Avoid these 5 common mistakes in newsletter subscription marketing


By Robert W. Bly




            As Bill Bonner of Agora Publishing is fond of pointing out, nobody wakes up in the morning, taps his or her significant other on the shoulder, and says, “Honey, let’s go out and buy some newsletters today.”

            Indeed, the glut of free and low-priced information competing for our subscriber’s limited time and attention today means we have to work harder than ever in our promotional copy to prove that our newsletter delivers tangible value far in excess of the subscription price.

            Yet most newsletter promotions fail to convince most of the potential subscribers reading them of the value of what we are selling. Here are 5 common errors that, if avoided, will help you convince more of the people on the mailing lists you rent to try your publication.

1. You haven’t explicitly stated the publication’s “reason for being.”  The reason for being is the reason why the publication exists -- and, by extension, why anyone would want to pay for it.

            Masthead tag lines usually fail to identify this reason for being. One newsletter, The Reseller’s Report, advertised itself as “marketing, sales, and management strategies for computer resellers.”

            The niche and content are clear, but not the reason for being. There is a ton of marketing, management, and sales information available today, for resellers and everyone else. Given the easy availability of that information, why do I also need The Reseller’s Report?

            Your “reason for being,” in addition to identifying the audience and content, must also state a benefit the reader gets from subscribing -- preferably one he cannot get elsewhere. For Phillip’s California Technology Stock Letter, the “reason for being” is to  enable subscribers to earn “4 times the return of the S&P 500” by investing in a certain class of stocks that perform well regardless of the market.      

2. You haven’t proven your case. When I say I can help you make 4 times the returns of the S&P 500, your first reaction is disbelief, followed by, “Prove it!”

            Copywriters too frequently make claims (e.g., “We give you the news first,” “Our analysis is superior”) without giving proof -- often because digging for that proof is hard work.

            One way to prove a claim is with specific, detailed examples. A package for Jane’s Defence Weekly made the claim that Jane’s provided analysis of defense news more accurate than other sources.

            The package lead began:

Iraqi armored personnel carriers lay in smoldering ruins on the battlefield. The newspapers casually referred to these vehicles as “Russian tanks.”


But a Jane’s military analyst knew better, and our article -- quite correctly -- identified the vehicles as Chinese in origin.


A trivial point? Hardly. In his article, our analyst explained that the Iraqis regard Russian tanks as the finest made, and Chinese the worst.


Conclusion? Iraq didn’t consider that battlefield strategically critical, because they were sending their second or third division, not front-line troops.


And knowing this, Iraq’s enemies could plan their counter-strategies more effectively.


3. You haven’t established your credibility with the reader. A classic ad for McGraw-Hill began: “I don’t know you. I don’t know your company. I don’t know your product. Now -- what was it you wanted to sell me?”

            As a high-priced newsletter, you are claiming insight, expertise, knowledge, analysis, or reporting above and beyond what the subscriber can get from less expensive sources -- the Web, newspapers, magazines, trade journals, TV, radio. Your copy must work hard to make the reader believe that your editor, publication, or company is capable of delivering it.

            In its package, Jane’s Defence Weekly pointed out that the company has been a leading information resource covering the defense industry for over a century. But the copywriter, in reviewing videos of TV stories involving Jane’s, came up with a much more powerful credibility builder which he used as an envelope teaser:

60 Minutes calls it “the closest thing there is to a commercial intelligence service -- available to anyone with a subscription.”


            This comment was made by a voice-over TV announcer as the lead-in to a short 60 Minutes piece on the defense industry in which Jane’s was featured.

            4. You don’t understand what your buyer really wants. Go beyond the description of your market printed on the list broker’s data cards. Ask yourself: Who are these people? What do they believe? What are their feelings? What do they want? What are their attitudes and principles?

            By incorporating your answers to these questions into your promotional copy, you can reach your prospects on an emotional and personal level, not just an intellectual and logical one.

            For instance, Information Technology (IT) professionals often have an adversarial relationship with users. A seminar company built a successful promotion around these feelings. The letter headline read: “An important announcement for every IT professional who has ever felt like telling an end user, ‘Go to hell.’”

5. You haven’t shown that you’re a good investment.  It is not enough to have a strong reason for being, prove your case, establish your credibility, and deliver the benefits your subscriber really wants. You also have to show that the value of those benefits outweighs the rather hefty subscription fee you are asking folks to pay. In other words, you must show that your price is a “drop in the bucket” compared to the value the subscriber receives.

One way to make this case is to demonstrate a strong ROI (return on investment) from an investment in your publication.

For instance, a package for a newsletter on personal productivity -- Your Personal Productivity Coach -- stated its reason for being as the ability to save the subscriber at least an hour day through improved personal productivity.

The package pointed to a survey showing the average executive’s time to be worth $60. It then calculated 1 hour a day saved X 5 days a week X 50 weeks a year X $60 per hour = $15,000 gained in increased productivity per employee per year. That’s a 100:1 ROI on the $149 annual subscription rate.


Bob Bly is a freelance copywriter and the author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Direct Marketing (Alpha Books). He can be reached at 201-385-1220 or at rwbly@bly.com.