketing efforts aren’t wasted, send e-mails only to those clients you know prefer to receive electronic mail rather than paper mail. And remember, the perceived value of a paper newsletter exceeds that of an electronic one. Even if people don’t read your paper newsletter as soon as they get it, they will see your branding and will probably set it aside to look at later.
How Else Can You Use Newsletters to Maximize Your Investment?
Using a client newsletter is not a one-shot investment. You can get additional value from each issue in several ways:
Using it as content for your Web site. William Exeter says posting a PDF copy of their newsletter “allows us to build content for our Web site instead of just putting our Web site out there as a sales site. The newsletter allows us to stay in front of current and prospective clients, to build our corporate branding, and to support our sales force and branch office network with educational material. That’s what our online marketing efforts are all about.” By including appropriate keywords in your document headers, you can also increase the chances of your site turning up on prospects’ Web searches.
Building an archived reference tool. Your newsletter can become the basis of an archived reference tool for your clients and prospects. Exeter’s firm archives every edition of their newsletter. That way he and his producers can refer people to topics covered in back issues. Telling people they can read more about a topic on your site is a good way to increase traffic and encourage visitors to interact with other parts of your site. If you archive newsletters online, you can increase the effectiveness of this reference tool by having your webmaster create an index of important or relevant topics covered in each issue.
Keeping employees informed. Be sure you and your staff read each issue before it goes out. That way everyone will be prepared to discuss any items readers may bring up. The newsletter can also be a learning tool for your own staff.
Leaving copies where prospects will find them. Leave your newsletters around town where likely prospects might pick up a copy, such as at banks and real estate firms, and keep extra copies in your lobby. William Exeter makes sure there are plenty of copies in the lobbies of all his branch offices.
Adding a response device. Add to the effectiveness of your newsletter marketing by including a business reply card (BRC) with each issue. Readers can use a BRC to ask for more information on a topic and to give you referrals. You won’t get a lot of them back, but the few you get will be from motivated prospects. Including your postage-paid indicia on your BRCs will make it easier and more likely for prospects to respond. E-mail newsletters offer similar devices that allow readers to easily reply to your newsletter and to “forward to a friend,” which can help you build your subscriber/prospect list.
Adding a personal touch. If you use a newsletter prepared by a real estate publisher, customize your front page with an article about your firm or your target market. Article ideas include profiles of new sales representatives or escrow officers; information on new branches, services, or affiliations; personnel news such as service anniversaries, professional development and educational accomplishments; news on community projects sponsored by your firm; and information on special products or real estate developments of regional interest.
Who will write my newsletter? You could do it yourself. If you’re like most people, though, the thought of creating from scratch a regularly scheduled custom newsletter, complete with industry updates and relevant articles, is daunting. Besides, this distracts from your firm’s primary goal. Fortunately, real estate publishing services offer products you can customize with your corporate identity. The most important thing about your newsletter is that it be clearly written, interesting, and useful to your readers.
Take a long-term investment outlook
People have been predicting the death of print communications for years. But in this day of high-tech, electronically delivered communications, print newsletters still survive. They haven’t gone away or been replaced. The only logical reason is because they still work. Smart marketers know they are still great investments with strong, positive yields.
The most important thing to do if you invest in newsletters is to be consistent. Don’t terminate your newsletter strategy before it’s had a chance to start paying dividends. You may not know how highly your customers and prospects value your newsletter until you take it away from them. That’s when you’ll hear from them—and wish you hadn’t! In other words, take a long-term outlook. Your investment isn’t going to double overnight.
Many of the country’s most successful regional and national firms, like those quoted in this article, have long-established communications programs. One reason they are successful is because they have invested in a long-term marketing strategy that includes newsletters to promote their firm’s image, service, and value.
James Whitaker is president of Smart's Publishing Group, publisher of Real Estate Digest, a marketing and communications newsletter for title insurance and real estate professionals.
Lisa Merriman is sales manager with Smart's Publishing Group. She can be reached at 1-877-774-7331 or firstname.lastname@example.org.