Are quarterly newsletters still useful?

This blog post was inspired by “Has the quarterly client newsletter become old news?” (free registration required) in InvestmentNews. Advisors’ opinions are mixed, says the article. So are mine. Quarterly newsletters are good for some people, but not for others.

Drawbacks of quarterly newsletters

  1. Quarterly newsletters can feel like a burden on the firm. If the employee writing it isn’t a professional writer, and has many other quarterly responsibilities, it’s hard for that person to make time to write a newsletter. The newsletter will feel like a drain. Also, if the writer isn’t enthusiastic or isn’t a good writer, the quality of the newsletter will suffer. Bad writing does not help to attract or retain clients. And overloading your financial professionals by adding writing duties may hurt your business.
  2. Canned or poorly written newsletters aren’t compelling. As the InvestmentNews article explained, in an opinion attributed to Josh Brown of Ritholz Investment Management, “newsletters often amount to more noise in a world where investors are already trying to navigate information overload.” This is especially likely for newsletters that are “canned,” meaning purchased from third-party providers and used as is. It’s also true of poorly written content, which is more likely to be written internally.

Pluses of quarterly newsletters

  1. It’s another way to “touch” your audience. Marketers say that it takes many “touches”—meetings, phone calls, and written and other communications—to make a sale. A newsletter is an easy way to touch many people at once. If your list consists of individuals who have opted in to your list, they’ve self-selected as prospects or users of your services.
  2. It allows you to express your personality and opinions. Your newsletter can stand out from the crowd when it shows off your personality or—at a larger firm—the culture of your firm. I’ve written about this in a two-part article called “How to add personality and warmth to your financial writing” and in an infographic.

Your opinions also matter. Your clients want to know how you think as you help them with financial decisions. You can also express opinions by reacting and commenting on the opinions of others. Lisa Kirschenbauer says in the InvestmentNews article, “there’s a lot of information out there, but [clients] don’t even know where to start, so we help them understand what information they should trust.” I’ve described how to do this in “Financial blogging tip: opinion + summary.”

  1. You can offload some of the work without sacrificing your originality or quality. Instead of buying generic third-party content, or sharing inexpertly content written in-house, you can get the best of both worlds. The least expensive way is to draft your newsletter yourself, and then have a professional editor clean it up. Another option is to have a professional writer interview you and then create your newsletter.

What’s YOUR approach?

Please answer my two-question survey about whether you send a quarterly newsletter. I’ll report back later.

Pick your e-newsletter sender name carefully

Recently, I sent the newsletter of a person whom I like to my email’s spam folder. My gut reaction proves that you should clearly identify the sender of your email newsletter.

Unrecognizable sender name spells trouble

When I looked at the newsletter, I thought, “I don’t know this person. Why is he sending this to me?” I also had a vague sense that I’d received multiple issues of this unwanted newsletter.

When I receive newsletters from people whose names I don’t recognize, I’m afraid to click their “unsubscribe” links. I’m concerned that my confirming the existence of my email, I’m sentencing myself to receive more newsletter spam. That’s why I sent this person’s email to my spam folder.

The sender used only his first name in his “from” line. It’s as if I identified myself simply as “Susan” instead of “Susan Weiner, CFA” in the from line of my e-newsletter. I had no idea who he was—at least, not initially. But the name nagged at me. Eventually, I realized from the person’s mailing address that I did know him. But, by then it was too late for me to undo his spam designation.

As Campaign Monitor says in “Why ‘From’ names and email addresses are important,

Studies on email open rates have found that trusting the sender is the single most important factor in whether an email is opened or not. That means it’s critical to choose an effective and consistent “From” name and email address.

A better approach to your sender name

If you’re a solopreneur sending an e-newsletter, consider using your full name—first name plus surname—as your sender name. In the example I give above, I would have recognized the full name. I wouldn’t have sent the newsletter to spam.

Sometimes a full name isn’t enough to jog my memory. Even adding a company name to your sender name often isn’t enough. “10 Tips to Optimize Your Newsletter’s Sender Address” by Newsletter2go offers some tips on picking the right sender name. I don’t believe that you should always use your company name as your sender name, as I discussed in “Should my firm insert its name at the start of every email subject line?

The best way to avoid getting sent to spam for an unrecognized sender name is to stop adding people to your email lists without their permission.

It also helps to deliver value in every newsletter. However, everyone defines value differently, so that’s hard to do consistently.

The e-newsletter problem you don’t know about

Don’t get me wrong. Sending an e-newsletter is a great idea. I’ve gained thousands of dollars of business from my subscribers. But there’s an e-newsletter problem nobody tells you about.

The problem? Delivery.

Your newsletters may fail to reach your subscribers’ in-boxes for reasons that have little to nothing to do with you. You can avoid some, but not all of these problems, by using a provider of e-newsletter services—like Constant Contact, MailChimp, or aWeber—instead of sending your newsletter via your email client, as I discussed in “Do NOT send your newsletter via your email.” But you’ll experience problems even with those providers.

Bounce list reveals problem

You may think that all of your newsletters are reaching your subscribers. But they’re not. For one thing, some subscribers divert your newsletters from their inbox using rules to divert them to other folders. An email provider like Gmail may direct your newsletters on its own initiative to a separate tab called Promotions. Also, some subscribers may forget they subscribed and mark your newsletter as spam. That’s for starters.

There’s more, which I discovered from going through my newsletter’s “bounce list,” a list of subscribers whom Constant Contact says didn’t receive my newsletters.

Every month I go through the “bounce list” for my monthly and weekly newsletters. Sometimes the bounces are temporary, as when an inbox gets overloaded while someone is out of the office. Other times, though not too often, the bounce reports are false, as I discover when I contact the bounced email addresses, and my subscribers say, “Susan, I’m getting your newsletters. I just read one.”

I think the most typical reason for bounces is that the subscriber’s company or internet service provider (ISP) blocks e-newsletters. There are ways for subscribers to request that their company of ISP allow your newsletter through. But that can be time-consuming for the subscriber.

One of my most surprising discoveries was that it can take years for an invalid email address to bounce. I only learn this when I go the person’s LinkedIn profile to contact them about a bounce, and I see they left their job long ago. Apparently, some companies don’t immediately deactivate email addresses of employees who leave. I can see keeping an email address active for one to three months. Keeping it active for one to three years, without even activating an autoresponder about the person’s departure, seems crazy to me.

What’s the fix?

There is no easy fix to this e-newsletter problem. One approach is to chip away gradually at undelivered emails by contacting subscribers on your bounce list. Ask them to update their email addresses or take other measures to ensure your newsletter reaches them. There can be a silver lining to this practice, as I discussed in “Boost your newsletter list’s power with this tip.”

Another approach is to periodically review lists of newsletter non-openers. You can then contact those who’ve been inactive for a prolonged period, asking if they’d like to unsubscribe. I’ve made a step in that direction, but I’ve found that identifying longtime inactive subscribers is a clunky, hands-on process with Constant Contact. Other providers may make it easier. For example, I believe some providers make it possible to generate a list of those who haven’t opened a newsletter for X number of months. Last time I checked, Constant Contact didn’t offer that feature.

Have YOU found a better fix to this problem? If so, I’d love to hear from you.


Do NOT send your newsletter via your email

Are you thinking of starting a newsletter and sending it via your firm’s email? Stop. Sending newsletters using your firm’s email client—whether it’s Microsoft Outlook or some other program—is a bad idea. It can anger people, and handicap the delivery of your newsletter. But, don’t worry. There’s an easy solution.

An easy way to annoy newsletter recipients

I’m thinking about this because I just received a mass email from someone who’s launching a new business. This person emailed me—and maybe 20 other people—in a message that displayed our emails in the CC line.

It’s not a good idea to expose other people’s email addresses if they don’t already work at the same company or correspond via email for other purposes. People like their privacy. In the case that I’m thinking of, the other recipients were all people who had taken a class together, so many of them may have welcomed the chance to stay in touch. But some might not.

Another problem: When you send a mass email using the CC line, inevitably some people will “respond all.” That’s true even when their message is of no interest to the other recipients. This is annoying.

A way to handicap your newsletter delivery

You might think that using the BCC line to blind-copy recipients would solve your problems. Sure, it’ll solve the problems listed above. But there are other issues with sending newsletters via your firm’s email software.

Internet service providers (ISPs) are suspicious of emails that have many addressees. They fear that you might be sending spam. Your email address could get blacklisted.

As e-mail marketing application MailChimp says in its explanation of blacklists, “If your emails get marked as spam, or ISPs see a sudden increase in email volume coming from your domain, you could get blacklisted.” Campaign Monitor, another email marketing app, notes that “Just a few spam complaints can land an IP address on a blacklist, even if the ratio of complaints to the volume of email sent is very low.” 

That could hurt the delivery of your regular emails as well as your newsletters. That’s a high price to pay.

Solution: use an email marketing application

An email marketing application—I use Constant Contact—solves the problem of exposing recipient’s email addresses. It also gives your newsletter the chance to be viewed more favorably by ISPs than emails sent to many recipients via your firm’s email software.

For one thing, an email marketing app will make sure that you comply with certain standards set by the CAN-SPAM Act, an anti-spam law. It’ll force you to provide an unsubscribe link and to put your address in the email, as pointed out in “7 Reasons You Should Use An Email Marketing Service to Send Your Newsletters.” The same article asserts that “Email service providers such as Constant Contact and MailChimp are trusted within the email community and they keep a good eye on their account holders to make sure there is no funny business going on.” As Liz Lockard says in “5 Reasons Why Email Marketing Service Providers are a MUST,” “They keep a record of the opt-in when your subscriber signs up and also have things like spam filter checks to help you avoid the junk folder and being reported as spam.”

Other advantages of email marketing service providers:

  • They give you the option to automate sign-ups to your newsletter with a link in your emails, on your website, or in other locations.
  • They provide templates to help you format your newsletters attractively—and in a mobile-friendly way.
  • They usually offer some sort of support, which can be invaluable when you run into problems with your newsletter.

You may still have problems

I wish I could say that email marketing service providers are the solution to all of your problems. They’re not.

Some companies block communications sent via such providers. I’ve run into this with subscribers to my Investment Writing newsletter. Some of my subscribers end up re-subscribing from their home email addresses, rather than battling their company information technology folks to get the newsletter whitelisted.

Still, if you follow my advice, you’re likely to have fewer problems than if you send newsletters via your regular email software.


My newsletter experiment with confirmation requests

I suspect that a significant percentage of my newsletters don’t make it into my subscribers’ email in-boxes. Every month I get a list of email addresses that “bounce,” not reaching their destination. An even larger number of subscribers fail to open any emails—possibly because my emails aren’t reaching them. The data is provided by Constant Contact, the provider I use for sending my newsletters.

Newsletter confirmations

Wondering if the disappointing numbers are partly because new subscribers input bad email addresses, I experimented with Constant Contact’s feature that requires new subscribers to confirm their interest before they join my list.

I didn’t like the results. My weekly list of new subscribers shrank. Also, the list of names in an “Awaiting confirmation” category grew. Looking at the email addresses on the “Awaiting confirmation” list, I saw many email addresses that appeared legitimate.

My assistant suggested that the confirmation-request email went into the individuals’ spam folders. That’s what happened when she tested the feature by subscribing to my newsletter. (Of course, it’s possible that’s where anything sent via Constant Contact goes for those individuals unless they’ve whitelisted Constant Contact.)

I asked Constant Contact if I could re-send the confirmation-request email. No, there’s no way to do that.

Asking people to re-enter subscriptions

The only way I can get those subscribers on my Constant Contact list is to send them an email asking them to re-enter their subscription request. I sent 25 requests in early January. It’ll be interesting to see how many of those people re-subscribe by the time I publish this article.

In the meantime, I’ve turned off Constant Contact’s confirmation request.

Canned newsletters can hurt your marketing

It takes time to write, format, and distribute newsletters. That’s why many of you turn to providers of canned newsletter content. It saves time when you must do nothing more than drop in your name, contact information, logo, and maybe your photo and some disclosures. Canned newsletters like this can save you time. But they undercut your reputation if readers realize that your content is prepared by someone else (and you haven’t acknowledged it).

Duplication of canned newsletters

For awhile, I’ve been receiving duplicate newsletters from two financial advisors. You can see the evidence in the screen shot from my email inbox. The email subject lines and the text previews are identical. Only the names of the senders, which I’ve blocked out, differ.

duplicate copies of canned newsletters

The text inside the newsletter is identical, too, except for the firm’s name, logo, and disclosures.

Both newsletters also share this clunky sentence: To help you enjoy the moment, consider delegating away as many worries to people you trust. What the heck does that mean? I suspect the writer meant to say “To help you enjoy the moment, consider delegating away as many worries as possible to people you trust.” If you’re going to use canned content, try to pick a provider who uses strong writers.

Initially, I only received newsletters from __ Advisory Group, not __ Management Group. Back then, I was impressed by the sender’s creativity in curating content from diverse sources.  But then duplicate newsletters started turning up. As you can see from the screen shot, the second newsletter arrived within two minutes of the first, making it easy to spot the duplication. The newsletter was no less clever, but its lack of originality became apparent.

If you must use a canned newsletter…

…customize it.

Some simple tweaks might have prevented me from noticing the duplication. For example:

    • Changing the email subject line
    • Sending your newsletter at a different time than your competitors—I imagine that the content provider suggests a default send time. If I’d received one of these newsletters on a Tuesday and another on a Friday, I might not have noticed the duplication. In fact, I might not have noticed it if one newsletter arrived at 8 a.m. and other at 4 p.m. on the same day.
    • Changing the message inside to show a bit of your personality—Of course, you should check that your licensing agreement with your provider allows you to edit their content. Need tips for showing some personality? Read “How to add personality and warmth to your financial writing–Part one.”

Looking for a provider of ready-to-use content? You’ll find some in “Ready-to-use content for financial advisors.”

Catch e-newsletter non-openers with this technique

Do you feel disappointed when some of your e-newsletter subscribers fail to open your newsletters? It happens to everybody. The average “open” rate for financial e-newsletters is about 18%, according to Constant Contact.

I’ve learned a technique that has boosted my open rates significantly in two tests. First, I increased the open rate on one of my monthly e-newsletters from 20.4% to 29.1%. Second, I increased the open rate on one of my Weekly Tips from 20.7% to 27.2%. Since then, I’ve achieved open rates greater than 30% on some newsletters.

The secret of my higher open rates

I achieved this improvement by re-sending those emails to people who hadn’t opened them within about a week following their original sending. It’s big win to boost the open rate this easily.

How did I do it? I had my virtual assistant use the QuickSend feature in Constant Contact. I imagine that other forms of e-newsletter software offer similar features. For example, Mailchimp has an option to resend an unopened campaign.

I use QuickSend on every issue of my monthly newsletter. I use it on just one of my Weekly Tips because I don’t want to overwhelm my subscribers’ email in-boxes. I time the Weekly Tip re-send so it doesn’t overlap with the re-send of my monthly newsletter.

How about YOUR newsletters?

Look at your newsletters. Think about how you can use this feature. If your newsletter is monthly, it’s a no-brainer to use this QuickSend approach. If you publish more frequently, be careful that you don’t overwhelm your readers’ in-boxes.

Please tell me if it boosts your open rate and, more importantly, if it helps you to improve your relationships with clients and prospects.

Another tip for your e-newsletter

In addition to using QuickSend, I have another tip for boosting the open rate for your monthly newsletter.

Don’t wait until your regular monthly date to send a newsletter to a new subscriber. I try to send weekly to new subscribers. I hope to attract more attention by contacting them while they still remember signing up for my newsletter.

Keep on clicking links, or make unhappy discoveries later

Do you ever get tired of clicking links in your online and emailed publications to make sure they go to the right place? I do.

It’s frustrating to click, click, click because 999 times out of 1,000 the link goes to the right place, and I see what I expect to see there. But what about the 1,000th time?

My shock from clicking a link

As I worked with my virtual assistant on my marketing emails for my upcoming investment commentary webinar, I thought, “I don’t need to continue clicking links to my registration page on EventBrite. We’ve used these emails and links forever. What could go wrong?”

After all, my assistants and I have used EventBrite since 2012. Over the years, each assistant has quickly gotten the hang of updating the dates and fees on the registration page, while repeating the same formatting.

I clicked anyhow, expecting to see the usual formatting with my logo at the top. Instead, I saw something similar (I didn’t think to save a screen shot) to the following:

My surprising result from clicking lniks

My logo and some of the usual text had been stripped out of my event registration page, apparently due to an “upgrade” in EventBrite’s software.

I tweeted to EventBrite to learn about the changes, and emailed my VA for help. Luckily, both responded quickly. Now I have a new registration page with my logo and some color, as you’ll see below.

new webinar registration page


What a difference clicking links makes! As a result of clicking the links, I found a problem that would have embarrassed me if I’d waited for my readers to discover it.

Clicking links lesson for you

What’s the lesson for you? Keep on clicking links to check that they meet your expectations.

After this experience, I think I’ll check more links than I used to. I must resist the urge to assume that everything is OK.

To learn more about my investment commentary webinar

Want to learn more about writing investment commentary? You’ll find the details of my webinar on my website and you can register for the webinar.

Not sure if you’ll be available at the time of the webinar? Don’t worry, you can watch a recording.

Print newsletter vs. e-newsletter for financial marketers

Should you send a print newsletter or an e-newsletter? I’m asking this question because I just added a 28-page paper newsletter to my “to read” pile. This newsletter wouldn’t have commanded my attention if it had come via email. While newsletters printed on paper and sent via the postal service are becoming dinosaurs, you may find them worthwhile.

The case for a print newsletter

The big reason to send a print newsletter is to break through the clutter encountered by e-newsletters. I have e-mail inbox rules that move most e-newsletters into a folder called “newsletter.” I rarely read them. I even skip newsletters that would interest or help me because there are too many of them.

Marketing via mail generally achieves higher response rates. According to “2015 DMA Response Rate Report: Direct Mail Outperforms All Digital Channels Combined By Nearly 600%“:

Direct mail achieves a 3.7% response rate with a house list, and a 1.0% response rate with a prospect list. All digital channels combined only achieve a 0.62% response rate (Mobile 0.2%; Email 0.1% for a Prospect list and 0.1% for House/Total list; Social Media 0.1%; Paid Search 0.1%; Display Advertising 0.02%).

Direct mail’s 3.7% and 1.0% response rates for house lists and prospect lists respectively look attractive compared with the 0.1% response rates for email. Of course, your experience may differ from the DMA’s results.

Another plus of print is your control of what readers see in front of their eyes. This contrasts with e-newsletters, where readers’ email programs or browsers may distort your layout or blank out images.

The case against a print newsletter

stamps for print newsletter

Stamps on the envelope of the 28-page newsletter that inspired this post

I see three main drawbacks to print newsletters: cost, timeliness, and lack of analytics.

It’s relatively expensive to send a print newsletter via the U.S. mail. A $1.57 worth of stamps adorned the newsletter I just opened. Other costs may include envelopes, paper (fancy stock is pricey), ink, and design work. Only design work might apply to an e-newsletter, though you may also need to pay for an e-mail marketing provider, such as Constant Contact or MailChimp.

Taking a contrary view on cost, “2015 DMA Response Rate Report: Direct Mail Outperforms All Digital Channels Combined By Nearly 600%” argues that direct mail’s costs are competitive with other media, perhaps partly because of print’s higher response rates. Here’s the article’s take on costs:

Cost-per-acquisition for direct mail is very competitive. Direct mail stands at $19, which fares favorably with Mobile and Social Media (both at $16-18), Paid Search ($21-30), Internet Display ($41-50) and even email ($11-15).

Print newsletters take longer than e-newsletters to reach your readers. That’s partly a function of the creation process, especially if an outside designer or printer is involved. Plus, you must give your newsletters to the post office and wait for their delivery.

Unlike e-newsletters, print newsletters don’t give you detailed analytics. You can’t see who opened your newsletter or which content attracted the most attention.

Use both instead of only a print newsletter

Enjoy some of the benefits of both printed and electronic communications by using both formats, if your budget permits.

For example, like the person who sent me the 28-page newsletter, you can email your list about with teaser copy about your printed newsletter. You can also include a link to an online version of your paper newsletter.

Another possibility: use print for your regular newsletters and use e-newsletters for more time-sensitive communications.

What are your results?

If you’ve used both a print newsletter and an e-newsletter, how do your results compare? Would you recommend one over the other? I enjoy learning from you.


Dinosaur image courtesy of Geerati/

Financial e-newsletters, kill your annoying, weak clickbait!

Some financial e-newsletters drive me crazy. I click to open them and find nothing there. Well, not nothing, but just enough to annoy the heck out of me.

If you’re doing what these newsletters do, please stop.

The most annoying habit of financial e-newsletters that I actually open

If I actually open a financial e-newsletter, I expect it to have some content. The body of the newsletter shouldn’t simply consists of links leading elsewhere.

Below is an example of a newsletter that failed the test. The first two blacked-out lines are the title of a blog post formatted as a clickable link. I’m concealing the firm’s identity because I assume this is an innocent mistake on their part. It’s the kind of thing that happens when non-professional writers create content.

annoying financial e-newsletters: an example

This is the only text that appeared in the main body of a financial e-newsletter that I received.


I think that the e-newsletter senders hoped that their links would serve as clickbait—provocative content that drives readers to a web page. However, the title of a blog post written by financial professional rarely has the flair to do that.

The senders could have achieved better results by adding a brief summary or introduction to their article on MarketWatch. That would have let me assess whether their topic interested me.

I understand that the authors probably are limited in how much they can copy from their MarketWatch article. However, that shouldn’t prevent them from writing teaser copy or saying “If you’re a ___ type of investor, this article can help you to ____.”

The second offense by this financial e-newsletter

clickbaitWhen I clicked on the two blacked-out lines, which are clearly meant to be clickable links, they took me to a post on the company’s blog. The content on the page? Exactly what you see in the image above.

Oops! I had to click again to reach the article on MarketWatch. What casual reader is going to take all of these steps with so little indication in the e-newsletter of what benefit they’ll gain from their clicks?

I understand that people want to drive traffic to their websites. But balance that against the risk that along the way you’ll annoy and lose readers for your financial e-newsletters.

I think the newsletter senders in this case should have linked directly to their post on MarketWatch. They would have avoided annoying me by sending me to their blog post that didn’t add anything new. Also, even without the link to their website, they would have learned whether their title was strong enough to interest me. Most newsletter programs allow you to measure your readers’ click. Although their measurements aren’t 100 percent accurate, they’ll tell you if one title attracts more readers than another.

Mistakes by other financial e-newsletters

What else do financial e-newsletters do to annoy or drive away readers? They:

  1. Add people to their newsletter distribution lists without asking permission, as I’ve discussed in “no, No, NO: My business card shouldn’t add me to your e-newsletter list” and “Our LinkedIn connection isn’t an invitation to spam.”
  2. Use weak subject lines in their emails. For an analysis of a weak title and how to spice it up, read “Stop! Get a better title, or forget winning readers.”
  3. Send newsletters that aren’t mobile-friendly. Today people are often read emails on their phones and other mobile devices that fail to display traditional e-newsletter formats effectively. For tips on how to be mobile-friendly, see “3 ways to make your emails mobile-friendly.”

They may also suffer from “4 reasons your emails don’t get results.”

Image courtesy of adamr/