Features That Click

I have a folder entitled “Cool Promos” in my email program. In it, I transfer some of the most interesting and/or compelling permission-based promotional emails that I receive.

Here’s the kicker, though: The marketing messages that do end up making it into this sacred space — the ones that I deem worthy — are few and far between. In fact, out of the 50 to 100 promotional emails that I receive each and every day, it’s rare that any make it into the folder even once per week.

Yes, I’m a harsh critic. In order for an email to “qualify” (in my book, anyway), it must include at least one of the following:

  • Visually arresting presentation. Granted, this is tough to accomplish with a plain text message, so I guess I am talking HTML. (Come to think of it, all of my “cool promos” are in this format. Just call me a sucker for color and graphics.) But not just any HTML message will make it. Few do, in fact. In other words, the color and graphics should not be in the promo solely for technology’s sake. They have to be justified, either by the offer or the intended audience. And the layout, color, and design have to be brilliant. Or nearly so. It’s not an easy feat, to be sure.

  • Unique offer. No matter what the ultimate sales pitch is for — whether it’s content, products, services, or giveaways — a good portion of what makes a message special lies in its initial offer. And in how that offer is presented. The best offers I’ve seen out there truly hone in on the core desires of the target audience, meaning that the advertisers know their markets intimately, as well as what makes them tick and respond. So the offer is spun in such a unique and compelling way that it hits that audience dead on. This is what we all strive for, of course, and part of what makes an offer “unique” is that you don’t see it very often. Another tough nut to crack.
  • Technological wizardry. Well, perhaps “wizardry” is a little over the top, but you know what I mean. Some messages just pop because of the dynamic rich media and/or personalization technologies behind them. Of course, these types of features are mainly geared for customer database communications. After all, a prospecting email that addresses a complete stranger by name, rank, and serial number can be a little disconcerting to the recipient. However, a cross-sell or up-sell offer to an existing customer that utilizes transactional and demographic information (as long as it’s not too overt) can be seen as tremendously valuable. Once again — not personalization for the sake of personalization: Be sure to make it RELEVANT to those recipients as well.

So what are some examples of promotional messages that are tucked away in my “Cool Promos” folder?

One of the top on my list comes from Nordstrom. Each and every week, these delightful little gems grace my inbox. They are graphically rich, yet quick and easy to download. And despite the debacle last week with Nordstrom’s house-list overlay emailing, I AM a Nordstrom customer — both on and offline — and I look forward to these emails. They are examples of true HTML design brilliance.

Send.com also produces outstanding promotions — that is, WHEN I get them. They don’t come very often, which I believe is part of their value. The last set I received was for Father’s Day. The offer was solid — great products and specials, etc. — but the emails were positioned in such a way that they “reminded” me three times during the two weeks prior to Father’s Day. And each subsequent message became increasingly more urgent in tone. That tone was carried through from the subject line through the body of the entire email. This was a great example of an offer that increased the sales momentum from the first to the very last email. Interesting stuff.

Another standout (even though its stock is quickly sinking) comes from Stamps.com. In its personalized rich media promotion from last summer, both the audio and video addressed me by name, and it made a dynamic and colorful presentation. This type of messaging is sure to be the wave of the future, especially as bandwidths grow and the technology becomes even more robust.

No matter what your own criteria is for greatness, you may want to think about starting a “Cool Promos” folder of your own, in case you haven’t already. It’s true that you can learn volumes from others’ successes AND their failures.

Yes, I do have a “Poor Promos” folder as well. But we won’t go there. Not THIS time, anyway.

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