Your Email Isn’t What You Think It Is

Your finger is poised on the “Send” button. You feel satisfied that your message is poised to accomplish its goal, but a voice from within asks, “Will we make any money from this?” To help answer that question, make sure you’re thinking of your emails not as letters, but as advertisements.

You send one of four message types in an email communication to your list: a message that drives action (buy now), a message that builds relationships (builds identity, or “brand”), a message that simply provides information, or a message that is sucked into the black hole of cyberspace (the “Deleted” folder).

We’ll ignore the last two because they don’t help your business results. Buy-now messages are immediate, direct response-type messages by nature, while build-identity messages are aimed at meeting deeper, more long-term goals. Don’t make me put on my flame-resistant suit, but I would argue that, whatever your main purpose, some emails can do both. Either way, what we are really trying to do is get people’s “share of mind.”

For us to maximize our efforts at capturing mind share, we should understand some physiological processes working in peoples’ brains. Short-term memory is electrical; long-term memory is chemical. Most of what we keep in electrical memory is lost during the night; sleep causes the information to fade.

We can only do three things to increase the transfer of our messages from electrical memory to chemical memory: increase the relevancy of the message, increase the frequency of its repetition, or both. Branding is accomplished only when you have a relevant message that is repeated with enough frequency to become stored in chemical memory.

You can now see why many e-commerce companies do not have award-winning newsletters. They seem to be focused on delivering short-term, buy-now messages. Even does it. The company delivers relevant messages, but notice how it hedges its bets, including an “add to wish list” option, knowing that people might not act immediately upon the delivery of the message.

If e-commerce companies wanted to be more successful, they could add long-term, brand-building messages into their mix. You can find a good example of a long-term branding newsletter at Thane. The company’s newsletter is devoid of pitches, and you can find only two links — one at the top, and one at the bottom. Both lead directly to the Thane site. The company provides high-value content, such as the following from its Weight Loss newsletter, which (hopefully) helps it establish itself as a high-value brand: Fat burning describes a form of energy supply by the body. Here free fatty acids (FFA), which are created during the breakdown of fat deposits, are “burned without flame,” i.e., oxidized. This process is, in comparison to energy extraction from glucose, quite complicated and cumbersome, but it sets free much more energy for the same amount of “fuel.” Fat burning takes place all over the body, all of the time. Fat reduction describes a long-lasting process of body weight reduction through the reduction of the body fat component. Fat reduction and fat burning have to initially be viewed as independent of each other. While fat burning takes place constantly and all over the body, a fat reduction will only take place if the body receives less energy than it needs over a longer period of time. In this relation we talk about a negative energy balance.

All of this reaches to the heart of the global advertising debate: reaching the right people versus saying the right thing. Some analytical marketing person once said, “The secret to more effective advertising is to reach the right people.” It sounded like it made sense then, and it sounds like it makes sense today. The only problem is that it isn’t true. Attempting to reach the right people has led to more mistakes, frustration, and failures than any other myth in the history of commerce.

Attempting to reach the right people usually leads to overtargeting and a false sense of confidence. It begins when the marketing person says, “I’ve got the right people.” Since you believe this is what matters most, you buy into what he is selling. When the campaign fails, you don’t consider the fact that your ad was not persuasive or that it was not given enough repetition. You simply say, “He didn’t have the right people after all.” You blame the radio station for having the wrong type of listener, the direct mail company for having a bad list, and the Web site for having the wrong traffic.

Business owners are frustrated with their advertising because they keep trying to make it a science. It’s not a science. Although there are many principles to follow, there are no written-in-stone, scientific rules. The assumption that any one advertising vehicle can provide you with exclusive access to, and attention from, a particular group of people is simply ridiculous. Every American is reached by multiple vehicles of advertising on a daily basis. Just think how many messages are deleted from your in box each day.

Having the right message is what matters. It’s not who you reach, it’s what you say. Are you spending most of your time and money trying to reach the right person, or are you focused on making sure you’re saying the right things?

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