Creative Corner - The Trouble With E-Mail (1,091 words)
by Lois K. Geller
I came into the office last Sunday. I had been away and figured I'd get organized for the week. I started by reviewing my e-mails … hoping to do it fast.
No such luck! I had 375 e-mails waiting for me. If I were to get out before dinner, the decision to open or delete each of them had to be made in a few seconds. Here are excerpts from two promotions that I opened (but shouldn't have):
Subject: Information is power 14650
Current Market Information. New strategy could realize up to 40 percent or greater returns. Free video. Free "how-to" manual for trading in this marketplace.
What does "14650" mean? Who is "isgas2high"? What are they selling? What are they talking about?
Subject: Congradulations [yes, that was how it was spelled] You're Our Winner!
Dear friend: Out of 50 million Internet users our computer has selected as you [yes, that's how it was written] as one of 2,000 winners. The online Casino of the Year is giving you $25 FREE. Congratulations! Click here!
I'm not impressed with your spelling or attention to grammar, "funbobx"—and by the way, who are you? Also, I don't believe anything you say!
Poor spelling is just the tip of the iceberg, but it's indicative of how some companies haven't been paying close enough attention in developing and executing their e-mail programs.
Even many big companies with well-oiled marketing departments are falling short in this area. I've been shocked at finding out who's writing e-mails for some major organizations. Sometimes it's the intern or the new marketing associate. But I think companies are starting to realize that they need direct marketers to develop strategy, write, test and interpret e-mail initiatives.
After you spend a huge budget on branding, advertising and direct mail, the wonderful impression you've made can really fall apart if your e-mail communications are not set up properly.
For instance, a few weeks ago I received a solicitation offering PCs at great prices, so I went to the site. I was looking for a laptop and had a question, so I e-mailed customer service. Two weeks have gone by and I've had no reply. Not only has the company lost my business, but it lost the money it spent marketing to me—and now I'll probably never buy its products. If this is how it treats me as a prospect, how would it treat me if I buy one of its PCs and it breaks down? How could I have confidence in its tech support if it doesn't acknowledge me when I'm trying to buy from it? There's a lot of business falling between the cracks because companies are not yet incorporating back-end practices into their e-mail marketing efforts.
Clearly, there is tremendous potential for e-mail as a direct response vehicle. However, as electronic mailboxes become more inundated with mail, a higher level of attention will be required to break through the clutter and be successful.
Here at the agency, we've been getting calls about working with companies on their e-mail campaigns. Here are some of the things we focus on in developing these programs:
• E-mail is the "conversation" through which you and your reader have a relationship. Maintaining your integrity and building rapport are crucial. "Getting the sale" is great, but the real objective of online communication is to become a trusted source for each and every one of your customers.
• My favorite radio station is WIIFM: "What's In It For ME?" That's the only "station" you should be playing for your e-mail recipients. Don't write a laundry list of what you think you have to offer. People don't really care what you have, they only care about what's in it for them. Take the features or attributes of your product/service and turn them into benefits for your prospect. Be as specific as possible in detailing how your product or service will work for them.
• Give up on hard-sell tactics. All those bait-and-switch techniques, bogus sweepstakes and "too good to be true" offers stopped working in direct marketing years ago, and they really don't work online either. While over-sell copy might generate some curiosity response, it's not going to help your credibility in building customers for the long term.
• E-mails are written by real people and should sound that way. It's off-putting when an e-mail sounds so corporate and official that it has absolutely no human element. If you put forth a real personality you'll be more engaging, and prospects and customers will be more interested in what you have to say. People want to talk to people. Language online needs to be appropriately friendly, not stilted. Your language must really reflect your target audience. The tone and voice you use with a particular group should be consistent.
• The subject line is similar to the outer envelope in direct mail, and the point of this copy is to get the reader interested enough to open the package. But the word "FREE" doesn't seem to work on e-mail subject lines. I think readers anticipate a scam, and many corporate firewalls are blocking messages with the word "FREE" because they know these messages are just server-clogging advertisements.
• Don't make your e-mails too long. Most people have very little time and attention for your e-mail message, so keep it short and sweet.
• One of the most deceptive aspects of e-mail is that people are inclined to think that writing online is the same as writing off-line. Absolutely not.
Off-line, our purpose is to persuade, through benefits and an irresistible offer, that the customer needs to buy this particular product or service … now. Online, it's really all about maintaining and building a relationship. Online writing should be much more informational in tone with less hype—a much softer and more down-to-earth sell.
It seems that people have stronger boundaries in an online environment, and we, as marketers, must respect them. Remember—permission is given and it can be taken away. Permission-based e-mail demands that we treat our customers more gently than we used to.
Please e-mail me and let me know your thoughts on this. I'm still working on The Creative Corner on the Web … let me know if you want to join in.
LOIS K. GELLER is president of Mason & Geller Direct Marketing and the author of RESPONSE! The Complete Guide to Profitable Direct Marketing. She can be reached at (212) 697-4477 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.