A solid e-mailing rests on three “legs”: offer, list and creative. If you’ve been involved in traditional direct mail marketing (the postal variety), these three elements should ring a bell, as they apply in both media.
Basically, your offer means, What are you going to give them and what are they going to give you?
In the most basic kind of offer, you are going to give them a product and they are going to give you money. You can make an offer more compelling by giving the customer a better deal, “Save $43.00,” for example, or “Buy one, get one free.”
An offer doesn’t have to involve the exchange of money. You might offer a free gift in exchange for marketing data; perhaps the user can download a free software program in exchange for providing personal information or filling out a survey form. Or you might offer a free newsletter. In this case, the user might not have to give anything in return; it’s enough for them to let you into their inbox every week or every month.
The offer is critical to the success of your e-mail effort. You need to be crystal-clear about what your offer is, and you need to be crystal-clear in communicating it to your recipient.
You might have a great offer, but if you send it to the wrong list it will flop. On the Internet, list buying is trickier than in the world of direct mail, where you can examine a standard-format rate card, look over demographic data, or get help from an experienced list broker or consultant. The e-mail list business has few standards, and it can be hard to be sure who you are dealing with.
Stay away from the spammers — the bulk e-mailers who will sell you an e-mail list on CD-ROM or offer to send your ad out to a half-million people for $500. Spamming will cause you nothing but trouble.
Find a reliable opt-in e-mail list owner or broker. Make sure you’re dealing with a legitimate company with a good track record. Talk with them directly on the phone. Find out how each list was compiled. Make sure recipients were added to the list only with their explicit permission.
Find out all you can about the audience. Does the list owner have demographic information or survey data from list recipients? If you’re buying advertising in an e-mail newsletter (e-zine), what is the topic and target audience of the newsletter? Make sure that the list’s recipients are the right market for your offer.
Finding e-mail lists can be quite a challenge. One good place to start is the Direct E-Mail List Source [http://www.copywriter.com/lists/], a Web directory of opt-in e-mail lists.
In advertising, “creative” refers to the concept, copy and design of an advertising piece. Most e-mail advertising is sent out in plain text, so you can’t do much with design. But good strategy and copywriting can make a big difference.
Focus your copy around your offer. In e-mail, we recommend copy that’s brief, straightforward and to-the-point. Make it interesting, compelling and personal. But no hyperbole, no hard-sell.
Make the offer clear. Include a call to action — in other words, tell them what you want them to do and ask them to do it. Make it easy for people to respond. Most e-mail promotional messages will direct the user to a Web page, where they can find out more details, fill out a form or send in an order.
Give special attention to your subject line. Avoid subject lines that scream out “This is an ad!” Make it something simple, unassuming and short, while implying a benefit — maybe something like, “Discount tickets?” or “New opera recording.” Avoid deceptive “gotcha” subject lines that trick the recipient into opening the e-mail.
Give careful attention to these three elements of an e-mailing. If your effort falls short in any one of these three areas — offer, list or creative — you can expect a poor response.
Al Bredenberg is senior consultant at Enterprise Interactive [http://www.enterprise1.com].