Six Steps to Easier E-mail

At a recent e-mail forum, a group of moms made it clear that e-mail must be fast, easy, and useful for them to continue using it as a communication and marketing channel.

For these mothers, e-mail is one more chore they have to take care of in addition to family, housekeeping, outside jobs, and so on. Relevance and targeting mean nothing if your e-mail makes the chore more onerous. The faster they can deal with their daily load of commercial e-mail, and the more useful the content in them is, the more valuable e-mail will be in their lives.

On the other hand, if you waste their time with vague subject lines and content that doesn’t spell out your promotion’s costs and benefits, you’ll quickly become history. Remember that women in general, and moms in particular, are the family purchasing agents. Don’t disrespect them with messages that waste their time, even if they gave you permission to e-mail them.

The following six steps will help you make your e-mail program more mom-friendly. The payoff? You’ll make your e-mail easier to use for all your readers, even those who aren’t time-pressed mothers.

Make the Open-or-Delete Decision Easy

Can your e-mail answer these questions in two seconds or less?

  • Who is the e-mail from?

  • What’s in it for me?
  • What do you want me to do?

Actions: Write clear, not cutesy, subject lines. State the value proposition there, and build on it in the snippet/pre-header text (the first line of text in your message).

State All the Details in the E-Mail

Moms (and other shoppers) want to know prices and final costs up front, both the discount and the amount of money saved, not just the percentage off. Some said they were frustrated to find out how expensive shipping was after clicking on the offer and going all the way through the checkout process. That builds distrust in your future messages.

Actions: List conditions, such as eligible products, minimum purchase requirements, eligible payment channels (credit cards, debit cards, PayPal, etc.), and whether the promotion uses a rebate or immediate discount. Provide shipping cost estimates upfront, if possible. Remember, “free shipping” means more than cost savings, it means I don’t have to spend the time to drive to the store and purchase. And be sure to send your messages in plain or HTML text, so readers can see them on a mobile phone or with images off.

Make the Deal Easy to Close

It’s bad enough that supermarkets force shoppers (moms and others) to the far corner to get the gallon of milk or loaf of bread they need. Don’t make them do it on your site, too. Help them with easy site navigation and payment processes.

Actions: Spell out in the e-mail if the promotion uses a rebate instead of a discount and how to redeem the rebate. Link directly to the promotion landing page instead of your home page. Test the link before sending to be sure it works.

Be Clear About Frequency and Volume, and Stick to Your Promises

Moms on the panel said they suffer from e-mail bombardment. They are interested in your promotions and are willing to sign up for them, but they often don’t know how much e-mail to expect. They don’t have time to organize or wade through a crowded inbox, so they turn to Mother’s Little Helper: the “delete” button.

Actions: State clearly on the sign-up page, in the message itself, and in the newsletter name how often you send e-mail. Provide options to lower (or even raise) frequency. Offer options for customizing subscriptions, which can also affect frequency.

Encourage Sharing E-Mail With Social Networks

Mothers are champion networkers. Friends’ referrals give compelling reasons to check out or even purchase a product, the panel moms said. However, sharing with a social network (where you have one person referring to 50 or 100) is more powerful than forwarding to a friend (1 to 1 or 1 to 10, maybe).

Actions: Add functionality that lets users click a link to post your e-mail on their social networks. Always include your subscription information to take advantage of this expanded audience. If an offer is only for the original recipient, state that clearly in the e-mail.

Make Subscribing and Unsubscribing as Simple as Possible

Some panel moms also said they use the “delete” button on permission e-mail as well as spam, while others appeared uncertain about how to stop or reduce unwanted e-mail. Unclear, complicated, or missing instructions might be at fault here.

Actions: The easy subscribe is a long-standing best practice: Use a Web form, minimize the number of clicks and required information at the start, and send a confirmation request immediately.

CAN-SPAM mandates an easy unsubscribe for U.S. commercial e-mailers, but not clear instructions to support it. So, review your unsubscribe process, both where you place it and how you word it in your e-mail, and the procedure you use on your site to implement it. Don’t require a password to access subscriber information or a confirmation to implement the unsubscribe. Use a Web form rather than an e-mail message, unless the user can generate it automatically in her e-mail client and click to send.

As usual, mother knows best. Until next time, keep on deliverin’!

Today’s column originally ran on Decmeber 17, 2008.

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