A Diamond in the Roughage

Billions of emails will be served in 2001 (a little like McDonald’s hamburgers: billions served but not one worth digesting). We all know most of it will be utter garbage — an invitation to make money, look at naked women, and get in on the ground floor of something that likely has only a basement.

Fortunately, you and I know better than to either open such emails or to send them. We are responsible folks with a long-term view on email marketing.

The trouble is, the more our emails become sandwiched between the garbage of other emails, the less likely our customers are to open them. We will be known by the company we keep. As inboxes the world over become more and more cluttered with spam, and the “spam lite” of opt-out emailers, the less people will look forward to checking their email.

And there goes the power and reputation of the greatest one-to-one marketing medium of all time.

The answer? You have to become a recognized and trusted voice among the garbage.

You have to stand out from the crowd, not with exclamation points and excessive use of adjectives, but with a clear and unmistakable voice.

Here’s an example of what I mean. One of my favorite commercial email voices belongs to The Motley Fool.

In the “From” line of an email I received from the site recently, it said “otto@fool.com.”

I have no idea if Otto exists, but he has a name that stands out from all the other emails I receive. Who could forget the name Otto? Even the shape of it jumps out at you.

The subject line of one of its new-customer welcome emails reads: “Your Subscription to The Motley Fool Direct.”

Great subject line. No puff and promises. Just a brief reminder that this email is in response to a subscription I requested. (Spammers will try the “Your subscription” or “Your request” trick, which is why it’s important to add the identifier, The Motley Fool Direct.)

The body of the email, in its entirety, reads:

    Dear Fool,

    Our records show you’ve subscribed to the following:

    Investing Basics
    Fool Books
    Personal Finance

    It will be one day before your first subscription arrives.

    If at any time you’d like to modify your selections, simply go to the link below:


    Fool on!

    Tom and David Gardner

I love that opening: “Dear Fool.” It’s cheaper and better than personalizing it with my own name, which they have. Saying “Dear Fool” includes me in a group of people interested in investment, yet separates me from all those serious, pompous folks at other retail investment sites.

Next, see how short the email is. Tom and David know my inbox is already cluttered, so they don’t waste more than a second of my time. It tells me what I need to know and not a word more. No marketing hype about how great and different they are. No syrupy, butt-kissing gibberish about how much they love and value me, blah, blah, blah.

And check this out: only one, very mild and necessary adjective within the entire email. How smart they are. They know that my brain craves text that is adjective-free. How pleasant and surprising to be given the facts that I want, without having to filter through the sales patter I’m so tired of.

I’ll even forgive them for signing the email “Tom and David Gardner” when I thought it was from Otto.

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