Buff Enough for a Tough Economy? Ten E-mail Exercises

As I conduct corporate trainings and critique e-mail copy for major corporations, I see a growing tendency for marketers to let their e-mail creative get flabby and undisciplined. That won’t cut it in today’s tough economic environment.

So as a review of some of the topics we’ve covered this year, here’s a quick rundown of my best exercises for maximizing the performance of your e-mail creative.

  • Whittle down your subject lines to increase open rates. How short can you go? Challenge yourself to see if you can bring them down from 45 characters to 35, then 25, then to the optimal BlackBerry length of 15. The shorter your subject line, the higher your response rates. Try a head-to-head test and see.
  • Go beyond your first subject line idea. Most e-mail writers, exhausted from the effort of writing the e-mail copy itself, slap on the first subject line that comes to mind. Change up the process by starting with the subject line first and put all your effort there. Force yourself to write at least 15 to 20 variations of the subject line and put your mind through its paces. Don’t forget to frontload your subject lines with the keywords that resonate most with your readers. Here are some different approaches to try:
    • Thought-provoking
    • Top 10 issues
    • Quiz
    • Research statistic
    • Promotional
    • Urgent
    • Personal
    • Single word

  • Jumpstart your message. Put a personal note above your banner to get recipients reading immediately — either in their preview pane or when they open the e-mail.
  • Trim that banner and make it actionable. If your e-mail banner is hogging a large part of the initial screen, downsize it. There’s no rule that says a banner has to go completely across the top of your screen. If you shorten it horizontally to go halfway across, you could move a promotional message up. If you condense the banner vertically, you can add a Johnson box, which has been shown to increase e-mail response rates dramatically. And be sure to add a navigation bar with call-to-action links in your banner to turn it from passive letterhead into something that moves the sale along.
  • Work that sidebar. If you’re not using a sidebar yet to break up your copy, do so. Highlight your call to action there with a photo, headline, caption, and action button. Watch your response rates rise.
  • Give your photos and images a fighting chance with alt-text tags. Set up an e-mail copy template that demands alt-text tags for all images so you don’t forget to write them. Devote time to writing catchy alt-text tags that motivate your readers to display your images. Remember, if a picture is worth a thousand words and your picture is blocked, you’re not getting your best message across.
  • Pump up your intro. Weak opening paragraphs turn off your readers. Train yourself to create a powerful story, brand message, or benefit statement that ropes your readers in from the first sentence.
  • Go long. As I mentioned last time, long e-mail copy often performs better than short copy. Test it for yourself. You might be surprised how interested your readers are in what you have to say.
  • Break it up. To keep readers engaged, put your copy through its paces:
    • Introduce it: Never make the first paragraph more than a line and a half long.
    • Follow it up: The rest of the paragraphs should be no more than three sentences each. Intersperse longer paragraphs with short, snappy one-sentence paragraphs for emphasis.
    • Be bold: Use bolded type and underlining to guide the eye to your most important points.
    • Encourage the click: Every third paragraph should have an action link to your desired call to action.
    • Move it along: Bullet your copy to encourage rapid-fire reading.

  • Finish strong. Tests show that a higher percentage of readers click the action links at the end of the end of copy, so keep working your copy until the very end. Don’t forget to add a powerful P.S. for readers who jump to the end of the message.

How is your e-mail marketing responding to new economic realities? Share your strategies, successes, and case studies with Karen.

Today’s column originally ran on August 20, 2008.

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