Lifting Response to E-Newsletter Ads

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E-mail response rates are down. Privacy concerns are up. These are just two reasons why technology companies are tripping over one another to place ads in e-mail newsletters.


A simple, well-crafted ad in a high-profile newsletter lands on thousands of desktops and enables hi-tech marketers to deliver a targeted message that's much more likely to get opened and read than broadcast e-mail, even the type sent to opt-in lists.


The challenge: You have 50 to 75 words to make your case and entice your reader to follow through on the call-to-action. Follow these simple guidelines and get a crowd-pleasing response every time:


I feel your pain. Identify the "pain" upfront so your target audience knows exactly what you're talking about. If the problem is slow Internet speed, then pinpoint common frustrations with sluggish Web performance. Note: The pain isn't "lack of Brand A" (your product). Unless you're Oracle or Charles Schwab, you'll capture the audience more effectively by speaking to their problem, not by touting the benefits of a product or service they've never heard of.


I feel your pain (reprise). Often, the specs for a particular newsletter are so limiting (sometimes 40 characters or fewer) that there isn't time to introduce the "pain." In this case, you'll need to imply the pain through a benefit statement. For instance, "Now you can save hundreds of dollars each week on overnight shipping - and get your documents read the same day" implies the expense and delays involved in traditional shipping services.


Great vocabulary, but what does it mean? Newsletter ads are not the place to be subtle or show off your mastery of verbal gymnastics. People reading their e-mail are usually in a hurry. If it's not instantly clear what problem you're helping them solve, they won't respond. Instead of techno-speak like "supply chain communications processes" and "Java-powered interactivity," talk about fundamental, easily understood benefits like saving money, eliminating bottlenecks and increasing revenues.


Include an offer. If you don't have something of perceived value to give away, then you've got some work to do. People want something for nothing, so offer them specific and tangible information, like a white paper or a case study or a CD-ROM demo. Better still, package your offer as an information kit and give it a compelling name, like "The Busy Executive's Guide to IT Recruiting."


Sell the offer, not the product. Unless you're promoting something that can be charged on a credit card, you're not selling the product; you're trying to get leads. By focusing on what readers will learn or be able to achieve by responding (not buying), you're inviting your audience to take a safe step, a step they feel good about, with no pressure and little commitment. I recently responded to an e-mail to check out a new Internet magazine. Why? They "sold" me a free trial issue, not a subscription.


Cement the offer with a crystal-clear call-to-action. Whether your call-to-action is a toll-free number, a link to a Web response page, or both, give your reader precise instructions on how to respond. For example, "To request your free kit, call 1-800-123-4567 or go to www.acme.com/freekit." So much the better if your URL reinforces the free offer. Why risk scaring a potential respondent away with something as annoying as www.acme.com/ 1WD2JAJ=+ SJ4D?


Do a preflight check. Once you've drafted your newsletter ad, read it thoroughly and critically. Does it clearly, simply communicate an offer relevant to your audience? Have you told readers how to respond, and how they'll benefit? Is the focus on the reader's pain/opportunity and not on the wonders of your company or product? If the answer is yes, you've got a winner.


• Michael Pendleton is a copywriter at Connect Direct, Redwood City, CA. His e-mail address is michael@connectthe.com.
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