Retail Rules of the Road: “Never before in the history of marketing has something so important been done so poorly by so many when it could be so easily improved.Welcome to the world of garden center e-newsletters.”

I receive dozens of business, marketing and garden center-generated e-news each week.I open the ones I know always provide value (interesting content) in exchange for my time.Others may receive a quick glance, depending on my schedule, and some are ignored and eventually unsubscribed since, over time, they have proven to have little value.

I’m guessing you follow a similar approach with every e-newsletter you receive. As with all marketing initiatives, to the recipient, compelling interest is the ultimate measure of value. And when it comes to e-newsletters, interest resides in content.

Any topic can be covered. “Words on a page” is not a definition of good content – it’s merely subject matter that could be done well or done poorly. Unfortunately, from my perspective (based on training from people with really big brains when it comes to proper e-newsletters), most garden center e-news falls into the done-poorly category.
But this doesn’t have to be the case.

Put the Focus On Content

Most garden center e-news I see falls into one of three categories:
1. Self-serving promotion – blatant or poorly disguised “sales” that are really just bad newspaper
2. Blah, blah, blah – a boring, product focused, fact-heavy, you-can-find-this-information online waste of time
3. E-news “light” – not enough content of value to bother; boring with no personality

The best e-newsletters are those where the personality of the sender is wrapped around a message of interest and valuable content. Proper e-news components include:
• A consistent look, layout, format, color, etc., in a font size that is easy to read
• A personal message that allows the personality of the sender to shine
• A few new and interesting products with links to additional information for people who want to dig deeper
• Timely tips, event schedule, etc.
• An offer/coupon/announcement/invitation, etc., known as call to action (CTA) – after all, we do want people to come shop, not just read.

One of the biggest problems is that garden centers seem to worry more about the design, colors, offers and sales than providing real content-based communication.

The right templates will help provide control. Without them, many senders use new colors and new styles each time – the first sign of an amateur marketer – and worry more about how the e-news looks rather than what it provides. Simplifying the design process allows you to focus more on providing valuable content and less on trying to grab people’s attention with loud colors and unbelievable offers each time the send button is pushed.

Here are two major reasons proper e-newsletter templates are so important:
1. Several years ago, the number of e-mails opened on mobile devices exceeded those opened on desktop computers. This means the traditional two-column e-newsletter formats many garden centers currently use need to be converted to single-column, mobile friendly templates. If you’re a Constant Contact customer, there are a number of mobile friendly templates that position content blocks horizontally for computers, and when opened on a mobile device, automatically convert to a vertical format for easier reading.
2. I believe well-constructed e-news communication should happen weekly – or at least twice a month. If producing the proper full-length e-newsletter is difficult for you, the alternative is to schedule one full-length e-newsletter a month, followed by an e-news postcard. The e-newsletter can be a first-of-the-month edition, followed by a one-topic, easy-to-create, yet valuable, e-news postcard. This is a schedule any garden center should be able to follow. It would be easy to produce and makes the most of each selling season. Just make sure the delivery day and time never vary.

Make Sign-Up Easy

The goal isn’t to have a lot of e-mail addresses – it is to have a lot of interested individuals happy to provide their e-mail address. The kind of people a business wants as e-news subscribers don’t need silly contests to get them connected, unless …

… You still think e-news is just a cheap form of advertising. It isn’t. At least, it’s not supposed to be.
… You believe the more names, the better, regardless of the person’s intent. If that’s the case, you just converted a personal form of communication to interested parties into an electronic form of mass mailing.

Here’s what you should do:
• Make it easy to voluntarily sign up for your e-news. On your website or at a small desk in the store, offer some e-news samples and post a sign asking customers to provide their e-mail address.
• Have samples of your e-news posted at each register so people know what they’re missing.
• Remind people in all of your marketing messages to go to your website so they’ll see how easy and valuable it is to receive e-news from their favorite garden center.

The e-news world thinks an open rate of 26 percent for retailers is admirable. But that means 74 percent don’t find enough value to even see what’s being sent. Or maybe that 74 percent didn’t want the thing in the first place.

Who cares. Sending e-mail is cheap, right?
Wrong. There are huge costs and lost benefits when you go about it the wrong way.