A call for email détente: efficient marketing

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Rob Price, executive creative director and cofounder, Eleven
Rob Price, executive creative director and cofounder, Eleven

I'm angry, and I'm not alone. Almost every time I wind up on some company's database, I get punished for it — with email that insults my taste, shows no regard for my intelligence, and doesn't value my time. Since we're both in the email marketing business, let's agree to stop pummeling each other in the name of selling. Instead, follow these six tactics.

  • Be useful. Just because our shared agenda is to sell something, it doesn't mean our email needs to act like a used-car salesman. Let's tone down the rhetoric, and start to bring our customer useful helpful tips, ideas or how-tos. They'll actually look forward to the next email you send.

  • Design for skimming. Yes, some people will read reams of email copy. But most won't. That doesn't mean every email should squeeze all of its business above the fold, though. Long-form is fine, but keep each copy block brief and let subheads carry the story.

  • Hold their hand and never let go. We're not just asking people to read our little email. We're asking them to take a journey. It falls on the copywriter to make every new step in that journey feel connected to the last — from the email's line to its headline and call-to-action, then to the landing page headline and all the way through to a “thanks for your order” page. The entire journey should be written as a single narrative. That's how it'll be read.

  • Think small. Last year, 70 million of us accessed our email through a mobile device. And when we did, that HTML email designed for a big ol' PC screen was rendered clumsily and nearly unreadable. Yes, it's extra work to optimize each email blast for smartphones and tablets, but that's the new reality.

  • Pace yourself. Nobody wants to hear from our brands every week or so. Blast an email only when you have something truly newsworthy or useful to say (see No. 1). Make a messaging calendar, allow yourself only so many contacts in a year, and stick to it.

  • Above all, show a little respect. Not just for our customers — that's a given — but for our medium. Lots of prospects will spend more time engaged with your brand's email in a year than with its TV spots or banner ads. So never treat this medium as a second-class citizen. Craft matters in copy, design, typography and photography. There's a saying in my agency: “The world needs less noise and more music.” If we all just apply that to the business of email, we can make the inboxes of the world a better place.

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