Get on the Executive Radar Screen, Part 2

Our last column was about positioning your conference to immediately telegraph itself as a must-attend event for executives by leveraging its past reputation, playing up the current year’s theme, and extending an offer to encourage early registration.

Let’s get to the nuts and bolts of writing and formatting a winning save-the-date email.

The Subject Line Is Everything

You have only one line of copy to get a busy executive to click and read the rest of your message. Obviously, then, the majority of your creative effort should be focused on coming up with the most effective teaser. Some approaches to consider are:

  • Announcement teaser. For some well-known conferences, just the name and date will suffice. A save-the-date email’s primary objective is to get the prospect to pencil in the date on her calendar — not necessarily to respond (though early registrations are always welcome!).

  • “Marquee name” teaser. If you have a well-known keynote speaker this early in the promotion cycle, promote the heck out of that name. Keynote speakers and content are the main draws to any conference, besides networking opportunities. If you don’t have a keynote yet, think of creative ways to promote past speakers. We wrote a save-the-date letter highlighting the names of past speakers and got a very strong response.
  • Timely teaser. This approach works when you can tie the conference into current news, by either highlighting new opportunities or using fear as a motivator.
  • Special-offer teaser. If your offer is appealing, highlight it in the subject line. Be sure to include a deadline to encourage fast action.

Caution: Although they are sometimes very effective, we caution against using really “blind” teasers to trick people into opening email. These often work against the real objective of business-to-business (B2B) email, which is to form relationships and build credibility.

The Good Old Johnson Box Goes Electronic

If you come to email from direct mail, you know a Johnson Box (named after its inventor) can really lift response. Basically, it’s a box of copy at the top of a letter that stands out from the rest of the text and usually highlights the offer or the brand’s unique selling proposition.

In email, the Johnson Box serves an even more important function. Since many people scan the first few lines of their messages using auto-preview, the Johnson Box encapsulates the main message. For long emails, your reader may only read as far as the first screen. The Johnson Box showcases all the major information.

For a conference promotion, the Johnson Box will typically feature an enticing headline or lead-in, conference title, date, location, and call-to-action copy, including a link to the registration page or conference Web site. If prospects read nothing else, they got the core information.

The Beginning of Your Email: Personalize, Personalize, Personalize

The more you personalize your message, starting with the salutation, the more effective it will be.

Whenever possible, version email based on information you have about your prospects. Are they past attendees, clients, subscribers, people who have expressed interest in the past? You can create slightly differently messages for each group.

When writing the copy, we like to start with past attendees. It’s easiest to conjure up the experience of the event by drawing on memorable moments. Then when you write to new prospects, you can play up those experiences by saying, “As your colleagues who have attended past events will tell you….”

What’s the Hook?

The first paragraph should be your most intriguing and no longer than two lines. If it’s of interest, they’ll continue reading. If not, sayonara. They’re on to the next email in the inbox.

Make sure that first sentence is “you” oriented. It should offer a solution (or at least, empathy) to a challenge the prospect is currently experiencing. Or, it can be an invitation to be included in an exclusive gathering of peers. A new way to profit from an emerging opportunity. What it should never be about is the event itself. Save that for paragraph two — where the title and dates of the event are repeated.

Then, launch into bullet points of the net takeaways — tangible benefits to the prospect as a result of attending.

Once that’s covered, it’s call-to-action time. Repeat the offer, hammer home the deadline, and tie closing copy into the lead-in copy in a way that feels complete.

You’re Not Done Yet! How to Lift Response

After reviewing, think of add-ons that will attract the reader’s eye. If he doesn’t read the whole letter, he may still gain a favorable impression and respond. Some add-ons are:

  • Message forward. Ask your reader to forward the message to colleagues. You can add a “Who Should Attend” list of appropriate job titles.

  • Top 10 reasons to attend. Create this as a vertical column. You’ll get the reader to keep scrolling down the page.
  • Conference highlights. Create an editorial panel featuring a top speaker, topic, or testimonial that conveys the event’s value.
  • Links. Add links to your conference Web site with downloadable brochure, session descriptions, registration page, relevant articles, and so on.
  • P.S. A direct mail standard, a postscript is also effective in email. Hammer home that message one last time!

That’s it. Once the save-the-date email is out the door, you can move on to other email in your promotion stream. With each effort, you’ll convey new information and pick up new registrations.

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