Reach the Readers -- and the Skimmers

  |  September 20, 2001   |  Comments

Much of your wonderful email message will go unread by a good portion of your target audience. And with that assumption comes a set of rules that you may want to keep in mind as you work on your promotion’s copy and design.

It’s no secret that much of what the Web is about is immediate gratification. Click here to get this. Submit there to get that.

So it stands to reason that a good percentage of the most active users transact via the Web for that very reason. Or, at the very least, it’s in their "Top 10 Reasons to _____ on the Internet."

A very large sector of the online audience is prone to certain "gimme it now" behavior; and because emails are a huge part of this audience’s world, it stands to reason that an email promotion should follow suit. In other words, the message should be built with this particular audience in mind.

What does that mean for you and your campaign’s creative development? It means that you need to make the assumption, like it or not, that much of your wonderful message will go unread by a good portion of your target audience. And with that assumption comes a set of rules that you may want to keep in mind as you work on your promotion’s copy and design.

In repeated tests with clients across the spectrum of business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) models, one result has been resounding: Instead of testing the proverbial short versus long (which will essentially just test your "gimme it now" folks against your "gimme details" people), the goal should be to create one promotional message with staying power that hits both segments of your audience.

Therefore, even if your story is not an easy one to tell in few words, you can still embed a quick-and-dirty message into a longer one. That way, you can fulfill the needs of your combined audience in the most effective and streamlined manner possible. In other words, even if your overall message is longer than the so-called norm, you can still create a promotion within a promotion, fashioned with your impatient ones in mind.

Most good direct-response advertisements and promotions contain several components that make up the body of the message no matter how long they are. They often consist of a headline (the "grabber"), the features and benefits that substantiate (or fulfill what is in) this headline, and the subtext that makes up those features and benefits. Wrapped around and through all of these components, figuratively speaking, is the supporting copy itself, which serves to bring it all together and have it all make sense to the reader.

It is the first three components -- and not necessarily the longer "wrapped" copy -- that you need to highlight for your impatient ones. The trick lies in how to do it.

Display your best headline and graphics "above the fold." For example, if you’re a retailer and you want to showcase your half-price items, bring out your best and most provocative graphic (if promoting with HTML) and display your "50% off..." headline in all its blazing glory at the top of the piece. Your recipients -- especially the impatient skimmers -- will know immediately why they should read, or skim, further.

Display at least one call to action early on. The heart of your offer should come quickly, be easily understandable, and have a link to X at the top of your message. Obviously, you want to sprinkle other links in the promotion as well, including embedding your landing page URLs within any graphic images if it’s an HTML file. Nevertheless, one bright, bold link at the very top is a necessity for those harder-to-attract members of your audience.

Use subheadings and make them stand out. How? Make them benefit rich. And if it’s a text-only promotion, use all caps. If it’s in HTML, use bold, a larger size, and possibly some color. The end result should be that woven through all of that great (and extraneous, to some) copy are these wonderful quick blurbs of why your audience should do business with you. So recipients who need the bottom line can skip what they deem to be extraneous and get right to the punch line.

Use bullets to make your most important points known. Your copy should contain nuggets of salesworthy information. The problem for the restless ones is the time it takes to sift through all the words to get to the true gems. So, for those readers, the use of bullets, asterisks, and surrounding white space can make these gems really stand out.

And keep in mind that your audience is most likely made up of a wide variety of people with an even wider variety of interests and temperaments. Chances are that your response rates will improve if you can fulfill the needs of at least two of the major segments within that audience: the detail-seekers, who want to read all of your backup copy, and the impatient ones, who want only to glance and skim.

A ton of respondents are to be had from the latter group. So give it to them the way they want it, and they can -- they will -- be yours.

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Kim MacPherson

Kim MacPherson is President and Founder of Inbox Interactive, a full-service email marketing agency specializing in promotional copywriting, HTML design, planning, and deployment/tracking solutions. Kim is also the author of "Permission-Based E-mail Marketing That Works!"

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