Ashley Poynter is an account executive for the Bradley Wiltjer Marketing Group. She is a journalist, a 30-mile-a-week runner, an e-mail newsletter specialist and is slowly becoming a cardio kickboxing terror. She can be reached at apoynter@bradleywiltjer.com.

For many of your members, e-mail is the preferred form of contact.

Many clubs use formal e-mail newsletters as a marketing vehicle. These e-newsletters are usually created by the marketing department and contain the “official propaganda” from headquarters. But few clubs properly equip or teach their trainers to use daily or weekly casual e-mail communication with customers to motivate, retain and acquire customers.

Your fitness professionals should be your best salespeople. However, most are not trained as marketers. They are the ones who interact with customers on a regular basis. Equipping your trainers and other fitness staff with e-mail accounts and a few simple guidelines can make a world of difference. All it takes is an eye for detail and a little patience.

Here are a few tips, techniques and advice on e-mail etiquette to pass along to your fitness staff members if you want to ensure e-newsletter marketing success:

1. Make a habit of collecting e-mail addresses from clients. Before you even begin to think about formatting and content, you need valid e-mail addresses stored in an address book, a Microsoft Excel file or some sort of database. This is often the least fun but most important part of successful e-mail campaigns. If you don’t have accurate data about your customers, your newsletter is a waste of time and money. It requires time commitment and patience, but clean data is worth its weight in gold. Take the time, and make sure that your information is current and correct.

2. Add value to every communication. It is simple human nature that people will be more apt to read something if it offers them something of value. Look at all communication from the customer’s eyes. Offer a weekly “insider” exercise tip, a good recipe, a quick solution to a health or fitness problem, or a piece of relevant news. Avoid trite nutritional tips, pitching supplements or anything that can be easily found through Google. The more unique and useful the communication, the more people will be inclined to delve in and see what you have to say.

3. Don’t sweat the technology. Technology is an enabler, nothing more. When you start a conversation about e-mail marketing, many people are intimidated by buzzwords such as “click-through rates” or “double opt-in.” Breathe deep, and don’t let the buzzwords discourage you. The technology involved in sending an e-mail newsletter is actually quite simple and user-friendly. Once you’ve established your content and your audience, most e-mail services will guide you through all the steps to creating and measuring a successful e-newsletter campaign.

But even if you don’t use a dedicated e-mail newsletter tool, it is still possible to use your plain old e-mail account and still execute highly effective e-mails. Just remember, if you are manually entering recipients’ e-mail addresses, put them in the Bcc: field so that your entire list isn’t visible to everyone.

4. Keep it simple. While it’s important to add value, it’s also important to keep things as simple and straightforward as possible. Be brief. When readers get lost in a sea of text, they are more likely to delete your e-mail without reading one word. Rather than bog down the information with cute graphics and bulky text that forces your audience to endlessly scroll down, simply link to content on your Web site or other online sources. This allows readers to choose what information is most important to them and to get to it easily. Also, your busy customers are most likely reading your communication via handheld devices such as a Blackberry. For this reason, it is even more important to keep your communication brief.

5. Keep your audience in mind. It sounds simple enough, but one of the biggest mistakes marketers make in executing e-newsletters is forgetting who their reader is. Content should be focused and directly relational to the target audience. If you are targeting current members, then remind them of your referral program or a new personal training offering that is available. If you are targeting prospects, then focus more on the benefits your health club offers. This might be information that current members are already aware of but could be a deciding factor in whether or not a prospective client joins.

6. Measure success. In marketing, measurement is key. Most e-mail marketing services provide tracking and reporting functions to view things such as who has opened your e-newsletter, what links people clicked through and other useful information. These reports should be analyzed consistently and used to optimize the effectiveness of your future e-newsletters. If one approach is not working, it will be visible in the reporting and easier for you to address.

7. Be consistent. Analyze your results and make changes as necessary. Results may not come overnight, but if you remain steadfast in your efforts, your e-newsletter will serve as a keen marketing tool that will ultimately help grow your business with no extra investment.