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The ASCII Group has unveiled a complementary e-newsletter
service designed to help solution providers market themselves to clients,
prospects, and contacts with new content in a customizable format each month.

Available to channel organizations as part of their
regular membership fee, the service was the result of ASCII
Group
research that found many IT providers still lack the marketing
resources to easily and affordably get their brand and messaging out. In fact,
approximately 72 percent of IT companies believed that the lack of marketing
resources was an obstacle to their success in growing their business, a recent
membership poll found.

“This industry is highly smart from a technology
standpoint but sometimes providers lack the marketing skills or resources,”
said Jerry Koutavas, president of the
ASCII Group, in an interview . “We started polling our members and found
they need help in how they brand themselves online and how they market
themselves. We saw a variety of other services out in the marketplace and found
they were pretty costly.”

That was the case for Slingshot Information Systems Inc., a Rockport,
Mass.-based solution provider that joined the ASCII Group about three months
ago after attending a meeting in nearby Boston. The small VAR, which serves
clients with between two and 60 employees, had used other e-newsletter services
from providers such as Constant Contact, President Stan Patey told Channel Insider. But they were expensive
or time-consuming.

Slingshot, which tried out ASCII Group’s e-newsletter
offering in December, liked the service’s ease-of-use and customizable
template.

“If it’s easy as the first one was, and I can edit it up
for myself in an hour or so, I can do it on a monthly basis or close to a
monthly basis. If that’s too much, even quarterly would be great,” Patey said.
“I’m a small outfit.”

The service allows solution providers, especially those
without a dedicated marketing person or department, to regularly communicate
with clients and prospects, agreed Brian Albright, owner of Albright Networks, in an interview. Albright,
who had the creation of an e-newsletter on his to-do task list, was put-off by
the time, content concerns, costs, and legalities of reusing publishers’ work,
he said.

“What’s my content going to be? I’m not a copywriter …
[and] I have to find five or six articles that I have to retweet. How legal
really is that? Is our newsletter going to be some links? I don’t even know
what’s really allowed. There’s half a day. Then there’s the time to format
that, build that, and then Constant Contact or whatever gives you a template to
dump your stuff in, but there’s a cost,” said Albright. “The ASCII Group service
is excellent value for me

Solution providers can easily customize the content they
want to include, and can add their company’s logo, executives’ headshots,
company contact information, personalized masthead, and other custom
information, said Koutavas.

“We have a nice template already set up,” noted Patey. “I
can remove parts I don’t care for, and add things I like.”

Early customer response has been positive, said Albright,
whose Port Angeles, Wash.-based company sent its first e-newsletter in
December.

“I really got a great response from clients. I get so
much stuff in my inbox like that that I don’t read. I sent it to the owners of
the companies I work with, and a lot of the people who are high up read it,
enjoyed it, and told me so,” he said. “Even though I’m in a small town I’ve got
competition. It’s part of the sales funnel. If I’m getting information out to
people, they might call about that. It might remind them to call about a new
project that’s going on. I send it out to all the people that have ever touched
me; they might become a client from it.”

The ASCII Group will aggregate content of-interest to
solution providers, clients, prospects, and markets, Koutavas said. The
organization, now in its 29th year, already offered members a
fee-based social
media service
, where it generates and manages posts for participating
solution providers. As a result, the ASCII Group has built a wealth of
intelligence and data about what customers want to hear and learn about from
their trusted advisors, said Koutavas.

“On the social media service that we provide, we see the
comments, the clicks and the links, and all the things that happen when we post
comments, information, and links,” he said. “I don’t think people really
realize what they’re worth from a marketing standpoint. We see some great
comments when we’re sharing things on their behalf. We’re really helping them
build that brand expertise position on these social media sites—and with
clients and prospects.”

In fact, the social media service was one of two primary
reasons (the other was vendor discounts) that Albright Networks joined the
ASCII Group in November 2011, said Albright.

“They will do Facebook and LinkedIn updates for me,” he
said. “To have that presence that will build the clicks to have something
always showing up there was something that really got me. That’s worth the
price of admission right there.  In my
case, what happens is, FB just doesn’t happen because I don’t have time to
update it.”

Although the e-newsletter service  only just became available, already about 70
of the more than 2,000 ASCII
Group
members have signed-on, said Koutavas. By March, the organization
expects more than 300 solution providers to enroll, he said.