From 252 to 6,400 readers and over 800% ROI

September 7, 2012 1:33 am

What You Can Learn From the Success (and Growing Pains) of Our E-Newsletter, Brand Matters

Sitting in the Green Room, about to appear on a TV news segment as a featured expert on the subject of branding, the thought occurred to me, “Just how did I get here?”

I quickly connected the dots and realized the source. It was Brand Matters, our e-newsletter. The show’s producer happened upon a past edition, liked what he saw, and contacted me for a segment on branding. This was the most recent but definitely not the first time that our e-newsletter led to positive outcomes.

I thought a little bit more, recalling the origins of Brand Matters: It was early March 2005, about 2:00 am on a cold, rainy night and I had drawn night-feeding duty for our twins (only six months old at the time). I was up, the twins had been fed, and my laptop was handy. Why not start right now?

I began writing the first edition (pictured right), headlined in a simple, conversational style, “So what’s all this about Branding?” I felt the very idea of brand and brand building at the time was very misunderstood. The first edition was designed to build a foundation of understanding for readers about the concept of the brand, and how powerful a well-defined and well-deployed branding effort could be. I quickly completed the first draft and went on to sketch out topics and key points for the next two editions as well (the twins were restless that night).

Two days later, the first edition of Brand Matters deployed to 252 recipients, mostly clients, colleagues, suppliers, friends and business associates. The response, while not immediately revenue-generating, was nonetheless, without delay: A very high open rate, plenty of positive praise, and thankfully no unsubscribes.

It wasn’t until eight months and eight editions later that I was able to clearly establish a correlation between Brand Matters and a revenue stream. I was meeting with a prospect. We had briefly spoken approximately three years prior but never made a meaningful connection and no business had resulted. As we sat down, he said, “I just wanted to tell you that even though this is the first time we’ve met, I’ve been reading your e-newsletter for a while now. I think it’s great and that’s why you’re here.”

We continued on, deploying edition after edition of Brand Matters, averaging nine per year for the past seven years. During that time we’ve experimented with a lot of different features, functions, layouts and content formats. Some were big hits. Some, not so much, but overall Brand Matters has been the source of many great things for Delia Associates including numerous speaking engagements, radio, and TV appearances, published articles, and many new clients.

Three years ago, during a presentation to a group of CEOs, I was asked, “What’s the ROI?” At that point, it was well over 800%. Today, with a readership of more than 6,400, we don’t bother with the ROI calculation anymore. Brand Matters deploys, and good things happen.

Since 2007, we’ve done considerable work in the email marketing space, supporting numerous clients with their own email programs, always working to improve our own model. Brand Matters is the proverbial “lab rat” for things we might (or might not) explore with clients in their email marketing efforts.

Based on our experiences as the publisher of Brand Matters, here are some insights on what works well (and a few things to avoid):


  • Making the Complex Simple
    Take a complex thought, idea or process and break it down to its most simple, understandable terms. Readers appreciate and enjoy that. When Brian Solis first introduced the “Conversation Prism” more than four years ago, many hailed the graphic as a triumphant depiction and classification of the expanding social media universe. When I first came across the Prism, shortly thereafter my initial thought was, “This is going to terrify CEOs!” At the time, most corporate executives I spoke with were either apprehensive or uncertain about social media, as they questioned the fundamental relevance of social media platforms to their respective businesses. So we developed an edition with a downloadable diagram called, “Social Media. Simplified.” We sampled the most widely used platforms at the time, and offered brief explanations of each platform’s core function and applicability. To date, it remains one of our most widely read, clicked and forwarded editions.
  • Downloadable Knowledge Tools
    When we offer a knowledge tool, like a report, worksheet exercise, or presentation, our read, and click-through rates increase dramatically. Whether it’s a straight download, or a download requiring a little bit of information, readers genuinely appreciate when expanded or downloadable content is made available.
  • Include Video
    Everyone enjoys reading quality content; they enjoy viewing it even more. With the inclusion of video content to our – and our clients’ – email programs, we saw click-through rates more than double in some instances.
  • Hard-Hitting Subject Lines
    A unique and provocative subject line is still the best way to engage a viewer. Of course, the content has to deliver on the subject line’s promise. But if the subject line doesn’t immediately grab the viewer, it’s likely to be deleted immediately.
  • Enter to Win
    While they’ve become a little overdone, when executed periodically, and with purpose, a contest regularly earns high click-through rates. We normally do a prize drawing once per year in conjunction with an annual survey of our readers. This results in great-click through, and useful insights into what our readership is most interested in, searching for, and what challenges they face.


  • Plain Vanilla Subject Lines
    On a few occasions, we worked so hard to develop quality content that we neglected to put as much effort into the subject line. As a result, both read rates and click-through rates suffered, despite having what we felt was really great content.
  • The Hard, Hard Sell
    Every now and then we would get a little over-zealous and aggressively sell a particular service line. Today’s viewers like to buy, but rarely like to be sold. Whenever we crossed the line between informing and selling, we saw a corresponding spike in unsubscribes.
  • TMI
    A few times, we offered an increased number of clickable subject areas, believing that if we offered more content, we’d get more clicks. Wrong. This tactic actually had the reverse effect, as viewers saw way too much information, and failed to be engaged by any one subject. We found that less is more, and fewer content areas worked better for us, and for our readers.
  • Don’t Visit Too Often
    During an average year, we deploy about nine editions of Brand Matters. One year, we increased the delivery rate to one issue every three weeks. We thought an increase in editions would have a corresponding increase in readership. Wrong again. Readers appreciate the occasional email touch, but they hate the constant barrage. Online retailers, please note: Just because I purchased something from you once, doesn’t mean I want an email from you every day!
  • Talking Politics (sort of)
    I wrote an edition based on a political theme once, and it’s something I’ll never do it again. The intent was to demonstrate a particular campaign’s successful implementation of digital branding, but unfortunately, that’s not how the edition was perceived. It’s the one and only time we’ve observed a negative reader response, and it came from coast to coast. The lesson learned: Leave politics to the politicians.

So, the Brand Matters saga continues, as we continue to evolve the model, exploring new email marketing frontiers and breaking new ground along the way. One thing that will remain constant is Brand Matters’ fundamental mission, which was evident in its origins: to help CEOs uncover and unleash the power of effective brand building in their respective organizations.

If email marketing is a missing or under-utilized element of your brand’s communications mix, we’re always here to help. Click here to learn more: Email Marketing

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About The Author

We specialize in b2b, supporting the clients who are the "The Brands Behind the Brands." These are the supply chain partners of brands, either in Tier 1 or Tier 2 positions, who drive value through the delivery of goods, services and technologies. We enjoy blogging about all things related to Branding, Marketing, Inbound, Tradeshows, etc... And we're always happy to talk about any ideas you may have that might Get You To Your NEXT!