Dinosaurs knew a thing or two about email

Email Marketing Lessons from
the Direct Mail Dark Ages

Part 2: The Good

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Part 2

From the moment the U.S. Constitution gave Congress the power to establish post offices, marketers went to work learning how to make direct mail pay.

Over time, direct mail marketers began noting techniques that seemed to work most often and on a consistent basis. These became must-know guidelines for anyone in the business. It turns out that many of those guidelines apply just as much in email as they do in direct mail. Here are a few of my favorites. (See last week’s post for direct mail practices not to use.

The envelope, please. In direct mail, an envelope has one job: to get opened. A headline on an envelope can work wonders to that end. The email equivalent is the subject line. But be careful: many phrases that work in direct mail will likely be intercepted by a spam filter if you try them with email. For instance, “FREE” works on envelopes, but in subject lines it signals spam.

Let’s get personal. In mail and email alike, letters have power. The most successful ones are laid out like letters (albeit with liberties taken here and there), display a signature, and use a personal, “me-to-you” tone—not “our company to our customers.”

P.S. Though a stylebook may advise against using “P.S.” on a business letter, direct marketers have demonstrated that that’s where most people start reading. Use a P.S. to tease with information that will pull readers into the body of your email. Provided, that is, your P.S. lands above the fold. Short of that, try a Johnson Box. In fact, it’s not a bad idea to do both.

Headlines. Stylebooks advise against headlines, too. Use them anyway. A good headline increases readership.

Subheads. Short subheads in bold type between groups of paragraphs break things up and help pull readers along. (So do in-line bolds, like the ones I’m using in this post.)

Keep paragraphs short. Big blocks of type are daunting and hard to read.

Include a call to action. Any sales training course will rightly tell you that you must urge customers to take a desired action. Here, email has the advantage. While direct mail relies on coupons, postpaid cards, URLs, and toll-free numbers, email needs only a link, a few encouraging words, and “click here.”

While you’re at it, include lots of easily-noticed calls to action. Ever studied a direct mail letter? Toll-free numbers and addresses show up on the top and/or bottom of every page as well as in body copy. The idea is to make it easy to order at any time. Likewise, email should display easy-to-spot links at the top, in body copy, in side columns, right above the “fold,” and at the bottom.

Incentive offer. Most prospects who do not take immediate action will ultimately not take action at all. The cure? A reward—a freebie—for responding within a limited time. Warning: in every company, there is always someone who objects to incentive offers as “unprofessional.” Nonsense. Properly worded, there is nothing unseemly about thanking customers for prompt action by sending them a gift. But “there is nothing unseemly” understates. It is absolutely vital is more like it. The right incentive offer will increase responses by two, three, four, or more times.

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