Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Nick Usborne Agrees...

After yesterday's post, Email Marketing - Alive & Kicking, I received an email from Lois. She forwarded me a copy of Nick Usborne's Excess Voice ezine, which was so good I decided to reprint his article here:

RSS Instead of Newsletters? At Your Peril.
by Nick Usborne

I have been reading a lot about how companies are enthusiastically embracing RSS as a wonderful alternative to email newsletters.

I can understand their enthusiasm, in part. After all, legitimate commercial email and newsletters are being decimated by spam filters. In addition to which, consumers are growing weary of having to distinguish between what is spam and what is not.

There are additional benefits to making newsletters available by RSS. RSS means your subject line never disappears below the fold of an email window. With RSS the newsletter is always there, ready and waiting for when your reader is ready to take a look. With RSS your archives can be just a click away...providing easy and immediate access to previous issues.

>> What's the downsides?

There are a few things that are lost when your newsletter becomes a feed.

1. First, you lose control of the timing.

You can decide on when an email newsletter is delivered. With RSS, it is the recipient who decides when to read your feed, if at all.

I know, even with an email newsletter we can't make people read our content the moment it arrives. But anyone who tracks open rates and open times will tell you that a significant proportion of those opens occur in the first 12 to 24 hours.

This means you can write about time-sensitive issues or promotions. You can be topical. You can talk about today and tomorrow. You can direct people to offers or invitations that will expire in 24 hours or 48 hours.

With RSS you run the risk of losing that sense of immediacy, of being there in the reader's mind in the here and now.

2. Second, you lose the personal touch.

Many of the best newsletters carry a personal voice and character. It may be the voice of an editor, or the voice of the writer.

And yes, elements of voice are lost in the transition between the inbox and a browser.

Here's why. An email inbox is where we read emails from friends and family. It is often where we read comments and contributions from participants in discussion lists and groups. It is where we hear the voice of the writer.

The best email newsletters take advantage of the personal potential of an email inbox. We look forward to hearing the voices of our favorite newsletter writers and editors.

Your email inbox is a place where individual character and voice can be heard, where it can be genuine.

But when you deliver your newsletter via a feed, and people read your newsletter in their browser, much of that is lost.

Is this an absolute? No, I can't claim that it's impossible to share a genuine voice in a browser window. But it is harder.

Look at it this way.

It is easiest to write with a personal, genuine voice in a text-only newsletter. (Friends and family generally write in text, not in HTML with graphics and clickable images.)

It is harder to maintain that sense of a personal connection when you deliver your email newsletter in an HTML format.

And it is harder still when that newsletter is delivered not into your personal email inbox, but into your browser.

Step by step, you are shifting from an environment of personal communication to an environment driven by commercial messages and language.

3. You never get to say hello...

This is a variation on or combination of the first two points. This point is about timing, and about place.

Email newsletters give you an intangible benefit simply because they appear in someone's inbox at a particular moment. The potential to connect one-on-one is at its greatest. The sense of now is real and immediate.

That sense of now is a very powerful thing. If you have tracked response rates, comparing an offer delivered by email to an offer delivered through a web page, you will have likely shared my experience in seeing a boost in response rates and conversion rates when the offer is made through a newsletter.

Why? Because you are supporting the offer with your own voice, and that voice has more power because it is here and now, delivered within the personal environment of an email inbox.

>> Concluding thoughts.

Online we are constantly faced with new technologies and new ways of delivering messages.
Just be sure to understand the true attributes of each new technology, RSS included.

Understand the strengths and weaknesses.

If you choose to use RSS, use it for its strengths.

If RSS cannot deliver the strengths you have established through your email newsletter, don't put aside the newsletter.

You can still do both... send out your newsletter by email, and also make it available as a feed.

Free Webcast today (Tue March 15th) with Craig Perrine (The List Profit Coach) on How To Build a Responsive List ;)