Action Speaks Louder Than Words

As a direct mail writer, I was trained to always first write the order card, or call to action. Working with the final objective in mind keeps copy focused and succinct. That’s even more important in the real-time world of online marketing.

You can see that action-oriented philosophy at work in a series of e-mail messages written to customers. As senior marketing director, Carolyn Campbell, says, “People only scan your e-mail for a split second. I always want to make sure the message is clear and that the action items are upfront. Nobody has time to read four paragraphs justifying the premise behind the product. If they’ve clicked on your e-mail, it’s likely that they already recognize the need for what you have to offer.”

She uses this short and sweet approach to produce a series of owner-activation e-mail messages. When a customer signs on to, he’s the owner of his conference call codes. It only takes an hour to go from purchasing the service to actually using it, but the company finds most owners need a little extra education and training along the way to fully take advantage of all the features.

Rather than pile all the information into one long message, the company sends a series of short e-mail messages at approximately four-week intervals that educate and up-sell the customer:

  • The welcome letter sets the tone for the e-mail series. What I like about it, and the others in the campaign, is that each bullet point ends with a link to an action item. There’s no unnecessary copy, yet the tone is friendly and helpful. In the sidebar, owners can find all their account information, a plus for those already overwhelmed by too many passwords and access codes.

  • In the week four e-mail, the company checks in to see “if you’re getting the service you deserve” — to make sure the account rep has contacted the customer, to introduce the Rewards program, and to offer to extend the service to other users.
  • In the week 8 e-mail, the reader learns about a “fun program we have here,” the company’s referral program. That’s a fresh way to position a common feature, especially since it directs readers to an intriguing link called “Free Stuff and Promos.”

The results? A 15 percent increase in conference calling activation rates for new owners, which Campbell feels is extremely successful. The individual e-mail messages generate open rates of 45 to 50 percent.

Here’s another interesting insight: as many customers begin their relationships with the company through its Web site instead of with sales representatives, they embrace e-mail as the preferred method of interaction. Sales representatives are free for more focused efforts where personal attention can be leveraged in the most profitable manner.

Four years ago, started small, sending just a couple thousand e-mail messages a month with the help of its long-time e-mail provider, VerticalResponse. Today, it broadcasts over 100,000 messages monthly.

Campbell reports, “When we first started working with VerticalResponse, I was also just starting out in e-mail and didn’t want to make a big commitment to it until we knew it would be successful. We had no idea then how amazingly effective it would be. Over the years, as our needs have evolved to require more features like customization and trackability, I’ve brought our challenges to VerticalResponse. They’ve always worked with us to accomplish whatever we need — and then rolled the improvements out to the rest of their customer base.”

That leads to a final insight: Though you want your e-mail to be short, you want to think long term about your relationship with your e-mail provider. Make sure it can respond to your evolving needs.

Want more e-mail marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Reference is an archive of all our e-mail columns, organized by topic.

Karen is off this week. Today’s column ran earlier on ClickZ.

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