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How e-zines can boost sales

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Businessman with smartphone iStockphoto

(MoneyWatch) Should sales people create a so-called e-zine machine targeted to prospects? Only if they want more customers.

While newsletters are still done in traditional printed format, the more cost-effective electronic email versions are called e-zines. And they can be a great marketing tool -- if they are newsworthy. Clearly, e-zines won't work if they aren't read.

Just throwing in the company news releases from the past quarter won't cut it. Instead, stimulate your editorial thinking and identify topics with high reader interest. Include stories with tips, trends, and tactics. Readers always welcome tips on product selection, installation, maintenance, repair, and troubleshooting

To get prospects' attention, try grabbing them. How good are the lead paragraphs of your articles? The most important paragraph in an e-zine article (or any article, for that matter) is the first one. If you want to increase e-zine readership, you need articles with attention-grabbing leads (or "ledes," as journalists call the first few lines in a story).

Here are a dozen kinds of ledes that can be effective in grabbing readers' attention:

Alliteration. This means using words in a musical way with repeating sounds. Think of a tongue twister like "Sally sells seashells down by the seashore." A personal favorite was from a newspaper article that started: "The moon shines still on the moonshine stills of Kentucky."

Anonymous person (not their real name). This is the article that tells us about a person called Mary, followed by a parenthetical statement to tell us that Mary is not her real name. The writer is not using her real name to protect her identity because of the sensitive nature of what the person did.

Epigram or famous quotation. Epigrams, short, memorable sayings, can be a good way to open an article. Book chapters often begin with epigrams. Although it may be tempting, don't use song lyrics because those are protected by copyright laws and there is no fair use of song lyrics.

Historical anecdote. Sometimes the best way to start an article is by describing a fact or idea in historical context. This might be done by a short description of an interesting historical incident.

Humor/pun. Being funny in print is tricky business. Humor usually offends somebody. Personally, I liked the article that started with this riddle: "What do you get when you cross "The Godfather" with an attorney? You get an offer you don't understand."

Paint-the-picture description. Perhaps the locale of the story is important. Use words to create a mental image of the place.

Philosophical statement. To pull this off, cite a popular adage or proverb that illustrates your article.

Poem. Similar to an epigrammatic lead, but instead of a pithy quotation use a few lines of poetry.

Pop culture allusion. A writer today might like some situation to staples of current popular culture like singer Lady Gaga, the TV show "Jersey Shore," or the latest Spiderman movie. For that lede to work, the readers have to be familiar with what is being alluded to.

Question. This is a popular way to pull the reader into the story. How many ledes have you noticed that begin this way?

Quote. If the person you are writing about says something interesting that grabs attention, by all means start the story with that.

Round-up of illustrations. You may have noticed this approach in feature stories in The Wall Street Journal. In the opening paragraph of the article, the writer uses three quick examples to illustrate a trend. If the first 50 words are about, say, a housewife in Tampa, Fla., farmer in Houston, and a student in Seattle that all do the same thing, then you are probably reading a round-up lede.

What follows a great article lede? A winner for e-zine readers is a "how-to" article. Similar to a tips story, a how-to piece includes more detailed information and instructions. Explain how to use the product, how to select the right model or how to maximize performance.

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