One to Many, Not One to One

Prevailing wisdom among nearly all direct marketers who write email copy is each email message should be aimed at a single person. It should be designed to motivate that person to action, and nothing more. I challenge the validity of that practice. Frankly, email can do much more.

First, a little background. As you know, email is a unique medium for numerous reasons. Like me, I’m sure you’ve forwarded email messages to friends, family, and business associates when they contained something of value. I’m not talking about jokes or cartoons, but important information.

Thinking back, I recall forwarding:

  • Several email messages from diet Web sites containing how-to information to people I knew wanted to lose weight

  • An offer from a hair restoration company to a couple of men I knew were frustrated about losing their hair
  • A particularly good deal from Omaha Steaks to people I knew who love steak

On numerous occasions, I’ve used the “send this article to a friend,” button on media sites to send important business-related articles to my colleagues.

The purpose of this exercise is to analyze why we do this with some email, and not others. Why did I forward Omaha Steaks’ free burger offer, and not the latest mortgage offer?

Every one of us can be an influencer with people we know. We offer advice in areas in which we’re knowledgeable and accept advice in areas in which we’re less well-informed. E-mail offers us, as marketers, an incredible opportunity to encourage people to influence their networks.

To encourage people to influence others, email must be written in such a way the receiver feels compelled to pass it along to people he knows.

Think viral. Yes, the “v” word. When it works, it works fantastically. In most cases, it doesn’t work. True, there are examples of email messages, initially sent to a small list, that in a matter of weeks were forwarded to millions. Instead of dreaming about that scenario, start with the basics.

As I see it, creating email with a good shot at becoming viral has two components:

  • The offer itself must be compelling. The better the offer, the more people will pass it along. Omaha Steaks’ offer is a great example:

    • 16 gourmet burgers for $19.99 (regularly $39.00)

    • Six free burgers as a bonus
    • Free six-piece cutlery set
    • Free cutting board
    • Free three-piece scissors set

    Wow, this offer has one of the most important elements that caused me (and probably tens of thousands of others) to pass it on: value. The better the offer and the greater it’s value, the more it will be forwarded.

  • People must be encouraged to pass a message along. Don’t rely on them to think of this themselves. The most common method is to add copy that says, “Please pass this email on to a friend.” Why not elevate it to something like, “Now, your friends can get this same deal. Simply forward this email to them!”

Value alone doesn’t make email viral. It can also be exclusive information people aren’t likely to find elsewhere. Like many of you, I pass along investing tips and business ideas to people in my network. I’ve forwarded entire newsletters; cut and pasted bits and pieces from all sorts of email messages; and forwarded links to white papers and other important documents.

Aside from the obvious value of encouraging your email recipients to spread the word, a successful viral email messages has other advantages:

  • Forwarded email doesn’t cause spam problems.

  • It’s seldom blocked by ISPs.
  • There’s no cost to you, just pure revenue and profit.

Print all the email messages you pass along over the next couple of weeks. Get your key staff to do the same. Then, sit down and review them all. Examine what motivated you to forward each one. You’ll find it comes down to exceptional value and/or exclusive information. Use what you learned from this column and your own email review to implement a campaign that will make your email truly viral.

Once upon a time, “v” stood for victory. In today’s world, it’s viral. Keep reading… and be sure to pass this column along!

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

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