What E-Mail Marketers Can Learn From Banner Ads

A long time ago (last century, to be exact), banners flourished on the Web. People saw them and clicked. The banner worked. Then, the great banner deluge began. An overabundance of banners caused a downward spiral in CTRs and conversions.

The banner still exists, in different incarnations. It still works, and it’s even regaining popularity. Still, some sites stack up banners like pancakes at IHOP. It’s as if publishers, desperate for banner revenue, have their own fraternity: Phi Kramma Banner.

E-mail, too, once flourished. People weren’t receiving so much email back then. They opened email and read it, they clicked on the links. E-mail worked. Then, the spam floodgates opened. Thanks to an overabundance of email, today email marketers are headed down the same slippery slope as marketers who used banners.

Banners and email are now pretty much in the same boat. Both are recovering. Recovery notwithstanding, getting consumers to respond to both is getting tougher. The commonality can be summed up in one word: clutter.

This is exacerbated with more online ad spend. Banner ad and email marketing, like just about every other form of advertising, must cut through the clutter and engage people long enough for them to hear the marketing message.

On TV, advertisers must make that connection in the first 12 seconds. In direct mail, the connection depends on the envelope message. In a print ad, the time it takes to read a headline is the only chance. So banners and email must face the same hurdles, right?

Yes, but with a significant difference. When users surf the Web or read email, their hands are literally on the trigger: the mouse. Their fingers are poised to jump to a different Web page or delete the email with a click.

It comes down to time. You’ve got very little time to make an impression and get the email recipient to read the message. Successful banner creators learned many lessons over the years about dealing with very little space and making every word count. Many of these lessons can be applied to email:

  • Few words. Craft a headline that gets your point across fast. The only way to achieve this is to cut the number of words you use; 6 to 10 is a good rule of thumb.

  • Simple words. Replace complicated words not everyone knows with simpler words everyone understands.
  • Short words. Long words take time to read. For almost every long word, there’s a short one that’s just as effective.
  • Big type. Make it easy to read your headline. Basic stuff, but I see too many small headlines that force people to spend extra time just trying to read them.
  • Dramatic graphics. A picture is worth a thousand words, so find graphics that enhance the headline and instantly convey your message.
  • Benefit-oriented copy. Features and specifications go in the body copy and supporting bullets. People want to know what’s in it for them. Tell them quickly, or your email is history.
  • Call-to-action buttons. If you want customers to click to a landing page, use “click here” at exactly the point where it’s optimal to click.
  • One or two fonts. Multiple fonts make reading harder and don’t add anything to the message.

Above all, create a compelling, benefit-laden value proposition or offer. Even if you follow all the suggestions above exactly, your email will fail without a great offer. You’re competing with thousands of ads every day. In the end, the ads with the best offers, supported by smart presentations, almost always win.

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