Can you tell your story in less than a minute?

In today’s time crunched world, we’re all getting better at processing our electronic inboxes at breakneck speed, rapidly discarding what looks superfluous, quickly scanning what captures our attention, and giving less than 60 seconds to our subscription e-newsletters. 

In fact, according to a 2006 study by researchers at Nielsen Norman Group (NNG), the average time spent after opening an online newsletter was just 51 seconds! 

So, as writer Richard Ketchen aptly noted in the second paragraph of his November Exchanges newsletter, “if that statistic is true, I’m now talking to myself.” (Props to Richard for alerting me to the NNG study!)

But those of us who work on e-newsletters for a living also can find solace in the Nielsen Norman research because the study clearly showed that most customers have positive feelings about the newsletters they find in their inboxes, especially if the newsletter is available by subscription and offers an opt-in/opt-out choice.

Newsletters make emotional connections

According to Amy Schade, a user experience specialist at Nielsen Norman Group, “69% of users said they looked forward to receiving at least one newsletter. Very few other promotional efforts can claim this degree of customer buy-in.”  Nor can they engender the same kind of loyalty and emotion. 

“A newsletter can forge a bond between the reader and writer,” the report said.  “This is in strong contrast to studies of website usability, where users typically seek functionality. Even a website that you visit daily is viewed as simply a tool that you use and then exit.”

At the same time, said the researchers, “people often continue to subscribe even to newsletters they don’t want, cursing the sender with every new issue that clutters their inbox.” 

Four suggestions to boost readership

To assure that your newsletter gets a positive reception, the NNG study offered these suggestions for successful email newsletters:

1.  Avoid the spam filter by making it easy for people to unsubscribe to newsletters they no longer wish to receive. When people can easily unsubscribe to a newsletter, they are less likely to resort to using a spam-blocking feature, which can cause legitimate newsletters to get blacklisted.

2. Design newsletters to facilitate scanning. Today, skimming is reading. Once a newsletter is opened, only 19% of newsletters get a complete read, say the researchers.  Designing for users who skim rather than read is 50% more important for newsletters than for web sites according to the firm’s research.

To their suggestions, I add:

3. Use short, meaningful, and benefit-rich titles, heads, and subheads, both for user recognition and search engine optimization (SEO). The reader should know in a few seconds how this story will make his or her life better, easier, or more fulfilling. Marketing Sherpa’s advice for White Paper titles (see Part 3 of my White Paper series), bears repeating here: The best titles are direct and hard-working — not too creative, clever, or cute.

4. Add charts, graphs, illustrations to visually convey the message and give skimmers another way to access the content.

Finally, let’s not forget that, in today’s informationally overloaded world, content is still paramount.  A well-written, thoughtfully reasoned, and carefully documented article, designed with the readers’ needs in mind, is still the best way to deliver the message, whatever the medium.

Now, are you still with me — or did I lose you at second 52?

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