Our E-mail Addiction - 2
The determining question: Is the product or service you're offering immediately recognizable to the prospect, or does it need a lengthy explanation?
Two basic formats exist--a text-based e-mail or HTML, which has images and other fancy styles--to make a kind of direct mail effort on a computer screen.
If the Product or Service Is Obvious ...
For example, since our six-day cruise to Bermuda over Labor Day, I have noticed an avalanche of online ads for last-minute, discount cruises--Vacations To Go, CruiseOne, CruisesOnly and Vacation Outlet. Plus, of course, we get promotions from individual cruise lines we've patronized--Norwegian and (many years ago) Princess.
Cruise aficionados don't need to read a letter about the benefits and pleasures of cruise ships. "Just the facts, ma'am," as Joe Friday used to say. All we want is an interactive landing page that lets us choose: from where and to where, dates, ship, costs and discount off rack rate, plus any special offers (companion goes half-price, $200-per-cabin credit, includes air, etc.). If we see a cruise of interest, we click for the itinerary, cancellation penalties and guarantee.
Those who wish to agonize over the decision can go directly to the cruise line, click on the ship, look at the layout and amenities, and shop other bargain cruise sites. However, many of these cruise deals are for last-minute opportunities. Dawdle too long and you lose.
Other offers that don't require long, benefit-oriented copy: airlines and hotels, insurance, credit cards, clothes and gardening catalogs, etc. These are products and services that prospects and customers are familiar with and can order quickly--unless they're shoppers and want to spend time on various sites comparing offers.
When You May Need a Letter ...
If you have a complex product that needs some explaining, a letter is very likely your best bet--just as in traditional direct mail.
The letter allows you to make an emotional, one-to-one connection with the reader. A letter traditionally should not contain a list of features, but rather talk benefits--what these features will do for the reader.
"The letter is the most powerful and persuasive selling force in direct marketing once the product, price and offer are set," wrote freelancer Malcolm Decker. "The writer creates the salesperson, usually from whole cloth, and you must be certain that this sales representative is truly representative of your product or service, as well of your company. The letter is likely to be the only 'person' your market will ever meet--at least on the front end of the sale--so don't make it highbrow if your market is lowbrow and vice versa."
"The tone of a good direct mail letter is as direct and personal as the writer's skill can make it," said the late direct mail copywriter Harry Walsh. "Even though it may go to millions of people, it never orates to a crowd, but rather murmurs into a single ear. It's a message from one letter writer to one letter reader."