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The Green Sheet Online Edition

November 26, 2007 • Issue 07:11:02

Marketing 101
Using e-mail effectively: Copy and design

By Nancy Drexler
Marketing Moguls

In our fast-paced, online world of instant gratification, I don't have much time to capture your attention - or to lose it. In fact, I have less than 10 seconds to convince you that I speak your language and have something important to tell you.

And right about now, my time is up.

There are ways to use e-mail as an effective sales and marketing tool. You might think you have what it takes to market yourself properly over the Internet, but you'd be surprised how easy it is to send e-mails straight to the trash icon, without taking a second glance.

Snap, snap

If you are e-mail blasting, you need to understand white listing, which is the process that Internet service providers (ISPs) use to distinguish legitimate e-mail senders from the spammers.

If you don't want to be caught up in your audiences' junk mail, the first thing you need to control is the e-mail address from which your messages are sent. For instance, if you've gotten your e-mail service through a reputable provider like GoDaddy.com Inc., chances are your e-mails will be white listed.

But send an e-mail from a free service like Yahoo! Inc. or Microsoft's Hotmail and your communications may never see the light of an inbox. Similarly, using a service like Constant Contact Inc. for e-mail distribution will provide some protection from spam filters.

When sending an e-mail, three or four words in the subject line can make or break you. A good subject line keeps your reader from automatically hitting the delete button. It conveys an immediate benefit, or stimulates interest. It makes the reader stop and read.

Here is where common sense is critical. Assuming your readers are like you - busy, hard-working, savvy and moderately impatient - you want to avoid any kind of subject line that does not seem to be created just for the individual who is reading it.

Research has shown that certain words or phrases are highly likely to turn readers off, and should never be used in a subject line. These include the following:

  • Words relating to a sale or discount, including free, 20% off, double your income, lower your processing fees, save money, gift, or anything with a money symbol in it.

  • Words encouraging immediate action such as act now, click here, limited time, don't delay and hurry.

  • Anything that appears to be screaming, general or exaggerated: lowest rates, you're a winner, once-in-a-lifetime, not spam, don't delete, extra income, fast cash or anything with additional punctuation, for example.

  • Words that can be confused with online pharmacies, mortgages or pornography, including hot, medicine, hello, refinance, Valium, Vicodin and Xanax.

Stand out

If the e-mail looks like junk, chances are it is junk. We expect to find an overwhelming amount of it. We open our overloaded e-mail boxes with an eye toward removing the junk we know will be there. And we don't leave a big margin for error.

Consider yourself warned: If you send just one e-mail that is all about you and doesn't deliver a benefit to the reader, you're deleted. Worse, you might even be flagged as "spam." In that case, nothing you send will ever get through to that sender, or be considered worth reading.

In the reader's mind, you are junk. Not just your e-mails but your letters, phone calls and offers as well. Junk. This is not a risk worth taking.

Don't send an e-mail unless you have something to offer to every reader on your list. This entails carefully sorting and working your lists, and checking the quality of your content.

Do not talk in broad or bragging strokes about yourself; no one likes to read about someone who has a big ego. Also, don't try to tell your readers what is right for them, or pretend to know more about their businesses than they do.

Keep your e-mail short. Instead of being long winded, select one key offer or benefit, and make it very simple to understand. Say too much and you'll say nothing.

Eye candy

Make it look good. This is where art and science collide.

I have never seen a universal definition of the word "pretty." What looks good, or what (in my daughter's words) "looks heinous," is in fact quite subjective.

In our quest to create communications we can feel proud of, we often impose our own definitions of what looks good and what doesn't. We want something that reflects well on us and we define pretty according to that.

A good design is not just about being pretty, however. It is about taking the eye - and thus the reader - through a message. Appeal helps, but it is not the bottom line - far from it.

More than pretty, a good design will be simple and cohesive. If the eye doesn't know where to go first, it will either skim the e-mail or, more than likely, move on.

All of your key information, including the call to action and any links, should be positioned above the fold. This means that it should all be visible on a preview screen, or an opened e-mail, without requiring the reader to do any scrolling.

The first thing you want someone to read or see should be positioned on the upper right side of the page. From there, the eye will typically scan down.

However, when boxes, bursts or call-outs are used to separate and highlight an idea, they can attract attention to themselves rather than to the next line of copy. Bold faced type, underlines and color changes can also move the eye to a different part of your copy.

Make sure that your designer really reads your message, and understands what the key points are.

If your copy is reasonable in length and committed to a single main message with possibly an offer or a link, your designer should have no problem creating an attractive, readable and effective e-mail.

Simple works

This is the Web - we use it because it makes interactive communication immediate and simple. Readers don't have to call or write you; they can simply click on a link and act.

If you don't make it easy for them to do that, you are wasting a valuable opportunity.

Decide what you want the e-mail to do. Do you want to capture information about readers? Then perhaps you should offer them something they are likely to want and ask them to submit their information in order to receive it.

Do you want readers to learn more about your company? Then you should make it easy for them to click through to your Web site, or to a landing page you create specifically for that purpose.

Want them to pass along your e-mail to others who might be interested? Encourage them to do that, and make it simple and rewarding.

Hello, it's action

In the final analysis, there is (or there should be) a single action you want a reader to take. Attend a webinar, read a white paper, participate in a promotion, take advantage of an offer - whatever it is you want your readers to do must be both obvious and easy.

In advertising, this is the call to action. And other than capturing attention, this is the most important thing for your e-mail to do.

Don't hide it or make someone scroll down to find it. And don't bury it in a block of verbiage. Make sure your links work. It would be a real shame to get your readers this far, only to lose them. end of article

Nancy Drexler is the President of Marketing Moguls and its division, PIMPS (Processing Industry Marketing and Promotion Services). She can be reached at drexler@marketingmoguls.com.

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