The battle of the newsletters: Printed v electronic, which is the winner?
Written by Phil Bray on 23/08/18
We’ve had a couple of lively debates recently with financial planners who are convinced of the benefits of producing printed newsletters instead of electronic newsletters.
We’ve long held the view that electronic newsletters trump a print / post combination. However, so passionate were they about printing newsletters it got us thinking; is our stance wrong? Should we be recommending printed newsletters?
This led to an internal debate, reconsidering the pros and cons of each, which we thought you might find interesting, along with the conclusion we reached.
We generally recommend that electronic newsletters promote multiple articles, displaying a headline for each, an image and a small description of the content, tempting the reader to click and read more. We recommend sending newsletters on a monthly or quarterly basis by using a bulk email system, the most well-known of which is Mail Chimp, although there are many other similar systems and we favour Dotmailer.
The key benefits of this approach, and electronic newsletters in general, include:
Controlling when it is sent: Using an electronic newsletter means you can control the date and time it is sent. Conversely, with a printed newsletter you can’t easily confirm whether it has even been delivered, let alone control the time the postie pops it through the letterbox.
Evidence-based decisions: All bulk email systems provide data to help you understand the effectiveness of your newsletters. Key metrics include open rates (the people who open the email), click thru rates (the people who click a link) and unsubscribes or ISP complaints (people who no longer wish to receive your communication or who report it as spam). Decisions, aimed at improving engagement rates, for example, writing follow up articles to popular pieces of content, can then be made based on evidence.
In contrast, you can’t tell whether a printed newsletter was read, transported swiftly from the doormat to the recycling or was chewed up by the dog before the intended recipient had a chance to open the envelope.
Testing and refining: The functionality of most bulk email systems allows the user to test different variables with the aim of improving engagement rates. For example, open rates are closely linked to the subject line used in the email, most bulk email systems will allow you to compare two different subject lines on a small sample of your data sending the newsletter to the remainder of your database using the one which proves to be most effective. Split tests such as this can be run on other variables and crucial to increasing engagement.
This clearly isn’t possible with a printed and posted newsletter; once it’s been sent, nothing can be changed, and detailed feedback is hard to get.
Cost: The cost of producing and sending an electronic newsletter is far lower than printing and posting a comparable number. For example, we recently worked with a client to switch from traditional printed newsletters to an electronic format, they have calculated the savings to be £30,000 per year. What’s more, the last edition received a very healthy 70% open rate.
The savings generated by using electronic newsletters allows marketing spend to be reduced or newsletters to be sent more frequently; adding additional value, while touching existing and potential clients more frequently.
Keeping track of clients: Analysing the data for bounced emails highlights clients who have changed their email address. This should trigger contact by phone or post asking for their new address, so your records can be updated.
Preferred method of contact: When we’ve run surveys on behalf of advisers and planners we often include a question asking how clients would prefer to receive a newsletter. Whether the reason is convenience, environmental considerations or something else, the majority prefer to receive newsletters by email.
Ongoing value: Adding the articles to your website gives the content a longer ‘shelf-life’ than is the case with a printed newsletter. The articles are available for all website visitors to see, no matter how they found your site, they can be promoted on social media and, of course, the extra content on your website will help your search engine rankings.
Printed newsletters have several advantages, including:
Communicating with people who aren’t online: While most of your clients will have an email address, some may not. A printed newsletter allows them to benefit from the same content as those who receive newsletters by email.
Client preference: There’s no doubt that some clients will prefer a printed newsletter. However, the evidence shows that these will be in the minority, while advisers and planners need to be wary of imposing their preferences on their clients. If in doubt, ask your clients what they would prefer and go with the majority.
Potentially less competition: Printed newsletters have rather gone out of fashion over the past few years, which means that by producing them you may well set yourself apart.
To leave in your reception: Some advisers and planners have suggested they would like a printed newsletter, so it can be left in their reception for potential clients to read while waiting for meetings to start. We understand that, but only to an extent. We believe it’s more beneficial that clients are reading testimonials, case studies, or some other form of social proof.
The verdict? Have we changed our mind?
In a word: No.
Despite the factors in favour of a printed newsletter, and after debating the issue at length, we still favour (assuming you have a valid email address) electronic newsletters.
Why? The ability to control the time it is sent, monitor engagement, make changes to the format based on evidence and the benefits of adding content to your website, are all strong arguments for electronic newsletters. The knock out blow is delivered by the lower cost.