Direct Response Email 101

Having marketed hundreds of products and services via email, I’ve learned some lessons the hard way:

  1. People still, and always will, react to incredible bargains.
  2. “Free” is the greatest advertising word ever created.
  3. Too much reserve usually results in too little (or zero) response to email solicitations.

How do you make email work when your product or service doesn’t lend itself to a fantastic promotion, trial offer or liberal use of the word “free”? How do you get more people to open your email, read it and click on the links?

Package it as a fantastic promotion or free trial. Find a way to present your offer in a package that will grab their attention.

Good or bad, my experience has proven breaking through the mounting avalanche of email clutter requires pulling out all the stops and screaming “fire” in the crowded theater that is the consumer’s inbox.

Enough hyperbole. Let’s get down to the business at hand. Welcome to Direct Response Email 101.

Lesson One: Think out of the box
In an HTML promotion for an offshore casino, we deliberately added a fake scratch-off box. It was actually a link. Consumers scratched it anyway, which in turn caused 70 percent click-through, compared to 10 percent rates from earlier emails without the “scratch off.”

Lesson Two: Cut to the chase
State the proposition clearly, at the top of the message, in a promotional context. For a financial services company, instead of offering a membership program, we set a limit on how many members would be accepted the last 15 days of the month. What that did was create tremendous urgency — which translated into tremendous response.

Lesson Three: Develop an affinity sweepstakes
A computer sweepstakes not only drove response, for a B2B company selling business cards online, but also drove huge numbers that were successfully converted into buyers. Sweepstakes can be developed and implemented for under $5,000 (we’ll talk more about that in the future). The company had never tried sweepstakes. Prior messages focused on their product. The sweepstakes results blew away their other campaigns.

Lesson Four: Embrace premiums
Premiums work. They work extraordinarily well with email campaigns. The trick is to use one with a high perceived value. We once gave away four free airline tickets — before anyone else did that on the Web. It drove 10,000 enrollments for the client, a club. When the perceived value of a premium is high — even higher than the product itself — you have a winner.

Lesson Five: Shout the guarantee until you’re blue in the face.
Instead of saying, “if you’re not satisfied, return for a refund,” say, “We offer a 1,000 percent satisfaction guarantee. If for any reason…” or “If you’re are not completely delighted,” or, “if it doesn’t work 10 times better than we say it does, send it back. No questions asked. We’ll refund every penny of your purchase price.” Some marketers offer a double-your-money-back refunds, usually for products like ebooks and software that’s downloaded. These don’t incur shipping costs.

Follow tried and true rules of email direct marketing. Here are just a few:

  • Write the message in the first person singular (“I”).
  • State only the biggest features and benefits.
  • Speak in terms of needs and wants
  • Ask for the order! You’d be surprised how many emails leave the consumer to figure out what they’re supposed to do next.

Related reading

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