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Getting it right… e-marketing tips! magazine article

Thursday, 30 November 2006
By Print 21 Online Article

Never before has a media been so readily accepted by the general public, yet so appallingly abused by marketers, that laws have been created to prohibit marketers using it… and so it is with e-mail.”

I started making this statement a few years ago and it now looks like the same will apply to telemarketing. It is a sad reflection on the lack of understanding by marketers of the power of personal media such as e-mail, telephones, mail and the like.

Recently I spoke at the IMAT conference in Sydney on the topic of; “Perfect e-mail marketing execution.” The headline was given to me by the conference organiser, so I created content to suit.

Much of the audience were looking for technical tricks and magic cures to get more people to open and read their messages. They gained nothing of the sort from my session, but they did leave with some ideas they could use.
Before I share these ideas, I’d like you to consider the following questions.

why buy a dog and bark yourself?

How do Rupert Murdoch and James Packer make most of their money? They’re publishers. How many of Rupert and James’ articles have you read recently? I suspect your answer is ‘none’.

Who do they get to write the content of their publications? Professional copywriters of course—and they help to make a tidy income for both Rupert and James.

Does your organisation publish an e-mail newsletter or other e-mail messages? Do you or one of your staff write the content for it?
If the very wealthy publishers use professionals to produce the content for their publications, why do so many companies use amateurs to write their newsletter and e-mail message content, yet expect professional results?

The real reason most of the e-mail messages filling in-boxes around the world don’t get read, lies with the people who write them. They are not professional writers. All they know is how to use words to create sentences via an electronic keyboard—they don’t write copy that is easy to read.

Nathaniel Hawthorne, a novelist from the first half of the 19th century said “Easy reading is damn hard writing.” Conversely, the same applies when stated; “Easy writing is damn hard reading.”

There’s a simple reason for this. It has to do with the way we learn to write.

And tell Santa Claus

Let’s ask and answer a few more questions. What was the first thing you learned to write? Most likely it was your name. And to whom did you write? Most people wrote first to their parents, but some claim it was to Santa Claus.
And what did you write about —you, yourself and your day?

What did your parents do when you wrote to them? I’ll bet they gushed and fussed and encouraged you write some more. They probably stuck your masterpiece on the fridge?

Well guess what? That’s the last time in your life anyone gave a toss about you writing to them about yourself.

But now you’re in the workforce. And one of your tasks is to write the newsletter content, despite your lack of calling. So you go to town using words like “I, me, my, our, us” over and over again and words like “you and yours” very few times.

You don’t realise you’re doing it—because you are interested in the subject and you have a deadline to meet. And after all, it’s much easier to write about a topic in a way that is of interest to you, rather than of interest to your reader.

Why is it that we won’t pay professionals to write the copy for the hardest thing to write in marketing—personal messages—but we pay professionals to write copy for the easiest things to write in marketing; messages to be broadcast via television, radio, press, print or websites?

E-mail marketing is not a cheap way to replace your direct mail, or telemarketing. It is a personal communication for which you have to obtain permission to deliver. It must be well crafted, personalised and relevant to the individual who receives it. You want the individual to do what you want them to do once they read it—not what they were planning to do before they opened it.

This requires the specialist writing skills of an investigative journalist or a copywriter trained in the discipline of direct marketing. If you allow people who know how to type sentences, rather than to write copy, you’ll fail—and damage your brand in the process.

Pay the professional pipers

Rupert and James make a tidy living paying professionals to deliver professional and profitable results. Why pay amateurs to write some of your most important marketing communications and expect professional results? If you are going to publish, do what the successful publishers do—pay professionals.

After all, marketers pay professionals to write advertising to the masses in the form of broadcast or press advertisements, so why not for more personalised advertising? If you don’t want to use a direct marketing agency, then approach a journalist from your industry’s trade press—they’re usually underpaid but know how to write copy that engages an audience.

So let’s now assume you have employed pros to write for you, what other things need to be considered for successful e-mail campaigns?

Two reasons people open e-mail

There are only two reasons people open e-mail:
1. They know who is sending the message.
2. They are interested in the content in the Subject Line

If a person doesn’t know the sender of the message they are extremely unlikely to open the message, thanks to spam and the sheer volume of messages in in-boxes. If they do know the sender, then they’ll look at the Subject Line to determine if the content is relevant to them.

If the content isn’t relevant, then they are highly unlikely to open your message. And they certainly won’t scroll down your message to check if there is something of interest—they don’t have the time or the inclination.
Once you have built your email database, there are a number of options open to you—but the temptation is to contact people every time you have something to say about yourself.

The key questions you should always ask yourself before sending emails should be; “is this relevant to my relationship with this customer or prospect?” and then; “will it enhance the relationship in a positive way?”

Above-the-fold summary

Just like the lead story in a newspaper is above-the-fold, so the contents of your newsletter or message must be summarised ‘above-the-fold;’ that is, within the first screen.

This allows people to quickly review your content for relevance or interest and make a decision on continuing reading or deleting your message. You can use a headline such as; “In this issue,” with bullet points that link readers to the key topics, or publish a table of contents at the start of your message to serve the same purpose.

There is a complete industry dedicated to distribution of
e-mails. The suppliers have best practice technology to ensure the best possible chance your message will get through spam filters, firewalls and the like. Creating a message yourself and sending it from your Outlook is the fast way to failure. You have no idea if your message even reaches your recipients.

If you install internal e-mail distribution software, you have to train your personnel, invest in hardware and dedicated lines to distribute messages, invest in R&D to ensure your system can navigate the daily changes and developments that occur in e-mail systems and ISPs, or hope that your software supplier can provide regular upgrades.

Quite frankly, you have to be sending millions of messages to make it worthwhile.

Why guess…when you can know?

One of the key principles for direct marketing success is testing. That’s because direct marketing is the art of losing money in very small amounts now, so you can make it in large amounts later. You test and learn, test and learn, ad infinitum. After all, why guess your results when you can know what they’ll be?

E-mail is one of the easiest things to test. Given that at least 40 percent of your response usually occurs in the first few hours after you send a message, you can gain a reliable result with your tests. In fact you can conduct a couple of tests in a single day if you know what you’re doing.

I’ve seen some research that suggests that 65 percent of all messages are opened between Tuesday morning and Thursday afternoon. You’ll also find that open rates and time of opening differ for free e-mail domains versus business or paid domains.

You can even test distributors—split your distribution between a couple of distributors and see who gets better results for you, or with whom you are more comfortable working.

Don’t abuse your subscribers
E-mail is one of the cheapest ways to do major damage to your brand if you get it wrong. So you cannot afford to abuse the people on your list. If they opt-in for a monthly newsletter, don’t send them weekly sales offers.

Invite content from your readers via surveys, pools, forums, blogs, etc. Why sit around wondering what to brief your creative team to write about when your readers will happily forward you opinions and information you can use—and this is usually more interesting to them than what you might have to say?

There are also a bunch of legal requirements regarding the Spam Act and Privacy that you must comply with as well, but I won’t go into those here.

Suffice to say marketers have done enormous damage to the power of e-mail because they ignored basic courtesies and commonsense—they abused the privilege their customers gave them through permission to communicate via personalised messages.

Respect your customer and they’ll respect you—and you’ll probably discover your e-mail campaigns become a key part of your marketing activity.

Malcolm Auld is director of Malcolm Auld Direct (MAD)

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