What Successful B2B E-Mail Messages Have in Common

As the year draws to a close, it’s a good time to review your best performing email messages and see what key gleanings you can apply going forward.

For this column, we’ve did our own email review. We also invited Carol Nelson, former group marketing director of Advanstar Communications, now president of New Hampshire-based Black Cat Marketing, to submit her winning email messages of 2003.

Here’s what we saw in this informal copy survey.

Successful Subject Lines

Subject lines that motivated readers to open, respond, and actually buy included those that:

  • Offer discounts and premiums. Free CD-ROMs of proprietary research do especially well. A “best customer” discount is also very effective.

  • Promise solutions to everyday challenges. Remember, people are sitting at their desks grappling with the very problems your product or service addresses. You’re talking to them when they’re most receptive to work-related solutions.
  • Highlight hot new industry topics. Most people want to know about the next new thing in their fields.
  • Tap into readers’ business concerns or present a new opportunity. When it comes to industry trends, no one wants to be left behind.
  • Invite readers to scan a top-10 list. People are always curious which issues, trends, or people will make the list (that’s why they’re a standard feature in print publications). They’re also a quick read.

Formats That Finish First

E-mail should be top-heavy, with all the main information “above the fold,” to instantly capture the reader’s attention. That doesn’t mean the email must be short. Support points can continue below the fold. They may be the details that clinch the sale.

Nelson looks for simple, clean designs. She reminds marketers to ensure the email carries the same graphics as the rest of the campaign for immediate brand recognition.

We’ve also seen letter formats work very well, providing they have:

  • Horizontal banners across the top to feature the brand, logo, and call to action

  • Vertical sidebars and “hot boxes” to break up copy and highlight key sales points

Compelling Copy Sells

Copy that produced the highest conversation rates (actual sales) took these approaches:

  • Convey urgency. Urgency can be communicated in many ways. Here’s how the top-performing email messages accomplished it:

    • State an offer deadline.

    • Demonstrate why the state of the industry demands action on the reader’s part to make a change or seize an opportunity.
    • Tie the product into relevant current events. This can make an established product seem new.

  • Include research to support claims. Outside research (or your own survey results) enhances credibility.

  • Sprinkle testimonials throughout copy. Your customers’ own words are your best sales copy. They can serve as “callouts” to make copy more readable and human. If you don’t have testimonials, write your own “quotes” that summarize what’s on your customers’ minds. Follow these with information about how your product addresses those concerns. When well done, this approach has almost the same effect as genuine testimonials.
  • Specifically describe how the product solves problems. Nelson worked on an email for the Sensors Expo that outlined actual questions the event would answer, including, “How do I monitor gas flow compressors with modulating control?” and “Is it possible to measure flow inside #2 diesel fuel from 30°F to 100°F?” This was much more effective than general copy that might have read, “Get the latest information on gas flow compressors and measuring flow.”
  • Include the company’s or brand’s claim to fame. Don’t assume people know how good you are. Spell out your unique selling position. This is especially important in email, as people usually only buy from trusted sources.
  • Show how the product saves money. It may not be the reason people open your email, but it can be the reason they buy from you. A recent email on cost-containment didn’t have the highest open rate of email messages in the campaign, but it did generate the most sales.
  • Use an interview format. Interviews with industry celebrities, visionaries, customers, or your senior managers can be intriguing. Keep questions and answers short, and don’t print interviews verbatim. Put the most compelling quotes up top to grab the reader’s attention.

Again, be sure to put your call to action prominently up front. Sprinkle links throughout the copy. Links should go directly to what you want readers to see, not to a generic home page.

For 2004, send your best-performing email messages to Karen to be featured in future columns.

Happy New Year!

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

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