How to Develop an Effective E-Mail Creative Strategy
The success of your e-mail creative hinges, in large part, on four strategic elements: (1) knowing your audience, (2) making the right offer, and (3) communicating your message through strong response-oriented copy and creative. Sound familiar?
It should since these are the same basic elements that influence the success (or failure) of any direct marketing effort whether it's communicated via mailing lists, publication space advertising, package or statement inserts, telemarketing, and TV or radio spots.
So, what makes e-mail creative? Or is it different? And what should you consider before you start writing copy or doing programming?
Here are the steps to developing an effective e-mail creative strategy:
1. Know your audience and make sure you are targeting the right audience. Start by communicating with customers or prospects that have given you permission to send marketing messages via e-mail. This is called permission or opt-in e-mail marketing and is important for obvious reasons.
First, by communicating with people who have said they want to hear from you via e-mail, you will increase your open rate and, ultimately, the sell-through. Secondly, when you communicate with opt-in customers and prospects, you minimize the number of folks you displease because they don't want you filling their e-mail inboxes.
It's also important to know as much as you can about your audience so you can create and send e-mail messages that are personally relevant. This includes customers' product preferences, as well as the kinds of messages you've sent these individuals in the past … and which ones they've opened and responded to.
Here are some examples of how this information can benefit your end results:
A colleague recently told me about an interesting example of this last application. Mary is the director of a national not-for-profit organization that organizes, manages and distributes affordable, museum-quality art exhibitions. These traveling exhibitions are displayed in a variety of venues from urban museum galleries to smaller art spaces in less populated areas.
The ideal situation is to keep an exhibition on the move, traveling from one location to the next with no holes in booking. When there is a hole in the schedule, the marketing department uses highly targeted e-mail messages to solve the problem. They e-mail potential clients who have shown an interest in the specific exhibition or one of similar content.
The incentive to book on the spot may vary from a significant discount in the booking fee to no fee at all with the client responsible for only shipping. It's both a cost-efficient solution to a logistical problem and an effective way to generate client goodwill. It's possible to do this type of impromptu marketing because e-mail can get the word out and response back faster than traditional mail. And because this organization keeps a tight database of pertinent client information, it can create highly effective, pinpointed marketing messages efficiently communicated through e-mail.
2. Make a strong offer … the right offer for your targeted audience. Again, the more you know about your audience, their buying behavior, needs and concerns, the more successfully you can tailor your offers to specific customer segments, if not individual buyers.
Because of the interactive immediacy of the medium, e-mail has built-in urgency—and you can use it to your advantage. Create offers with good reasons for short deadlines such as a private clearance sale of very limited quantities. Offer significant discounts for the first 50 to respond on Monday (or whichever is your "slow day" for order processing). Send out reminders the day before a deadline saying, "You still have 24 hours to take advantage of this one-time-only offer." With e-mail you can create spur-of-the-moment urgency you can't achieve with traditional mail.
Other things to keep in mind when developing compelling e-mail offers include:
Don't bury the offer; when appropriate, put it in the subject line. At a minimum, present it in your first sentence or two.
Remember, the offer is what you give your customer in return for his or her response. If you are trying to entice her to visit your Web site, give her a reward for doing so. If you prefer an online order to a phone or mail order, provide an online incentive such as an additional discount or free gift.
3. Use strong direct response copy/creative. Trust your knowledge of what makes direct response copy effective in any medium and adapt it for e-mail.
Use "you" instead of "I" or "we."
Remember to tie your e-mail to your other marketing efforts. If you're offering discounts off catalog merchandise, show the catalog cover as a reminder or include a page reference. Use e-mail as a teaser to pre-announce traditional mail (Watch your mailbox). Compare online discounts with those found in your stores.
ALWAYS ask for some type of response. And make sure the end creative product is readable as possible.
Last, but not least, don't think of permission e-mail marketing as a stand-alone program. Instead, integrate it with your entire direct marketing program. No matter which medium you use, your success depends on the same strategic elements—audience, offer, format and a response-focused message.