E-mail ADD and the Power of Three

An interesting phenomenon is happening in e-mail these days: we’ve finally hit the point where e-mail volume in our personal and business lives has surpassed our ability to digest the content with any high level of comprehension. As e-mail marketers, we must be aware of this and master it.

According to JupiterResearch, the average person receives 41 e-mail messages a day. I’ll go out on a limb and say you probably receive three times that amount on a good day. E-mail recipients are now challenged with going through their messages as quickly as they can, whenever and wherever they can, just to keep up with the deluge.

Sadly, the effect of this e-mail barrage detracts from marketers’ ability to conduct a quality conversation with readers. This phenomenon is often referred to as e-mail ADD. My estimate is that for every three words you type, only one is read or retained. This is a scary reality for consumer marketing e-mail and even scarier in the business world.

In an increasingly digital world, e-mail ADD won’t get better. Gaining an understanding of the implications of e-mail ADD is only the starting point. Knowing how to work within constraints to define effective, successful messages is the only way to regain control of the conversation. You must also be aware of message equity, the level of trust your message receives. For example, equity is low if the message looks or feels like spam. People won’t respond to it or read future messages. If the equity is high, the perceived value of the communication is also high.

Here are three of the most common ways to fight this battle:

  • Do you leverage associated notes? If your e-mail recipients have no context for the message they’re reading, message equity is at risk. If you send Joe an e-mail with fresh content and no mental notes for him to refer to (reminders of prior conversations, links, etc.) and Joe scrolls through the e-mail on his BlackBerry while boarding a train to Washington, DC, your message equity has dropped to 33 percent or less. Conversely, if the message has associated notes (content call-outs, links, other information), you stand a much higher chance of having the message resonate and be responded to.
  • Define your long-term achievement necessities. If an e-mail doesn’t clearly and concisely state why the message will help achieve long-term goals and fulfill future needs (e.g., “get access when you need it,” “save this message for when you need xxx”), it runs a high risk of low comprehension. Creating language that’s clear and concise and conveys how readers will benefit in the long run will pay off 300 percent.
  • Do you leverage attention nodes? An attention node is some type of formatting in the e-mail that clearly grabs readers’ attention. In marketing messages, this is most commonly achieved with a callout box, action tag/button, or other imagery. In text for personal e-mail, attention nodes can be any creative use of spacing or character keys that help clearly drive where the attention needs to be placed. My favorites are an ellipsis (…) or three asterisks (***) to signify importance. I’ve learned I’m lucky if more than the attention node’s content is read.

Combine these three efforts and you’ll succeed. Our culture holds the number three in high regard.

In e-mail, three is also important. It’s the optimal number of times you should put a message in front of readers to maximize clicks. It’s also the number of e-mail messages new subscribers will read to determine if they’ll stay engaged with your brand’s e-mail program. And it’s the average number of e-mail subscriptions a reader opts in to for a given category.

Acknowledging that every e-mail, personal or business, needs to battle not only reputation, relevance, and delivery but also e-mail ADD, and understanding how to leverage the power of three to help you do that can move you three steps ahead in creating a most successful conversation.

I’d be remiss to end this column without giving a shout-out to the person who inspired me to write about the prevalence of this topic (and whose name is in this column three times). Thanks!

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

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