Get Your E-Mail in Shape for 2003

No, we’re not talking about clearing out the 6,000 emails clogging your inbox in an effort to unclutter and simplify your life.

Today’s column is about firming up and adding more power to your email messages for greater profitability in 2003. So flex your fingers over your keyboard and get ready to give your brain a workout.

Tighten up Those Subject Lines

The generally accepted rule in email marketing is subject lines should not be over 45 characters long (five or six words). You can go longer if you like, but that won’t guarantee your message header will be legible in everyone’s inbox. Here are some tips:

  • Leverage the sender line to your advantage. Instead of a fictitious name or “blind” mailbox, use this area to highlight your company’s brand — whether the company’s actual name, an acronym, or the name of your publication. At this point in email’s life cycle, the novelty has worn off. People want to buy from companies they know and trust. By using your brand in the sender field, you don’t need to put in the subject line, freeing up valuable space for your message.

  • Our subject line reduction exercise:
    1. First, exercise your gray matter and come up with a list of 20 different subject lines that focus on your key benefit.

    2. Edit the list down to the top 10. For each, highlight the first 45 characters in bold type. That helps you to see how well they work in their shortest form. Sometimes, it hurts to cut so close to the bone. You can lose a lot of the clever stuff. What usually remains is the real information the reader cares most about.
    3. Finally, get rigorous and slash all unnecessary words, punctuation, and spaces. Think like a newspaper reporter: Abbreviate long words and cut extraneous articles (“the,” “an,” and “a”).

Turbocharge Your Text

Take a fresh look at the little extras you’ve been adding to email over the past year to see if you can strengthen them:

  • Check what shows above the preview line. Not everyone uses preview, but it still makes sense to power-pack e-messages with all main benefits and key takeaways in the first three lines. You know you can’t expect anyone to read an entire email, so make sure your call to action, offer, and key links are up top.

  • Encourage forwarding messages. Don’t leave it at “Please forward to a colleague.” Tell your recipient why she should bother and exactly who she should send the message to:
    • Give a reason for forwarding:

    • Highlight the offer deadline, if there is one.
    • Explain how the product or service enhances productivity (or another benefit) if it’s purchased by multiple users. Offer a group discount.
    • Offer a “referral” incentive, such as an online gift card or discount.

  • Direct the forwarding message to your ideal audience:

  • Provide a “distribution list” of job titles to which your message should be forwarded (e.g., marketing manager, account executive, production supervisor).
  • If the purchase must be signed off by the reader’s supervisor, recommend the message be forwarded now to streamline the approval process.
  • Be sure to mention the message should be forwarded to colleagues outside the recipient’s company. If the recipient is loyal to your product or brand, you might suggest she send on your message with an added personal note.
  • Use “running copy” to encourage reading. Place a vertical panel of copy next to your main message. It could contain a top-10 list of reasons to buy today. It guides more interested prospects to keep reading your message.
  • Cut the fat out of the “unsubscribe” message. Replace it with a button. The less legalese and fine print, the better.

Here’s a trick for cutting time out of the internal approval processes for copy. If you’re like a lot of business-to-business (B2B) marketers, you may find traditional letter formats work better than ads. But a letter usually requires a top executive’s personal signature (in the form of a graphic). This usually means copy will be scrutinized more closely, which could make you miss the email broadcast date. In such cases, keep the letter format but lose the signature line. It won’t be missed.

For 2003, we’re looking to interview marketing directors and managers about innovative email techniques, success stories — and, yes, even your horror stories of failed email campaigns. Feel free to email us.

Don’t forget to vote for your favorite marketing technology solutions!

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