Words To The Wise™ by Marketingsage Staff.

There are many benefits to using email as a promotional vehicle. It is almost free, delivery is almost instantaneous, and response rates are easily tracked. For business-to-business sales, the email delivers the message at a crucial time — When the prospect is at work. Also the message can be easily stored, retrieved and forwarded thereby extending its life.

According to a mid-2002 DoubleClick's Marketing Spending Index Study, email marketing was ranked consistently high by respondents for achieving all marketing objectives, including lead generation (65%), information dissemination (55%), retention (55%), building awareness (55%), generating immediate sales (53%) and up-selling (51%).

Hyperlinks within the email enable the reader to get more information or to jump straight to an order-placement page on the Web. A study by Washingtonpost.com with @Plan and Minnesota Opinion Research found that 77 percent of business decision-makers surveyed thought the Web was the best way to stay current with new products and companies. 60 percent said the Web was the best way for advertisers to reach them, and that they had decreased usage of other media such as newspapers and magazines.

Like a physical letter, an email can be specifically targeted to a named individual. Unlike a physical letter, the email bypasses human filters such as secretaries. The email, however, encounters electronic filters. Also an email can be easily ignored or deleted so you must immediately grab the attention of the recipient and make it worthwhile to read on.

Some elements are more important than others when it comes to influencing a recipient choice to open an e-mail. A 2002 DoubleClick study found that the "From" line is the most important factor, motivating 60% of recipients to open e-mails. Another 35% look to the "Subject" line before opening the email.

Here are the essential techniques for constructing promotional emails:

  1. Respect the privacy of the people on your list. If your list is greater than one person, use a mail merge to automatically send a personal email to each. If you don't have a special email program for mail list management, you can use Microsoft Word's mail merge feature along with Microsoft Outlook (although it is tricky to set up the first time).

    If you don't want to use a mail merge you might want to use the "BCC" line instead of the "To" or "CC" lines for the addresses. The "BCC" line will not reveal your mail list to all the recipients. Be aware that some spam filters look for lots of CCs, especially 8 or more to the same domain name. They also look to see if the From and To address is the same.

  2. According to DoubleClick 63% of respondents cite the "From" line as the most important factor motivating them to open emails (up from 60% in 2002). The "From" line should include both your brand and name. Email from named individuals are more likely to be read than emails from "Info@…". Also spam filters look for emails from addresses with all numbers or numbers in front or back of the sender's address.
     
  3. 35% of respondents to a DoubleClick study cite the "Subject" line as the most important factor motivating them to open emails. The "Subject" line is your first and most critical headline. Make the Subject line appealing by asking a question, stating a benefit, sparking curiosity, etc. Don't use misleading subject lines.

    Short email subject lines of 49 or fewer characters have a 12.5% higher open rate and 75% higher click-through rate according to a Return Path analysis.

  4. Next to the Subject line, the opening paragraph is critically important to keeping the readers attention. Tell them what's in it for them by reading on. Offer the biggest promise or most self-serving benefit to the reader.

    The subject of the email content also matters: A 2003 IMN study shows that once recipients open their e-mails, they actively seek out product-oriented content. Articles containing information on companies’ products receive 29% of readers’ “unique clicks-throughs”—followed by company news (18%), industry news (14%), “tips and tricks” (11%) and other topics.

    The same IMN study showed that on average, active e-newsletter subscribers read 64% of the content in each issue.

  5. Focus on what benefits the reader will get by taking the desired action. If you state a feature, also state the benefit.
     
  6. Include a clear call-to-action.
     
  7. Create a sense of urgency (e.g. "Act now to receive," "Today only"). This should be in the call-to-action but can also be included in the headline, body copy and/or P. S. statement.
     
  8. Include links to appropriate pages of your web site. Preferably link to pages that allow you to count the visitors and gauge the response rate for that email. HTML emails allow you to track opens and click-through. Use the full "http://www" address.
     
  9. Use your email "signature" to include valuable information like your contact details (e.g. phone number, email address and postal address). You might also include the company tag-line here (e.g. "Quality printing since 1975") and web address.
     
  10. Include an opt-out or unsubscribe capability if you are sending a series of emails as you would with a newsletter subscription. If it is a newsletter, say so in the subject line and also use a date.
     
  11. Avoid attachments. Many email systems restrict the size of emails and many people fear viruses. Also think of the recipient who may be checking email from a remote dial-up using a slow modem and high cost-per-minute service (more likely in developing countries, not the USA). A link to your web site is better than an attachment if you have more to say.

Follow these copy guidelines to help ensure your email is delivered and read:

  1. Keep paragraphs short (less than 5 lines) so the email is easier to read. This does not mean the email needs to be very short. Use sub-headings to make longer messages easier to read.
     
  2. Use copy transitions and connectors to keep the reader reading. Phrases like "add to this .." or "read on to learn how…" keep the reader moving through the copy.
     
  3. When using plain text, keep lines short (60 characters including spaces) if you want
        to avoid the email having lines broken like this. About 20% of email users prefer text emails. The rest prefer HTML or don't have a preference.
     
  4. When using plain text, keep the font and formatting simple. The formatting is often lost by the time the email arrives. Instead of using bold text to highlight a point you can do ***this type of thing***. Use ALL CAPITAL letters sparingly and never write more than a sentence in all capitals.
     
  5. Don't use symbol characters as they may not be delivered as intended. Instead of a symbol like this one for copyright ©, a copyright can be indicated like this "(c).
     
  6. Use HTML if you want more fonts, colors and graphics than are possible with plain text email. HTML email is proving to pull up to 30% higher response rates than plain text messages. Up to 99% of email users can now read HTML emails but new SPAM filters often block HTML graphics.
     
  7. Use a signature with your name and contact information (including telephone number and physical address).
     
  8. 17% percent of permission-based e-mail messages get incorrectly blocked or filtered by the top 12 Internet Service Providers, according to a study released in August '03 by Return Path. This represents a 2% drop in delivery rates as compared to fourth quarter 2002, and a 5% drop as compared to third quarter 2002. You'll want to minimize incorrect blocking of your permission based emails.

    Avoid words and formats that may be interpreted by email filters as spam indicators. Examples include:

    • Excessive punctuation (e.g. ????, !!!!, $$$$)
    • The use of "click here" links or links that have a URL with the word "remove".
    • Greeting recipients with "Dear"
    • Claiming the recipient is "registered", on a list or gave you permission or opted-in.
    • Claiming your message is not spam or that you comply with various regulations.
    • Claiming that you respect all removal requests.
    • Linking the words "remove me" to an e-mail address.

If you want to test your email to see how it rates relative to a SpamAssassin check you can use this tool by SiteSell. When you send your email to the address below, with the word TEST starting the subject line, you will get an automated report (and commercial message) back. Here's how it works:

Send your email, exactly the way you would send it to your recipient, with one change — You must use the uppercase word TEST to start your Subject line. Here's a sample Subject:  TESTHere is your new ezine.

mail to: spamcheck@sitesell.net

Know the law

The U.S. CAN-SPAM act, summarised on Wikipedia, and effective January 2004 and updated in May 2008, specifies:

  • Non-disceptive subject lines, headers, return addresses, and the like are prohibited.
     
  • Sending sexually-oriented emails without clearly indicating the content is prohibited.
     
  • Participating in offenses such as identity theft, fraud, obscenity, child pornography or exploitation is also prohibited, as is knowingly linking to a fraudulently registered domain.
     
  • The Sender's name should appear in the "from" line and it's their postal address that should be included in the body of the email. PO boxes may serve as legitimate postal addresses. When multiple parties are involved in sending the email, one party must be designated as the "Sender."
     
  • The Sender is responsible for complying with CAN-SPAM requirements. Additionally, marketers will not be given safe harbor if their affiliates violate CAN-SPAM regulations. Organizations are responsible for those sending emails in their name.
     
  • Emails cannot be sent to addresses that have been automatically harvested from web sites or to randomly generated email addresses.

The law also requires that your have an effective unsubscribe system that makes it easy for recipients to opt out of receiving your emails. People opting-out cannot be required to pay a fee, or share personal data beyond an email address. Ideally, the opt-out process should be just one step.

Optimize your timing

Ever notice how promotional emails come in batches? When your email comes in in a batch people are less likely to read them all (or any) so yours could be missed. Try to deliver your email when your intended recipient is likely to read it. This means avoiding the crowds and delivering when the recipient is likely to be at their PC.

  • The best time to reach business people in the U.S. is likely to be Tuesday through Thursday at about 1pm East Coast time/10am Pacific Time. This is after they "dig out" on Monday and before they "check out" on Friday. The 1pm East Coast timing misses the morning deluge on both coasts and leaves plenty of time for the email to be read.
     
  • Consumers are best reached Friday through Sunday or on holidays. Target times when they are lightly to be logged-on — 5pm through 8pm in their respective time-zones.

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