Recently, I attended a webinar on e-mail marketing sponsored by Target Marketing. There were no big surprises. The experts discussed a few tactical principles that generally help improve effectiveness. Here’s a summary with some of my own thoughts thrown in:
1. Keep your copy short. E-mail is not as much a reader medium as a scanner medium. People get a lot of e-mail and want to breeze through it. If you have a big pitch, link to a page where you can expand on your topic.
2. Keep the design simple. Yes, many people have high-speed connections. But as bandwidth has increased so has volume. Simple designs with small, optimized images load quickly. Text-only messages loads even faster and may have the added benefit of avoiding spam filters, since a lot of spam is now image-based.
3. Give people several clicks. There may be some debate on how many, but from what the gurus said in this webinar and from my own experience, I’d say from 3 to 7 links on average. However, the experts didn’t talk much about text e-mails which can work quite well with a couple sentences and one link. Then there are e-mail newsletter formats that could have dozens. So as always, rules of thumb are not really rules.
4. Use personalization when possible. Just like traditional direct response, e-mail can benefit from personalization. The subject line or salutation are ideal for this. However, I’ve also seen test results that show misusing personalization will decrease response, so be careful. One big caveat: Showing you know a lot about someone who doesn’t know you can freak people out. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.
5. Honor privacy. That means give people a clear way to opt out and then honor that opt out. Speaking as a consumer, I’m furious when e-mailers ignore my opt-out requests or bounce me from list to list. I promise that this will lead to harsh regulations. Don’t kill the medium. If people want to opt out, stop e-mailing them. They don’t want to buy from you.
6. Deliver high value. This is always good advice. The easiest products and services to sell are those that are truly valuable. Ideally, copy shouldn’t be blowing smoke but simply allowing the product or service to strut its stuff, if I can mix my metaphors.
7. Think relevance. Targeting is getting much better in e-mail, but because the medium is so cheap, you still have plenty of “blasters” out there. Don’t be like them. Try to match your offer to your prospects as closely as possible.
8. Don’t sound too promotional. Please, please, please don’t write all your e-mail or online copy in the hyped style of the get-rich-quick landing pages. Those work great for a certain audience, but not for everyone. A friendly, natural tone helps you connect with people and avoid sounding like 3 a.m. TV guys selling miracle mops and weight loss potions.
That about covers it. Personally, at this point in the evolution of e-mail, I see the medium as a way to reach out to people and bring them to a Web page. It’s not direct mail. It’s technologically primitive. And for many people it’s an irritant if you abuse it.
E-mail is also good for staying in touch and communicating with people with which you have a relationship, so longer copy can work in these applications.
It’s hard to tell what the future holds, but for now it’s a medium with both promise and problems.