Using Newsletters to Communicate With Customers

May 16, 2011

Shops have a number of different tools they can use to communicate directly with current and potential customers. Newsletters, both print and electronic versions, are one way to share shop- and industry-specific information with your target audience.

“That company is going to discuss their specials, their products, etc. [in their newsletter], but also talk about upcoming shows, talk about some recent shows that [they’ve] been to, and talk about an interesting build,” said S. Kellie Colf, vice president of sales for Scottsdale, Arizona-based The Aftermarketer Club, an automotive aftermarket interactive marketing agency. “Give them content that they want to read on a personal level that is not just a product release, and that’s what will keep people reading your newsletter every month instead of simply saying, ‘Oh, it’s just an ad,’ and deleting it.”

Additionally, newsletters provide shops an opportunity to craft their image and build their reputation.

“Everybody has a story to tell,” said Ron Cates, director of new market development for Constant Contact, an e-mail marketing solutions provider based in with Waltham, Massachusetts. “I don’t care what your service or products are, you’re an expert at what you do compared to your customer. You really need to show off that expertise and not be afraid to position yourself that way.” Newsletters can also be used to update customers on shop projects, the wide variety of services a shop offers and new product updates.

Keeping Customers Up-to-Date

Mike Cooper‘s monthly newsletter is an outgrowth of the monthly statements and project updates he sends to customers.

“It started out as an informal way for us to send customers pictures of their projects as we were building them with a brief description of what we did in the picture and kind of bring them up-to-date,” said Cooper, who is the owner of Spanky’s Hot Rods and Customs, a restoration shop based in Heber Springs, Arkansas.

“It seemed like customers were also keeping up with other cars in the shop that weren’t theirs so we just started doing one newsletter that would feature a little bit of everything that was going on in the shop and bring them up-to-date with everything that we were doing,” he said.

The newsletters feature pictures of projects from the past month, shop and industry news, and promotions.

“The last newsletter, we had a little bit about [the] SEMA [Show] and some of the trends that we saw out there that we would like to incorporate into some of their cars,” Cooper said. “Sometimes the newsletters are two or three pages long and sometimes they’re just one page, just depending on what’s [been happening] in the shop, what we’re trying to share with everybody and how much time we have to put it together.”

Cooper is in charge of the newsletter, snapping pictures of projects on his cell phone, and e-mailing those photos, along with any article ideas, to himself.

“That helps me out so I don’t have to dig for material,” he said. “It would take me half a day on Saturday to make a newsletter and I realized that the newsletter was costing me a couple of hundred bucks just in time. I started doing it more streamlined and pretty much got a format already laid out and [now] just crank out a newsletter.”

Whether producing the newsletter in-house or using an outside company like The Aftermarketer Club or Constant Contact, having one or two people involved with the newsletter is ideal.

“Some companies have one person that can cover everything and that’s fine,” said The Aftermarketer Club’s Colf. “Other companies have someone who’s a very good copywriter but that person may not be great at coming up with ideas, [but] if you give them ideas, they can write the copy, so you may need more than one person involved.”

Spanky’s newsletter goes out to just a handful of current and past customers in either print or e-mail format. Current customers get the newsletter along with their monthly statement and five to 10 pictures of their vehicle taken over the previous month.

“The newsletter is just another way to get them happy, give them something to be paying for,” Cooper said. “They get to see what’s been done to their car.”

Cooper has also used the e-newsletter to promote merchandise and artwork sales.

“If we’ve got some pinstriped artwork in the shop, I’ll take a picture of it, put a price on it and it will go in the newsletter,” he said. “Usually by the end of the week, if we feature a piece of artwork, somebody’s going to buy it.”

Even if customers don’t buy the exact products you promote in your newsletter, they may still buy something from you.

“More than half the people who buy something from an e-mail don’t buy anything that was in the e-mail,” said Constant Contact’s Cates.

“In fact, a few months ago there was a study that showed that 31 percent of the people who don’t even open the e-mail tend to come in and make a purchase because they saw your name and they saw your offer and brand in the subject line,” Cates continued. “It was enough to remind them even without opening the e-mail.”

Cross-Promoting Services

Joann Kuehl began sending newsletters to her customers to let them know about everything that was going on at Clean Cut Creations, a restoration shop, and its related businesses, including a snow cone catering company.

“We have a wide variety of customers,” the co-owner of the Webster Groves, Missouri-based business said. “We have customers that only work on older vehicles, we have customers that only work on newer vehicles [and] we restore vintage antiques, so we do pedal cars and ’50s kitchen appliances. We’re trying to cross-promote what we do within our company to someone that may or may not know that we do [all] that.”

Kuehl originally sent out the e-newsletter monthly to its list of 800 customers, but now sends it out just a few times a year. The shop currently uses social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to communicate with customers.

“With Facebook I can make a newsletter every day, all the time, to direct people to new things that we’re doing,” Kuehl said. “We do get some national magazine press and so [Facebook] helps us right away tell people that we’re in a magazine [and] that they should look at that book. If I sent out a newsletter quarterly or even monthly, it would probably be old information to most of the people receiving it.”

Using social media doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t also have a newsletter.

“We see [social media sites and newsletters] complementing one another because Facebook tends to be more sound bites of information, smaller news items, whereas with a newsletter you can put much more information up there and have people read it,” The Aftermarketer Club’s Colf said. “If you put a 300-word article out there on Facebook, it’s probably not going to get the kind of hits or attention that it would if it were in your newsletter.”

Cates of Constant Contact agreed. “We love social media, but e-mail is how you monetize social media,” he said. “In my opinion, it’s crazy not to do e-mail marketing alongside your social media. Your customers communicate in a variety of ways and you need to communicate in the style they like, so why not try to hit all the major touch points if you can?”

Kuehl is in charge of all customer outreach, whether through newsletters or social media.

“We’re just a small three-person place here, so I do what I do best, which is collecting the information from everybody else,” she said. “I might not know how to speak technically about a car or components that we’ve put into a car, [so] the guys are supplying me with that information and then I am physically creating the content.”

Even though she doesn’t send out the e-newsletter as much as she did when Clean Cut Creations first opened, Kuehl still sees the value of e-newsletters.

“I think it’s a good idea to do it, especially if you’re not doing any other social media,” she said. “It’s a good way to remind customers [we’re] still open, we’re still working on vehicles, we’re still looking for work, look at the great projects that we’ve done.”

Building Name Recognition

John G. Horeth’s company began sending weekly and monthly e-newsletters to customers to promote its product lines.

“We have a newsletter to try to get our products in front of the customer on a daily basis as much as possible, to try to get our name out in front of competitors and just be more hands-on,” said Horeth, the president of Dynamic Fluid Products Inc., a hose and fittings retailer and distributor located in Tillsonburg, Ontario, Canada. Newsletters can raise a shop’s visibility.

“By far, the biggest benefit [of a newsletter] is it allows them to stay top-of-mind,” said Cates. “No matter how [useful] your products and services are, people sometimes forget about you because there’s so much out there competing for their interest.”

Dynamic Fluid Products first sent out a print newsletter three years ago but switched to an e-mail format a year later.

“We found it was a lot easier to send a PDF file to our customers as opposed to mailing newsletters out, which really was not cost-effective for the benefit we were getting out of it,” Horeth said.

The newsletters focus on specific products and applications.

“Our weekly ones [were] product-specific and then our monthly newsletters, we’ll type in an application, show some photos of how our product was being used and the success stories, features, benefits,” Horeth said. “It could have been something as simple as a hard-to-find product [and] how we could offer it to our customers from our store.”

Sharing this kind of information in a newsletter can give your shop credibility.

“You can become a resource for valuable information and be more than simply an ad that you drop into their box once a month,” The Aftermarketer Club’s Colf said. “You can turn yourself into someone who produces content that your customers really want to read and they will look forward to it and they will read every article that you have on there. That makes you an authority and makes your customers feel very happy and comfortable with you.”

Dynamic Fluid Products recently stopped sending out its weekly e-newsletter and is instead using sites like Facebook and Twitter to stay in regular contact with customers. It still produces the monthly newsletter, though.

“Our suppliers [are] strong believers in keeping something running as long as possible, to say that people need time to adapt to seeing something on a monthly basis,” Horeth said. “It’s really cost-effective and it [keeps] our name in front of the customer as much as possible.”