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For a lot of bands I talk to, an email database or e-newsletter is really a bit of an afterthought; they are more concerned with building up a Facebook or Twitter following that is big enough to impress that A&R guy from Pink Floyd's "Have a Cigar." But actually, a good email list and a great series of e-newsletters represent an extremely important way to stay in touch with your fans. You are in control of the communication - not a Facebook algorithm - and, through use of strong visuals, you can really make a statement about your act, and hopefully, flog some t-shirts. Below you'll find some tips on how to turbo-charge your e-newsletters.

1. Start with the most important thing: your database

Before you think about ‘how’ you are going to send an e-newsletter, think about the ‘who’. You probably have an existing database of fans tucked away in an Excel spreadsheet somewhere – or more likely, your fans live in several very messy spreadsheets (or indeed on scraps of paper that you brought along to gigs to scribble punters' names down on). Before even thinking about sending an e-newsletter to anybody on your mailing list, it is a good idea to consolidate all your files into one clean, well-organised spreadsheet. You should also ensure that this is ‘segmented’ as well as possible – i.e., ideally you should have a field in it containing information which lets you flag data as people who attended gigs, people who've bought your albums in the past, music industry contacts and so on. If at all possible, try to get some geographical info onto your database - this can be invaluable for you if you intend to tour (because you'll be inform alert fans living beside the Dog and Duck in Scunthorpe exactly when you'll be playing). The basic aim of the exercise is to get your data into shape, so that you are able to send an appropriate message to the appropriate person at the right time.

2. Create an e-newsletter schedule

The next step is to plan your communications carefully - ideally by creating an ‘e-communications schedule’ which maps out what you are going to send out in an e-newsletter, to whom, and when. As you might expect, this can be very handy if you intend to promote particular gigs in particular areas, or map out a series of communications around the time of an album release. You can then refer to this schedule throughout the year, and ensure you have all the necessary content ready to go. And because you’ll have segmented your data nicely in advance (see above) you will always be sending your beautiful and interesting e-newsletter to precisely the right group of contacts - i.e., when your latest single comes out fans will receive an e-newsletter imploring them to buy it, and your radio DJ contacts will get an email beseeching them to play it.

3. Pick the right tool for sending your e-newsletter

For many bands, sending e-newsletters means compiling a mailing list in Excel, then copying and pasting the addresses into the BCC field of a clunky-looking Hotmail message. This is a horrendously time-consuming way to go about things; it’s also very ineffective, because it doesn’t allow you to a) send very nice-looking e-newsletters or b) accurately measure important stats like open rate and clickthroughs.

It is a much better idea to use a dedicated tool for sending your e-newsletter. There are many web-based solutions available now: big-hitters include Aweber, Getresponse, Mailchimp, Campaign Monitor and MadMimi. These all allow you to import your database, create attractive templates, and send out proper ‘HTML e-newsletters’ that stand the greatest chance of being delivered (and crucially, read!). At Prescription, our favourites for band use are Getresponse and Mad Mimi, chiefly because they are inexpensive by comparison to their competitors, easy to use, and pack in an awful lot of functionality. Both come with free trials:

4. Get the visuals right

Once you’ve decided upon which bit of software you’re going to use for your e-newsletters, you need to design a nice HTML template for it. Getresponse in particular comes with a lot of designs that you can modify easily enough. If your design skills are not all that strong, you might consider hiring a designer to set up your email templates. Ultimately your e-newsletter template should look professional and uncluttered, and should feature your band logo and photographs prominently. 

5. Split test!

Once you’ve got your database, your e-communications schedule, your choice of software and your template sorted, it’s finally time to start sending some e-newsletters. But it’s really important to send them in the best way possible. This generally means 'split testing' your subject headers and/or content. Split testing means trying out different versions of your message on a relatively small sample of your data before sending it to the remainder of your database. You might, for example, create three versions of the same newsletter, each with different subject headers, and send it to 500 fans on your database – after a day or so, you can identify which subject header led to the best open rate, and then use that header for the remainder of your data. Note that this is only worth doing if you have a relatively large database – if your band database is only a few hundred records in size, you might find split testing doesn’t really lead to particularly informative results (whilst taking a fair bit of time to set up).

6. Use good landing pages

It’s not just essential to have attractive, well-constructed e-newsletters: it’s important that the links in those e-newsletters take you to pages that actually ‘convert’ readers into taking further action too. Generally speaking you don’t want to send people to a page that contains a huge number of competing calls to action or links – it’s better to present a page that encourages users to take one specific action, be that buying a CD, liking a Facebook page or completing a form. Your landing pages should be attractive, easy-to-use and focused firmly on 'conversion'.

7. Measure success

Most e-newsletter tools come with detailed reporting functionality – after sending an e-newsletter, you will be able to access statistics that let you measure open rate, click-through rate, unsubscribe rate and more. Study these stats carefully, as they will help you create better e-newsletters that generate more sales of tacky merch in future.

8. Allow people to sign up to your mailing list directly from your site

Most e-newsletter tools allow you to easily embed sign-up forms for your mailing list directly on your website. Make sure you do this, as it will save you having to repeatedly upload spreadsheets of data to your e-newsletter service. Additionally, by connecting your website’s mailing list form directly to your e-newsletter software, you can make use of autoresponders or ‘drips’ – automated emails that you can ‘pre-program’ in advance so that when somebody signs up to your mailing list via your website, they will automatically receive messages of your choosing at intervals of your choosing. For example, a subscriber could get a welcome message immediately upon signup; a discount code for a download one week later; an encouragement to follow your band on Facebook two weeks later and so on.

It's also important to 'incentivise' data capture on your website, for example by giving people who sign up access to an exclusive download or stream. 'Join our mailing list' enthuses nobody...

9. Allow fans to share your e-newsletters

Most e-newsletter tools will allow you to add ‘forward to a friend’ or social media sharing buttons to your e-newsletter. Make use of them! It means that your content and offers get a better chance of being seen by an audience outside of your mailing list.

10. Oh, do be nice

And finally, if you want to run an effective e-newsletter campaign, there are five important things to remember:

  • Don’t spam: always ensure that anyone on your list has actually signed up to it
  • Don’t over-commmunicate: leave decent gaps between messages
  • Always send relevant, interesting content to people on your mailing list: this will minimise unsubscribes
  • Always make it easy for people to unsubscribe
  • Adhere to data protection laws

Now off you go to create an e-newsletter in Hotmail that you send out 20 times a week to 5 people.

This article is by Chris Singleton, whose name is currently showing in an inbox near you.

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