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October 22 nd, 2014

Email marketing & communications: What to say to readers

We've dealt with email and consent ("Email marketing: The Real Deal") and we've dealt with the frequency of emails to your readers' list ("Email Marketing: Email frequency") and now, we are going to deal with the actual content of your email to mass-subscribers.

There are two, critical things to keep in mind when writing to an email distribution list:

  1. Your readers have allowed you into their personal, private space: Do not violate the privilege (Yes, even business readers: Email is their personal, private space)
  2. Attention span is short: You are competing with all of their relevant mail, their personal mail, other legitimate commercial mail and, of course, spam that reaches their inbox.

Whatever you do, you do not wish to fall into the category of spam.

The Subject Line:

Firstly, you need to get enough of your readers' attention that they are going to want to actually read your email - or at least skim your first paragraph (where you are hoping to convince them it is worth their while to read the rest of the email);

Relevant and useful content is key with email marketingThat first attention grab is the subject line. There are a few, key "don'ts" to avoid:

  1. Do not use ALL CAPS
  2. Do not use typical spam/snake oil subject lines like "ACT NOW!" or "SAVE MONEY!" or "INCREDIBLE OFFER INSIDE!" - Even if your content has a short availability, if you are saving your customers a bazillion dollars or you really do have the most incredible offer available. If you need to ask why this is in the "not to do" list: Take a look at your spam folder: You'll see several hundred (or thousand) spammers are already using the exact, same subjects
  3. Do not use URLs in your subject lines
  4. Do not use dollar figures in your subject lines
  5. Do not use typical spam words like "sale", "limited time", "act now", "incredible", "unbelievable" in your subject lines.

So what DO you use in the subject lines ?

Common sense tells you to use a subject line that is relevant to the content you are writing about;
If you are promoting a week long sale on the latest fashions, a subject like "Winter dress designs have arrived"
If you are a financial planner, something like "The benefit of buying over renting: What the new interest rates mean for you"
If you sell health foods, something like "Red meat, white meat or high protein veggies: The pros and the cons"

In essence: The subject line should show that there is something of value in the email itself and that it is not just a teaser to get the reader to click on a website. Remember: The value of marketing communications is not that every message needs to lead to a sale - that is impossible - What IS possible with every communication to your readers is to build trust and value.

The Content:

So now your reader has actually opened your mail - The first of three trust elements has occurred. You need to deliver the second: That second trust element is delivering on the value and the trust; A good marketing email will have value to the reader from the email alone meaning they will walk away from your email message having gained something, without having bought something from you and without having clicked on a URL.

This does not mean delivering the formula for the elixir of eternal youth in every email, but it does mean that the email has been useful - and there is another goal, aside from building trust and value and aside from getting them to click on a link - I'll get to that in a second.

The value has to be in the content you are talking about, even though the ultimate goal is getting them to come to the website and buy. Using the three examples of clothing sales, financial planners and health food vendors, here are three examples of valuable and useful content for the emails;

  • The financial planners emails should always contain a useful element of advice, such as keeping receipts for trade magazines, brown-bagging versus buying lunches, paying bi-weekly instead of monthly and so on; Your email needs to show that you are an expert in the field for the content that you are writing about (If you are not, there is no reason to go to your website, now, is there ? )
  • The clothing vendors' emails should have tips like matching colours to seasons, accessorizing or fashion-on-a-budjet - again, showing your expertise, giving the reader the impression that if such handy advice was gained from a single email, your website must be full of even more such useful advice.
  • The health foods vendors' emails should have tips like the difference in calories from barbecuing or steaming over frying, benefits to the body on including all four food groups or the amount of walking to burn off a treat like a burger or an ice cream cone. Once more: Show your expertise with every single email you send to subscribers.

That other goal I mentioned above, the one in addition to building trust and value, in addition to getting the reader to click on a link to your website ? One of the best reasons to show your expertise in every email: The "forward" button. In an ideal scenario, you want your email to be so useful that one of the readers' natural thoughts will be that of a friend, colleague or relative who would benefit from the content AND THEY WILL FORWARD YOUR MAIL to them. ("credibility by association" - take advantage of it!) - Not only have you provided value to your reader; Not only have you provided value to a non-subscriber - Now you have potentially attracted another subscriber and you haven't paid a dime in advertising to do it!

The Destination

Finally: The third trust element to be delivered: The call to action has to actually be worth the readers' time, even if they don't make a purchase decision.

What that means, in plain English, is that the website you lead a viewer to, from your relevant subject line and useful content, has to be useful and valuable in and of itself.

If you build a persons' hopes up by first creating enough interest to actually open your mail, then elevate that interest and hope again by having them be impressed with your content, then utterly dashing that confidence by sending them to a poorly thought out, difficult to navigate or hard-sell website; You might as well have just slept in, that morning, rather than send the mass-mail to your subscribers.

Remember: You will rarely, if ever, make a sale to a first time visitor to your website; When a reader comes to your site because of great content in your email, make sure there is MORE great content in your website for them to benefit from. In other words: Not only do you want to make them glad they came to your website, but give them a reason to come back! That is when the sale is made: When a first-time visitor becomes a repeat visitor; When you have earned that confidence from the reader that what you are offering really is a solution to their want, need or desire.

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