What do email marketing and romance have in common?  Plenty, in our opinion.  For one, reaching out to a customer or prospect online is a lot like being on a first date, where you’re not sure if there will be a second.  Except, if you’re running an email campaign, you could possibly be on your last date every single time, because, let’s be honest, it’s not that hard to click on “unsubscribe.”

So here’s what we’re suggesting today – take a few minutes to get out of your marketing mindset.  Instead, imagine how you might engage someone on a date, and you might come away with some new insights on how to keep subscribers committed (i.e. subscribed) to your email newsletters.  Here are a couple of ideas to get you started:

Don’t Hog The Conversation: Think of your newsletter as a conversation starter, where you introduce a topic and let readers jump in with their contributions wherever possible.  Focus on drumming up interest, rather than comprehensive coverage.  Here’s why, say if you’re running an advice or How-To column and attempting to cover all bases, readers may feel they have nothing left to add apart from “Great article!” or “Really helpful tips!”, and you’ll lose the opportunity to introduce interactivity to your content and gain new perspectives from your readers.  A good way of making sure you’re not saying too much is by setting a word count limit and sticking to it.

Feed That Ego: You can’t go wrong by making someone feel special, and there are many ways to do this.  Take contests, for example.  In a typical e-newsletter contest (or online contest, for that matter), readers are made to answer an idiot-proof question about a company’s product or service, and winners are selected at random.  Although a list of winners is usually published in the following issue, it’s unlikely to generate much excitement (unless you’re giving away a whopper of a prize) or give anyone a sense of achievement.  Now, think about those contests that require readers to work a little, e.g. submit the best caption/story/picture to win!  If you want to make a star out of your reader, this is the way to go – let your readers shine by showing off their wit, ingenuity and creativity, and they’ll love you for it and keep coming back for more.

Grow A Personality: There are good newsletters and there are bad newsletters, but even worse than the bad newsletter is the newsletter that no-one remembers.  And to be remembered, you need personality.  There are two ways to decide on your newsletter’s “personality”.  If you know your target audience well (and every marketer should), think of a few keywords that would describe their personality (e.g. “prim and proper” or “zany and fun-loving”) and write and design your newsletters accordingly.  The second way is to play up your strengths, i.e. if you’re not bursting with wisecracks, don’t try to turn your newsletter into a stand-up comedy routine.  Instead, focus on what you’re great at, whether it’s your experience and industry knowledge (“wise and authoritative”) or your knack for breaking down tricky information and mind-boggling concepts into bite-size pieces (“clever and insightful”).

Be Original: Don’t mail out a newsletter that looks just like the rest of the competition.  At every step of the way – from deciding on a theme to planning articles and designing – ask yourself how you can do something in a way that is entirely yours.  A good place to find inspiration is Marketing Sherpa’s list of Email Marketing Award Winners.  One of their ’07 winners won hearts with their inventive feature headlines, such as “Does Your Web Site Taste Like Chicken?”  Others offered designs that readers couldn’t resist.  And you’re not limited to text and graphics – you can find creative ways to incorporate media (we’ve got a few video ideas right here).

Reach Out: Companies don’t reach out to people – people do.  And blogs are a surprisingly effective way of revealing your company’s human side.  If you decide to run a blog, you can have it work hand-in-hand with your newsletter, by featuring extended versions of your newsletter articles that readers can leave comments on.  Keep the tone casual and steer clear of the negative (e.g. customer horror stories), unless you’re positive you can pull it off by, say, being terribly funny.

Have Fun (Or At Least Try): When was the last time you had fun with your newsletter?  If you can’t remember, it’s likely your readers aren’t having a ball of a time either.  It’s important to challenge yourself when you create a newsletter, so you don’t run into a content dead end.  If you look hard enough, you’ll find there’s always a way to do something differently.  For example, if you feel certain articles in your newsletter archives were good but failed to generate reader interest or participation, you can think of how they might be repackaged for a fresh run.  This can include changing the headline, summarizing and re-organizing the article, or simply applying a more eye-catching design or adding media.

And here’s our final tip: put your readers first.  Use our A/B split test function. Find out what subject lines turn them on and off, when they’re more likely to open their mails, and more.  If this doesn’t win them over, we don’t know what will.

About James Trumbly:
Director of Business Development for eConnect Email, an email marketing software company. James enjoys spending time at the beach and traveling in his free time. Follow him on twitter @eConnectEmail