The Most Important Question E-Mail Marketers Need to Answer

If you’re using email to sell anything to anybody, there’s one question you’d better be able to answer — and answer correctly — or most of your marketing efforts will be for naught.

That’s right, one correctly answered question almost always makes the difference between success and failure in email marketing. Whether you’re selling a consumer product or a business service or offering a free email newsletter subscription, getting the right answer to this question is your number one task.

Sadly, judging by the messages I receive in a typical day’s pile of email, a lot of people not only aren’t answering this critical question, but many don’t even know what it is.

Before I reveal the critical question, let’s imagine what’s in the mind of someone on the receiving end of one of your email marketing messages (putting aside the fact your message may be one of dozens or even hundreds that person receives each day). For the purpose of this discussion, let’s take a Marketing 101 perspective.

First, let’s talk about what people don’t care about:

  • They don’t care about your company, where it’s located, how long it’s been in business or who founded it. And unless your logo provides instant recognition, that doesn’t matter either.

  • They couldn’t care less about who runs the company, whether it’s a subsidiary, or what the stock price is.
  • They really don’t care if the product you’re selling is “new and improved” or “Version 8.2.0.1” or “has 20 percent more” of any ingredient.

OK, so what do they care about? The answer to that can be expressed in a question — the question I mentioned above: “What’s in it for me?”

That’s right, five simple words.

People want to understand clearly and quickly how your product is going to benefit them. In marketing terms, they want to know the key product benefits, they want compelling reasons to believe the promise being made, and they want information about the most valuable features.

In short, they want to know how your product or service will:

  • Improve their lives

  • Make them richer
  • Lead to better health, a longer life
  • Help them be more successful
  • Save them money
  • Help them have good relationships
  • Protect them from bad things

If you can’t answer “What’s in it for me?” then you will have a problem developing and designing an email campaign that works effectively. True, it’s sometimes harder to apply this exercise to one product/service versus another, but if you can’t answer this question, no one is going to buy.

To apply this concept to real-world offerings, here are some examples of why people click and buy:

  • They buy more memory for their computers so they can run important software or fun games that won’t work well without the extra memory. (They don’t just want to brag they have it.)

  • They buy courses on making money to fulfill their dreams of vacations, cars, houses, and so on. (It’s not because they look like fun.)
  • They purchase the latest vacuum cleaners because keeping their houses clean will be easier or faster. (It’s not about all the gizmos it has.)
  • They purchase insurance to protect against a future disaster. (It’s not because it has an immediate value.)

Take a moment and think about advertising you’ve seen for these and other products. Don’t the most memorable ads quickly zero in on the real benefit to the consumer and always answer the question, “What’s in it for me?” Of course they do.

With email becoming increasingly harder to employ effectively, now is a good time to review your messages and make sure they answer that critical question. In most cases, talking about the features of your product is not going to motivate consumers to buy, but presenting a strong value proposition that explains how the features of your product will benefit them will work.

This sounds simple, but I see so many emails that miss the target. For example, though it’s easiest to write, “Buy the whizmotron vacuum cleaner because it has the same space-age technology NASA uses,” the much better approach is to write, “Buy the whizmotron vacuum because you can clean your house in half the time.”

Or consider this: Selling cosmetics at a discount isn’t as motivating a message as saying you could buy an entire wardrobe with the money you save on these cosmetics.

Clearly, answering this key question is the basis for creating a compelling consumer offer. Sometimes it takes time to come up with the right answer to the question — I constantly improve the success of my email ads by continually doodling headlines that present the value proposition in a powerful, provocative way. Time and again, I’ve turned ads that produced $0.40 CPMs into ads that produced $4 CPMs. Keep reading.

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