Does your e-newsletter deliver?

9 tips to make over your dealership’s e-newsletter

By Colleen Malloy

While pundits have declared that email is dead, they’re just dead wrong. A well-executed email newsletter (e-newsletter) remains an excellent avenue for connecting with your customers if (and this can be one giant “if”) you can capture your reader’s attention.

I just checked the dreaded red bubble on my iPhone email inbox: I have 278 unread messages across my personal and professional email accounts. How can you possibly hope to gain attention in the average American’s over-crowded inbox?

It’s time for an e-newsletter overhaul! Pull up your most recent e-newsletter and read on for nine tips that will help your email marketing deliver.

#1 Planning your e-newsletter content

Your e-newsletter content should consist of about 90-percent educational and informational content and 10-percent promotional content. Showcasing how to use this season’s hottest new lawn and garden tools is a much more effective way to build interest than simply saying that you’ve got them in stock.

Not sure what to include? The best way to plan your e-newsletter content is to listen to your customers. It’s July, and I get it that you’re probably swamped, but now is the ideal time to start capturing all of the questions you find you’re answering on a regular basis to create a running list of informational topics to cover in your upcoming e-newsletters.

Then, when things slow down a bit, take the time to craft these ideas into an executable schedule of monthly e-newsletters for the next six to 12 months. Use the off-season to build your content, so that next busy season, when your content is the most relevant to users, you’ve got the building blocks in place to quickly and easily draft e-newsletters.

#2 Use a third-party email service provider

While the vast majority of dealers have migrated their mass email efforts to an email service provider, it’s worth noting that attaching a PDF to an email from your inbox and copying all of your customers’ email addresses into the BCC field is not acceptable. Not only does this dated practice break SPAM regulations, it presents your dealership in a poor light. Just don’t do it.

In addition to SPAM compliance, which we’ll dive into a little deeper later in this article, an email service provider can offer you many other benefits, including easy-to-use templates, built-in mobile optimization, list management, and access to performance metrics, among many other benefits. Ask your website provider for advice on which tool will work best for you.

#3 Make it mobile friendly

Simplicity rules for the mobile user. When building or selecting an e-newsletter template, be sure that it renders well across today’s most popular mobile platforms. Complex multi-column layouts don’t play nice on mobile, so select a simpler single-column layout to appeal to mobile users.

Don’t bury your most interesting content and links; most users won’t scroll looking for compelling content if you don’t hook them at first glance. Speaking of links, consider making them a bit larger and more finger friendly.

#4 Lead with a strong header

There is a recipe for success when it comes to email headers. Don’t miss any of these key header components:

* Strong dealership branding
* Clickable dealership URL, directing traffic to your homepage
* Your phone number
* Social sharing and send-to-a-friend links
* Image Alt Text which displays when images are turned off — a default setting in many email programs.

#5 Keep your content simple and focus on key calls-to-action

Long scrolling emails with lots of text just won’t get read.

Use strong headlines and minimal teaser text to entice readers to click through to read more on your dealership website and blog. I’d recommend building or selecting a pre-designed template that includes three to five main content areas.

The ultimate goal of your e-newsletter should be to get people to take action, whether in the form of a click to read a full how-to article or to access a printable copy of an in-store promotion. Make your email so simple that readers know exactly what you want them to do.

#6 Optimize images for email

Visuals help you grab a reader’s attention, so it’s no wonder that a common mistake that rookie e-newsletter designers make is to simply design the email as one large graphic. If you’re doing this, stop now! This practice will send your email directly to most people’s SPAM folders.

Your email should strike a balance of approximately 80-percent text to 20-percent images. And since those images will likely not display by default in most people’s inboxes, be sure to label your images with relevant Alt Text that describes to the reader what is pictured if they have the images turned off.

You’ll also have the opportunity to link your images so that they are clickable. A best practice is to direct the reader to the same piece of content that is being promoted in the related text areas.

#7 Make it easy to unsubscribe

Comply with SPAM laws by adding an easy-to-find “unsubscribe” link in the footer of your email. Here’s where working with a third-party email service provider makes it easy as it will handle the setup process for you, including preventing you from sending future emails to those who have unsubscribed. If you send regular promotional emails in addition to your e-newsletter, set up a subscription center that allows users to select the types of messages they’d prefer to receive from you.

#8 Carefully consider personalization

Many email service providers give you the option to personalize your email marketing messages by merging data from your customer records into the email. Personalized content can be incredibly powerful if, and only if, your customer records are properly managed. Receiving an email addressed to “<mergefirstname>” doesn’t make a positive impression, so just be sure your customer records are complete and accurate if you decide to personalize your content.

#9 Improve subject lines

Remember my overflowing email inbox? How do I possibly get through hundreds of emails? The honest answer is that I don’t, and that’s why I’ve saved the often-overlooked subject line for last, as it very well may be the most important element of your email. I scroll through my long list of emails looking for known senders and subject lines that grab my attention, and I delete the rest en masse without a second thought.

How do you compete? Write email subject lines that are engaging and benefit oriented. You want to keep them short and sweet, as many email programs will cut you off at 60 characters.

Need a little more inspiration? Turn to your own email inbox and print out the e-newsletters that appeal to you. Examine why you like them, and see if you can apply those attributes to your own e-newsletter.

Remember, just like any other marketing effort, your e-newsletter will always be a work in progress, so don’t be afraid to be bold and try new things, it might just pay off!

1504_OPE_FS_Social Strategy2_author-Colleen Malloy-web

Colleen Malloy is the director of marketing at ARI Network Services. Prior to joining ARI in November 2013, Malloy served as the editor of Motorcycle and Powersports News. She is dedicated to the mission of helping dealers improve their operations through the implementation of ever-evolving best practices paired with ARI’s suite of an award-winning data-driven software tools and marketing services that help dealers “Sell More Stuff!” — online and in-store. ARI removes the complexity of selling and servicing new and used inventory, parts, garments and accessories for customers in the outdoor power equipment, powersports, marine, RV, automotive tire and wheel, and white goods industries. More than 22,000 equipment dealers, 195 distributors and 140 manufacturers worldwide leverage ARI’s website (www.arinet.com) and eCatalog platforms to “Sell More Stuff!”

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