Writing Email That Works – Part 1

This article is long overdue.

Email is such a powerful tool in your business online, and it can be used in a multitude of ways.

You can use email to sell products and services to opt-in lists. You can use it to up-sell and cross-sell to your own customers — with their permission. You can use it to confirm orders. You can use it to say Welcome or Good Bye.

You can use it to apologize, to announce and to drive people to your web site. You can use it for newsletters and discussion groups.

Email allows you to touch your customer — one on one.

In fact, whatever the hype you hear – email is the only place where you are truly alone, one on one, with a single person.

You’re in their space, in their home, at their desk. You have their undivided attention.

That moment when they see the subject line of your message is the Holy Grail of electronic marketing. It’s a cozy moment when there’s just the two of you.

So what are you going to do?

I know what I’m going to do. I’m going to respect the moment. I’m going to respect the fact that I’m in their space and they have complete control of our time together.

That means I’m not going to start pushing.

I’m not going to tell them they have to reply right now. I’m not going to try to rush them with the offer of a lifetime.

I’m going to recognize that I’m in their space and I’m going to present what I want to say in a respectful, intelligent manner.

Let me give you a bit of an example.

I won’t give you the specifics, because this involves work I’m doing for a client right now. But here’s the general approach: We sent out an email to an opt-in list. Recognizing that we are not clairvoyant, we produced two versions, so we could test one against the other.

Version one was the longer of the two. It started off with a traditional salutation, as if it were a letter. It ended with a traditional sign off – yours truly, etc. And it had the pace and feel of a letter.

Version two was about half the length, without looking like a letter and opened and closed with a FREE gift offer with a cutoff date. It was quicker, faster and cut to the chase with an attractive offer included.

I honestly didn’t know which one would win, but I would have chosen number two if pressed for an answer.

The result?

The first version won on responses by a factor of over 400 percent. If that doesn’t blow your socks off, it should. The difference there is extraordinary. And in the offline world, I’m pretty sure that the shorter, punchier version with the free gift offer would have won.

But everything is different online.

It’s different because much of our perception of the email medium has been formed by Spam. Spam has made us very sensitive to the nature of the messages we receive.

We are also more sensitive about email because we are so close to the mechanism of response. Let me explain that.

If I receive some offline junk mail at home, and if I open it at all, I may read it while eating breakfast, or sitting out on the deck – or anywhere else in my home. For me, the reader, I am separated from the mechanism of response by several steps. If I want to reply, I may have to get up, find a pen, complete a coupon, find an envelope, lick a stamp and take it to the mailbox. I have plenty of opportunities to back out or just plain old get distracted from the task at hand.

When I receive email that invites me to click here for more info, I’m just one small click away from a moment of commitment. I’m much more vulnerable. Two or three clicks in all and I could buy something.

Do you see what I mean? If your reader feels vulnerable because he or she is so close to the mechanism of response, then you need to respect that.

So here’s my advice. Whatever the purpose of your email communication, write in a manner that is respectful. Write in a way that shows you recognize that you’re in their space. Pull, don’t push. Show, don’t demand.

As I said at the beginning of this article, it’s long overdue. I should have written about email copy before. And as I write this I see that I have touched on a number of issues, several of which deserve more attention. So next week I think I’ll write part two of this and see where it takes us.

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