Marketing on the Cheap: The Lowly NewsletterBy Chris Gonsalves | Print
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The good news is that many VARs are using newsletters to reach clients. That's also the bad news.
Editor's Note: This is Part One in a series.
VARs need to spend more on marketing.
It must be true. You can't go to a trade show, pick up a technology magazine or look at a channel Web site without hearing about how you need to be pumping at least 10 percent of your budget into marketing.
Should you be suspicious that a lot of that noise is coming from consultants and distributors and even media companies that are, of late, in the business of selling you marketing services? Probably. But their self-interest doesn't necessarily make them wrong. It does, however, make them irresponsible when they suggest pumping money into marketing without explaining much in the way of how and why.
The channel suffers as much from bad marketing as it does from a dearth of marketing. The consultants and the agencies rarely mention that. The experts also gloss over some of the best things VARs can do to sell themselves; things that are inexpensive and, with some planning and focus, relatively easy to pull off. In the next few weeks, we'll go over some ways to bolster your marketing efforts with as little expense and wheel-spinning as possible.
One way to get your message out to users and prospects is with a regular newsletter. The good news is that most VARs I've talked to in the past year are producing a newsletter.
That's also the bad news.
If you rounded up random samples of newsletters put out by 100 solution providers, you'd find a spectrum of marketing prose running from banal to brilliant. Most land with a thud someplace in the middle: tepid, inoffensive and largely ineffective.
What kills most VAR newsletters is a lack of focus and the absence of any real call to action. At a small and midsize business VAR conference recently, I met representatives from one Northeast solution provider that had two marketing professionals among a staff of 30. These folks put out a regular newsletter to customers. A noble effort, except that nobody was sure why, and none of them seemed clear on what they expected users to do once they read the thing. Building goodwill and strengthening the brand is fine, but for all that expense and hard work, a newsletter needs to produce action and leads to be considered a success.
The best way to jazz up your newsletters is to steal a page from those of us in the publishing business. Come up with an editorial calendar for the year and stick to it. It's the only way to make sure you're hitting relevant subjects at opportune times. Live and work along the Gulf Coast? Your June newsletter should be about storm preparations and disaster recovery. Serving northern New England in October? Perfect timing for a story telling hospitality customers about how tourists expect secure, reliable Wi-Fi at even the quaintest of lodgings. Summer spike in gas prices? Telepresence story. You see where I'm going here.
The trick is to stay ahead of the news you know your customers will see. Everyone will be drowning in gadget greatness during coverage of the Consumer Electronics Show in January, so make your December newsletter a feast of mobile devices and groovy gear. Your customers will remember where they heard it first.
No matter how brilliant your content, keep in mind that this isn't idle chatter. The job of newsletters may start with the conversation, but it ends with the conversion. Talk about backup and recovery, then offer an on-site assessment; brag about your smart-phone chops, then ask to schedule a demo. Always make sure your newsletter content leads the readers straight back into contact with you.
And a final bit of newsletter advice: Seek help. Late last month, I was asked by the president of a very successful Midwestern VAR if I could teach him the finer points of interviewing sources so he could craft better case studies for his newsletters and marketing collateral. Maybe it's because I have dozens of writer friends trying to keep themselves fed selling Amway soap and Cutco steak knives, but I feel strongly that any VAR trying to do this kind of work itself is nuts.
Consider this: When IBM or Hewlett-Packard or Sun Microsystems wants to produce any sort of written material, it hires freelance editors as a matter of course. Even the engineers most intimately familiar with their subjects aren't allowed to craft their own papers and presentations. They get word people to handle words. So should you.
Next week, we'll talk about the easiest—and scariest—guerrilla marketing you can do. And it's absolutely free!Channel Insider Editor-in-Chief Chris Gonsalves wants to know how you're marketing your business. Let him know at firstname.lastname@example.org.