Welcome newsletters to your family

Posted by ninahershberger

Not all relatives are created equal.

If you’re fortunate, you have siblings who would gladly donate a kidney, aunts and uncles who inspired you to reach new heights, and still-close cousins with whom you shared many legendary youthful misadventures.

Then there are the vaguely familiar relatives who never write or call and whom you may run into only at family funerals.  Some of them are nice enough folks, but many have nothing in common with you except DNA, feel they’re superior to you, and only show up when they need something.

I’m writing about families because many companies think of their employees as family, and their customers as extended family.

If you want to foster that image of warmth and togetherness, a regular newsletter is an effective way to go about it.

Sure, you can limit your contact with customers to the times they need to replace a major appliance or buy a house or get a six-month checkup (or whatever pertains to your particular business), but you risk becoming abstract and “out of sight, out of mind,” like those not-so-close relatives.

It’s like you start over from scratch with each transaction, struggling to develop a rapport and brand loyalty.

A company newsletter helps you import the best things about a tight-knit family.

As with the beloved uncle who “knows a guy” who can get you a discount diamond, a newsletter gives customers an adrenaline rush from receiving “insider information” about special sales, Customer Appreciation Events, and other promotions.

Families can reminisce about last summer’s beach get-together or about long-departed ancestors.  Whether you’ve been in business for 5 years or 100 years, a newsletter is a chance to share past milestones, give your business some gravitas, and develop deeper bonds with the public.

But one can’t dwell on history.  At family get-togethers, new girlfriends and boyfriends are introduced to the clan, retirees are welcomed to the next phase of their life, and babies are fawned over.  It’s a time for sharing hopes and dreams.  And an optimistic newsletter is a way for a business to share its own aspirations — for remodeling, for new products and services, for new locations.

Family gatherings are a time-tested way to pass along knowledge: recipes, genealogy, the best way to toss a football or tune up a Mustang.  A “Frequently Asked Questions” section of your newsletter can pass along knowledge about store return policies, the most efficient extension to dial with a particular problem, maintenance tips for customers’ purchases, etc.

If Grandma lives 3,000 miles away, Skype and occasional week-long visits help her seem more like a flesh-and-blood person to the grandkids.  Similarly, an “Employee of the Month” spotlight can make your staff seem more real and relatable.  (“Hey!  That redheaded clerk was a member of my sorority!  I’ll have to chat with her next time instead of just dashing in and out.”)

Good families keep you from feeling alone in the world.  Similarly, a “Customer of the Month” story can boost a customer’s confidence that he has made the right choice.  (“Hey, if the mayor and my old pal Charlie both drive past six competitors to deal with insert-name-of-your-business, maybe I’ve not crazy for doing business here.”)

Family gatherings are a lively showcase for inside jokes, tall-tale swapping, and good-natured joshing.  Your newsletter can be a chance to share puzzles, jokes, and humorous essays.  It’ll even extend your reach.  (“Let me tell you about this cute story I saw in the newsletter…”)

Sometimes it’s inevitable that spouses will “drift apart” or “grow in opposite directions,” but a well-placed relative can see the early warning signs and nudge them to rekindle their love.  It’s the same way with businesses.  Most business relationships don’t end with a heated argument; customers gradually drift away as they find someone who is a nickel cheaper or who is closer to the softball field.  A well-designed newsletter can keep customers connected and motivated.

Of course, you get only the bad aspects of family if you don’t avail yourself of the resources to do a good newsletter.  The periodical needs punchy text, a graphically pleasing layout, and a variety of material. You don’t want the articles to be boring, like the long-winded, tedious anecdotes of that in-law who corners you.  You don’t want the photos to be like that folder of family pictures where Uncle Dufus had his thumb over the lens. You want to build up your customers’ self-esteem and not make them feel like ingrates because they haven’t already rushed out and utilized your latest piece of advice.

Are newsletters outdated?  No, they’re just as vibrant and vital as cousin Margaret’s cheesecake and four-year-old Johnny singing “Bohemian Rhapsody” and Grandpa slipping you a little “mad money” for your honeymoon.

It’s time to give newsletters a big ol’ hug.




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