31 content tips and ideas for your B2B email newsletter

Anyone publishing a regular B2B e-newsletter knows that a common challenge is ensuring enough decent content to keep readers interested, engaged and impacted by your emails.

So here are 10 tips to keep the content flowing and 21 actual content ideas to save yourself some thinking time.

Content management tips

1. Keep a content folder

Finding e-newsletter content usually becomes a priority when deadlines are pressing. Then you're under pressure to come up with ideas and material fast.

A better approach is to keep a "newsletter content" folder or file permanently open somewhere on your PC or desk. One you can use to store content ideas and material as and when they occur to you.

To make this work, you need to keep the newsletter in mind at all times. Then the things you see, read or hear are more likely to trigger a "that would be a good topic/idea for the newsletter" reaction.

Ideally, everyone in your organization should keep the newsletter in mind when going about their work. So, for example, when a sales rep hears the same question again and again from customers, he could suggest addressing that question in a future newsletter.

Then when deadlines loom, this content folder eases the burden of creativity when it comes to actually writing the next issue.

2. Develop reserve content

It helps to have reserve content tucked away for when things get tight. Write an article that won't date or lose its relevancy for your audience and store it away for emergencies. If you really do get stuck, you can raid the reserve to fill the next issue.

The downside to this tactic is that such a reserve provides a nice excuse for skipping content development for an issue. After all, there's the reserve to use...

3. Watch your numbers

Every time you send out a newsletter, you should get a nice report on how many people opened the email or clicked on a link etc. Use those reports to learn about reader interests. If a particular subject line caused open rates to rocket, you know where to focus more content in the future.

Examine your website reports, too. Which parts of the website are most popular? What words and phrases do people use to find you in the search engines? What words and phrases do they use in your on-site search facility?

All of this information gives clues as to the kind of content topics likely to interest people most.

If your system is clever enough, you might even track which search terms brought those people to your site who then signed up for your newsletter.

Say you sell red and blue widgets, but all the newsletter sign-ups searched for red widgets to find your site. Maybe your next newsletter should focus on red widgets? (And you need to think about getting more sign-ups from blue widget seekers.)

4. Sign-up to your competitors' newsletters

Let others in your position be your inspiration. Monitor the other e-newsletters in your field to get ideas you can adapt and apply to your own publication.

5. Go where your readers go

Look at the sites they visit and learn what interests them. Check out relevant newsgroups, online forums, discussion lists, social networking sites, chatrooms, media sites, blogs etc. and pick out the topics that seem to generate a lot of interest and coverage among your readership.

What is the blog or Twitter community saying about your business, products, services or sector?

The same concept applies offline. Draw on your market research. Take every opportunity to mingle with your potential readership, such as at trade fairs, to understand their needs and interests. Then you can plan content that addresses both.

6. Talk to sales reps and customer service

The people who deal with your customers and prospects on a day-to-day basis are a super source of information on the latter's issues, questions and interests in the context of your products and services. So get their input on useful content.

7. Partner

You can be sure that your readers share interests with the readers or customers of other newsletters or businesses who are not direct competitors.

Partnering with these newsletters and businesses is an obvious way of sharing the content burden. You provide content for your partner's newsletter, and they provide content for yours. For example:

8. Recycle

You don't have to keep writing new material just for the newsletter. Recycle content from other parts of the business, particularly if newsletter readers are most unlikely to have ever seen it.

Take my example: my email marketing newsletter is actually promoted as a way to access this site's blog content without having to keep an eye on daily posts. It effectively repackages content I'm already writing for the daily blog.

9. Let readers choose

On your sign-up forms, consider leaving a space for readers to suggest topics they'd like to see covered. Encourage reader feedback at all times (see later). Read the "out of office" replies that bounce back to you after every send (you are monitoring replies, aren't you?) Those notes often include the full job title of the reader, which can help you build a better picture of your audience.

10. Consider reducing length and frequency

If you're really struggling issue-to-issue to come up with engaging content, then reconsider your publication frequency and/or email length.

There is no point in publishing for the sake of doing so. If you're not continuously providing engaging, relevant material to people, then you will quickly lose their interest.

Since recipients value their inbox space, they will do more than just ignore poor content (like you would, say, a badly written newspaper ad.) No, they'll actually begin to resent the meaningless intrusion into their email privacy. Spam reports are the logical consequence.

So reduce the frequency or length to a level where you can guarantee maintaining a consistent standard of content in the long term.

Now, what about some actual content ideas?

Content ideas

Most newsletters use some kind of articles (or links to articles.) But what do you write about? Here are some possible approaches:

1. Problem / solution

Identify common problems faced by your readership and suggest some solutions. Don't make this too self-serving by always conveniently finding problems that can only be solved with your own paid expertise or product. Self-promotion is fine, but not if it's at the expense of delivering value.

2. How-tos

Write a guide on how best to undertake a particular task or use a particular product or service.

3. Top tips

Produce a series of tips that help people do their job better or get more out of your products, services, or anything else readers are likely to share an interest in. Examples of the latter are tips for making better use of your PC, laptop, PDA or mobile, or time management advice.

4. Opinion / analysis

Offer a considered analysis or subjective opinion on a relevant topic, idea, event, news item, product, company, industry development, performance, etc. etc.

5. Look into the future

Write an article predicting the future of whatever sector you're involved in. Some time later, write a follow-up examining whether you were right or not (and if you were wrong, why?)

6. Fable

Take a leaf out of Aesop's book and report on a story or news item apparently irrelevant to your context. Then draw out a parallel to a relevant business situation or issue. Or a lesson that readers can apply to their own situation.

7. Horror/disaster story

Write about a difficult or disastrous business experience or decision, and use it to draw out lessons for other relevant business situations. Readers like to read about other people's problems and how they dealt with them.

8. Case study

Produce a case study featuring your product or service. But don't just write the kind of bland case study that has everyone reaching for the delete button.

You need to have more than just a customer who says, "we used the product and it worked for us." There's a difference between a case study and a testimonial.

Look at the case studies that impress you most. No doubt they include plenty of hard practical detail that readers can learn from, and real numbers so people can better gauge the impacts of the actions taken.

9. Seasonality

Relate your articles to the season. Think both in terms of holidays and business seasonality. For example, many email marketing services are now producing newsletter content advising marketers on how best to use email for holiday promotions. I'm sure there are parallels in your industry.

But articles aren't the be all and end all of B2B newsletter content. Try these suggestions, too...

10. Reviews

Consider reviewing other people's products and services. Nope, not the competition (there may be a suggestion of bias in your comments.) Review useful tools, books and similar that you know your audience can benefit from, but which aren't competing with your own offerings.

11. Educational content

Consider using your newsletter to build up a glossary or knowledge base. Many publishers have a "word of the week" feature.

12. "Best of"

Look back at what proved most popular with readers in the past and consider producing a "best of newsletter" edition every now and then. Don't overdo it, as people will inevitably tire of repeat content.

Timeless material produced early on in the life of your newsletter probably reached a mere fraction of your current readership. Dig a little into the subscriber numbers and subscription lengths and you might find a wealth of material that's effectively new to the majority of the recipients.

"Best of" content also makes a great solution in an emergency...when you're stuck for content.

13. Surveys / feedback request

Another great solution for emergencies (and other times) is the reader survey or a request for specific feedback. You might do this to give readers a welcome chance to help guide the future direction of the newsletter. Or you can ask them for opinions or feedback on other topics.

Of course, the results of such a survey are themselves valuable content for another issue. So you might survey IT professionals on the main problems they face in their job, and then summarize the answers in a nice article a couple of issues later.

14. Event recommendations

Point people at useful events both on- or offline: webinars, conferences, workshops etc.

15. Resource links

Some newsletters are based entirely around the idea of pointing people to useful resources elsewhere on the Internet. Nearly every business person has a problem with time (not enough of it). So sifting through the online morass to pick out the most useful links is a service everyone appreciates.

Direct people to third-party websites, articles, online tools etc. they are likely to appreciate...ideally with a short explanation of why you think these resources are worth noting.

16. Amusing or inspirational anecdotes, stories and quotes

Not suited as the main focus of a B2B newsletter, but good to sprinkle in now and then.

17. Answering feedback

Consider creating a dedicated newsletter section for answering reader questions. The latter can usual kick start your creativity, give you a chance to demonstrate expertise and make readers (rightly) feel like you're actually listening.

Indeed, your readers can be a wonderful source of content in themselves, if you can persuade them to contribute their own articles, jokes, comments, interviews, tips, questions, testimonials and more. Whole newsletters can be built solely on reader input (think of discussion lists).

18. Interviews

Interviews make great content. It's like picking a topic and getting someone else to write the article. You can interview people from within your organization, a reader, a customer or an expert in some related aspect of business.

Don't underestimate the effort you need to put in. Considered thought needs to go into the choice of interview partner, the interview topic and the questions themselves. And if the interview is verbal, you'll need time to transcribe and edit the recording.

19. News

Reporting relevant industry news is safe, but unlikely to be a genre-busting home run in terms of establishing your newsletter as a unique read. Unless you do it very well indeed.

20. Statistics and lists

Take a look at any media site publishing practical articles and the most popular pages usually carry titles like "Top 5 ways...," "Ten tips for," "Seven steps to..."

People like numbers and people like lists. "Top 10 challenges faced by IT staff"..."Top five reasons to change jobs NOW"..."Top 5 email clients for your mobile phone" etc. etc.

Benchmarking and industry statistics always go down well. Particularly if you can aggregate numbers from various sources, saving people the time and effort of doing so themselves.

21. Quizzes

Finally, give readers the chance to test their expertise through an interactive quiz. A fun feature in their own right, you can also tie them in to your products and services. For example, you can use a quiz to identify areas of ignorance that only your expertise can fill!

Of course, none of these suggestions are mutually exclusive - mix and match different types of content to deliver the kind of engaging material that resonates best with your audience.

Hopefully, you need never worry about a newsletter deadline again!

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First published: October 2006