The B2B E-Mail Checklist

It’s been a year since we started writing for ClickZ, and it’s been an illuminating experience. Not only have we shared some our best, field-tested tactics with you, but you’ve shared yours with us as well. We thought it would be useful to synthesize them all into a handy checklist you can use on your next email assignment.

1. Craft a Creative Brief.

Start with a standard creative brief, then customize it to capitalize on email’s unique capabilities (see “Seven Questions for an E-Mail-Specific Brief“). Remember to include a review of past email and other creative efforts (including response rates) to build on successes and avoid nonproductive approaches.

2. Have a Kick-Off Meeting.

Have a kick-off meeting to discuss the creative brief. Attendees: the copywriter, the designer, the marketing team, and especially the ultimate decision-maker who will sign off on the final creative. Tape-record the session. It’s a great way to uncover valuable nuggets of information.

3. Maximize Creative Opportunity in E-Mail.

When you write the email, maximize the creative opportunity of each real estate area:

  • Sender field: The recipient must recognize the sender line. Usually, company name or brand is your best shot.

  • Subject line: Make the first 45 characters or so count. Ask yourself, “What will make a reader immediately open this message?” Rewrite the subject line at least 10 to 20 different ways to come up with the best approach. Test subject lines.
  • “AutoPreview” content: Include a Johnson box at the top of the message (where your reader will see it first) to call out the best benefit. Never assume anyone will read below the fold.
  • Sidebar: Consider adding a sidebar to provide readers with a number of ways to read the message on the first screen.
  • Forward message: Include a “tell a friend” link. Better yet, provide a short distribution list of types of people who would benefit from your message (e.g., by job title).
  • Offer: Make it prominent, actionable, and appealing. Typical business-to-business (B2B) offers include white papers, discounts, gift cards, and PDAs. “Fast 50” offers, where the first 50 people who respond get an incentive, are particularly appealing. Offering books by best-selling business authors, particularly if they’re autographed, works well with C-level execs. Because people are becoming jaded with the usual offers, consider increasing your offer’s value by creating an incentive package: a discount, a CD, and an interactive demo, for example.
  • Copy: Make it personal, urgent, and easy to read. Short sentences and bullet points enhance readability. Write copy as if you were writing directly to a friend or colleague, with a “you” attitude. Craft intriguing leads that hook readers immediately. Usually in B2B, a compelling piece of research does the trick, provided it applies to the reader’s day-to-day business challenges.
  • Format:
    • Letters work very well in B2B. Consider them a first option if you’re trying to sell a high-ticket item that needs lots of explanation. You can also forward letters a second time with a note, saying, “Wondered if you got the original message…” It’s a cost-effective way to increase response, sometimes substantially.

    • Ads and short copy work generally work best for lead-generation or selling an actual product (one that can be viewed in a photo online).
    • A newsletter is the choice for building your list and staying in continual contact with prospects.
    • Interview formats capture readers’ interest. People always want to hear what colleagues and business leaders have to say.
    • Branded templates keep creative development costs reasonable, but be certain to refresh them from time to time.

  • Personalization: Research shows five or six personal data points can double response. Make personalization relevant and credible. Businesspeople respond best to a professional tone and approach.

  • Web site links: Make the call-to-action link prominent, not only on top of the message, but in several additional places in the email as well. Don’t go overboard with extraneous links to useful articles and so forth. You want readers to take your desired action, not distract them by sending them off-page to do something else. They may not come back!
  • Landing pages: Make them quick and to the point. If you want prospects to fill out a form, keep it brief. Try to prepopulate it with information you already have about that prospect to streamline completion.
  • Unsubscribe message: Make this a button, not a long, unwieldy message. Customize the unsubscribe landing page. For example, association members may want to unsubscribe from product offer email but continue to receive important public affairs information.
  • P.S.: This Old Faithful still works (for those who read to the bottom of the message). It can highlight the call to action or add an urgent reminder.

Now that you’ve got a long list of rules, remember to break them! Breaking through the clutter means constantly coming up with new approaches.

Back-to-school season is fast approaching. We want to learn from your case studies! Send them to Karen. We’ve gotten a flurry of great new ones we’ll feature in future columns, so stay tuned.

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