The Empowered Customer: Is the e-newsletter on its way out?

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Brent LearyTalk about grabbing your attention! I receive a weekly e-newsletter from The Warrillow Group, a Canadian research firm focused on the small and medium-sized business (S.M.B.) market, and a recent one was a doozy. The newsletter came with the following subject line: “The beginning of the end for the e-newsletter.” I receive several newsletters and most of the time I delete them before reading them, as most of you probably do. But this one I opened.

As you riffle through your inbox, it’s probably hard to conceive of e-newsletters going out of style any time soon. But the e-newsletter’s popularity with businesses is precisely why the survey published in Warrillow’s e-newsletter says they are on their way out. The survey, completed by owners of businesses with fewer than 100 employees, found that S.M.B. marketers have become too reliant on e-newsletters and that e-newsletters are being read less and less, with fewer making it through spam filters.

The report is aimed at companies selling to S.M.B.’s, making them aware that they need to do something different to reach their target. Eighty-four percent of Fortune 500 companies that sell products to S.M.B.’s have an e-newsletter. However, businesses of all sizes are sending similar newsletters with reckless abandon because it’s easy and cheap to do so. In the end, only a fraction of them are read.

The Empowered Customer
Web 2.0 and other terms like “social computing” and “the business Web,” describe the ongoing evolution of the World Wide Web from an infinite number of individual, unrelated Web sites to a full-fledged platform fostering collaboration, participation and community-building. In the Web 2.0 world the user/community has the power to manage, not to be managed. A great example of this is Digg.com, which has become a top-100 site on the Web by allowing community members to create and submit articles. The same community members then decide which articles get promoted to the Digg.com home page, thereby ensuring tremendous exposure for the authors. The power to control what shows up on the home page lies with the community, not with editors or site operators.

Digg.com is a great example not only of allowing users/members/customers to take control of the relationship, but also of welcoming that control as a way to create an amazingly loyal community. Web 2.0 technologies like blogging, podcasting and RSS (Really Simple Syndication) are being implemented to improve relationships with prospects and customers, making them feel like partners as well as customers. And with the size of inboxes growing more uncontrollable because of spam and unsolicited messages, empowered buyers are increasingly using Web searches to initiate contact with vendors on their terms.

FastPitchNetworking.com, an online business community that complements the better-known community, LinkedIn.com, is a good example of how RSS is helping business people connect with those searching for products and services. What makes FastPitch so compelling is its ability to include on your user profile links to your blogs, press releases, podcasts and other content you create. You can even include links to your training and demonstration videos. So as you create blog posts in tools like TypePad or Blogger, FastPitch uses RSS to automatically incorporate them into your profile. Press releases you create using FastPitch are syndicated to the search engines and begin showing up in results lists. When users view your FastPitch profile, they can see every press release, blog entry and other content you’ve created all in one location. FastPitch will even serve up your content to other FastPitch community members whose profiles show an interest for the kind of services and information you provide.

Warrillow and many other people, including yours truly, believe RSS will supplant e-newsletters at some point, mainly because it puts the power of choice in the hands of end users and allows them to take back control of their inboxes. And with Microsoft Vista and Office 2007 now on the shelves with RSS capabilities built in, RSS is about to go mainstream. Now would be a good time to acquaint yourself with it from a business perspective and ask how it can enable you to get your messages through to the desired target.

To get more information, consider signing up for Warrillow’s e-newsletter. In fact you’ll have to, as it appears they have no blog or RSS feed yet. I guess that means e-newsletters still have a little time left before they go extinct.

Brent Leary is co-founder and partner of CRM Essentials in Atlanta and the host of Technology for Business Sake, which airs on Business Talk 1160AM and www.BusinessTechnologyRadio.com. His blog can be found at www.brentleary.com.