Shaun Buck is the CEO and owner of The Newsletter Pro where he drives innovation in the print media space and helps his clients build their business from $1 million to 10 million and beyond.
You’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur, from an early age. You went from owning a hot dog stand to a dry cleaning business to operating a newsletter business/service, all in the span of a few years. How did that come about? What made you want to pursue writing newsletters as a business?
I started very early in life, because I had a kid at 16 years old. So instead of going to college and trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up, I bought and sold businesses. I ended up buying and selling seven or eight businesses. One of the businesses I bought was a dry-cleaning pick-up and delivery service. That was a franchise, and as part of the franchise, I had to put out a newsletter each month. I ended up publishing the world’s worst newsletter for two years.
After two years of getting no results because I published the world’s most boring newsletter, I finally decided to figure out how to get this newsletter thing to work. After a little trial and error, all of a sudden, I started to get more referrals, and customers started talking to me about items that appeared in the newsletter. In 2011, I was looking to get back into the marketing business, and figured if getting a newsletter out was so difficult for me, despite the fact I knew all the benefits of a good print newsletter, it must be difficult for others as well — and that was the start of The Newsletter Pro.
You’ve talked about publishing “the world’s worst newsletter,” for two years. Why was it the world’s worst newsletter, in your opinion? What did you learn, during that process, that you wished you would’ve known starting out?
It was the world’s worst newsletter because it was boring. We’d talk about dry cleaning and how to get out grass stains or deodorant residue. When you think about it, those problems were what our dry cleaning customers were paying us to solve; they didn’t care about how to get out grass stains. Another huge mistake I made was not being consistent in mailing the newsletter. I’d sometimes skip a month, even though I was required by the franchiser to send one out. We’ve found this can be one of those sins that kills the effectiveness of a newsletter campaign.
You started to find your way over the course of writing your newsletter, resulting in much more engagement and higher readership. What were some of the changes you made, and why do you think they were so successful and popular with your readers?
The first change we made was by starting to put a personal article on the cover. This article was always something about my family and me. In the article I’d open up about what was going on in our lives. The next thing we did was remove all talk of dry cleaning except 20–25 percent of business-specific info that was necessary to improve the business and the customer experience. We also added some good local articles that would talk about what was going on in the community. The last thing we did was made sure we mailed each and every month, without fail. When we combined all of this, we saw a massive increase in the number of referrals, customer retention, up-sells, etc.
You started writing newsletters in 2002, before the Internet was as prevalent as it is today. Are physical newsletters still as important, in today’s digital marketing climate and, if so, what are some reasons for their usefulness?
With the average competition in your mailbox at an all-time low, and the average competition in your inbox at an all-time high, offline marketing is even more important than ever before. One major reason physical newsletters work so much better is that tangible items change the emotional feel for the reader. Think about it: Do you have any issues deleting an email without even looking at it? Of course not. But all physical mail at least gets looked at before it’s trashed, and according to the USPS, the average newsletter actually lingers around a home or office for up to 4 months before it is thrown away. Compare that to the average email, which has an 8-second lifespan, and I’ll take offline physical marketing any day of the week for relationship building.
With so many different forms of marketing available, are newsletters still as important and useful as they use to be? If so, why?
With all the digital marketing going on, newsletters are actually more relevant than ever before. We are being bombarded online with advertising. Every fifth Facebook post is an ad, Google’s top 3–6 results are ads, most websites have banner ads, and emails have so many ads that both Google and Outlook have had to create promotion tabs to filter out all of the ads. People are fed up with being bombarded with digital ads online at every turn. Now let’s think about the physical mailbox. With so many thinking that email is free advertising, they have abandoned physical mail, leaving an opportunity for sophisticated marketers to take advantage of the limited competition in the mailbox and increase profits.
Dental practices have a built-in mailing list, using their customer’s info, but a lot of times, unsolicited advertisements go straight in the recycling. What are some ways that a dental practice can make their newsletter stand out, so customers actually look forward to and use them?
If you want any ad to not be ignored, you have to follow a few simple rules.
The list is king: You need to target your message to the list you’re mailing to. For example, if I send an ad for $1,000 off a Louis Vuitton bag to unattached men who make $22,000 per year, regardless of how great of an offer that is, I’m going to get zero responses (or close to it). Why? Because that is the wrong audience. Targeting your list is marketing 101 for both online and offline advertising.
The offer: I see dental offices make some really horrible offers — like a free exam, when the competitors offer a free exam and X-rays. I’ve even seen $5.00 off fluoride … really? Fluoride is likely the highest-margin product at a dental office, and you want to give $5.00 off. I could go on, but these are just horrible offers, and no one is going to respond to them — regardless of the media you use.
Don’t be boring, don’t be cute: I watch people make these mistakes all the time. When they write a newsletter, they are simply boring. No one has time for boring. No one wants to read all about dentistry. Or they try to be cute with their advertising. Cute often doesn’t translate, and in turn hurts the messaging and the advertisement.
For dentists, dental practices, and dental marketers, why do they need to have a newsletter as part of their marketing arsenal?
There are dental offices on every corner in America. We all joke that Starbucks is everywhere, but in the U.S., there are 16 dental offices for each Starbucks. Dental offices really are everywhere. Because of all the competition, you need to make sure you jealously guard your patients and keep them safe from poachers (i.e., all the other dentists in your area). Increasing retention starts with relationships, and a newsletter is a perfect way to build a relationship with a large group of patients. Also, when you have a newsletter, you now own media — this media is something you control and can’t be banned for. You have control over the message and offers. With your own media, you can promote your offers, events, and referral promotions, just to name a few ideas. Having a print newsletter — for any professional — is more important now than it has ever been.
Do you have any advice on some kinds of content that might for interesting reading in a dental newsletter?
The type of content really depends on the goals of the newsletter and who is going to read it. For example, if your target market is a 35-year-old mom, you need to create content that will appeal to that mom.
Unsolicited outbound marketing, like circular ads, are increasingly unpopular, seeming bland, impersonal, and ineffectual. What are some ways that a dental practice can personalize their newsletters towards their particular customers, to ensure customer loyalty?
The best way to personalize a newsletter is to write about local activities as well as to have the doctor write about what is going on in his/her world. These personal articles are so important, and are really the secret to developing a relationship with patients. It’s one of the magic components to getting a newsletter to work for any business.
What are some ways that a dental practice might integrate direct mail with other marketing efforts, like blogging or social media? How can all these networks together effectively, for the best possible dental marketing campaign?
A multimedia campaign is always the best way to market. Instead of thinking of each marketing medium as a silo, start thinking about them as team members who all need to work together to win the game. If you are promoting a referral contest, it needs to be pushed with all the media you have. Newsletters, Facebook, postcards, re-targeting ads, in-office promos, content marketing — it should all work together. When all your marketing is working together, the results tend to increase exponentially over any single marketing campaign trying to do all the heavy lifting on its own.
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