Many marketers are looking to maximize response to Internet direct mail when upselling buyers, keeping in touch with customers or generating new leads. Here's a guide to what's been working lately in e-mail campaign formats, copywriting, reply mechanisms and response tracking.
Picking a medium. Most people think of e-mail as plain text messages, and the majority of the 3.4 trillion e-mail messages in 1998 were certainly sent in this format. Straight text is the simplest, most popular and easiest e-mail format. But it doesn't take advantage of the graphic and interactive capabilities of the Internet. That's why you might want to consider two other formats: enhanced graphics and visual mail.
With enhanced graphics e-mail, HTML is used to add color, fonts, different type sizes, drawings, photos and other visuals to the e-mail message. You can send an e-mail that looks more like a designed Web or catalog page than a memo or letter. This is ideal for catalog marketers and others selling tangible goods.
Also, there are multimedia products available that go a step further, adding motion and interactivity to the e-mail. Graphics, animation, video and audio are incorporated into a self-contained file that is sent as an attachment to an e-mail or a link to a Web page.
With interactivity, you can create dynamic presentations that have much more impact than traditional static e-mail. For instance, if you are marketing a consulting service, your visual mail — when opened by the recipient — could show a short scene of two executives discussing the problem your service can help solve.
Be warned though, people generally don't like to waste time downloading large files. But some multimedia packages like Visual-Mail feature proprietary compression programs that enable presentations to be “shrunk” to a manageable file size typically 200K or less.
Choosing a format and structuring the message. Contrary to the popular misconception that people don't read anymore, real prospects with a genuine interest in your offer want product information and will read “long” copy, even on the Internet. Yet people are busier than ever, so your e-mail should use the following structure:
At the beginning of the e-mail, put a “FROM” line and a “SUBJECT” line. The e-mail “from” line identifies you as the sender if you're e-mailing to your house file. If you're e-mailing to a rented list, the “from” line should identify the list owner as the sender. This shows the recipient that the e-mail is not spam, but rather a communication from someone with whom they already have an established relationship. The subject line should be constructed like a short attention-grabbing, curiosity-arousing outer envelope teaser, compelling recipients to read further — without being so blatantly promotional it turns them off.
In the first paragraph, state the offer and provide an immediate response mechanism, such as clicking on a link connected to a Web page. As in all response marketing, the easier you make it for prospects to respond, the greater the responses rates.
After the first paragraph, present expanded copy that covers the features, benefits, proof and other information the buyer needs to make a decision. This appeals to the prospect who needs more details than a short paragraph can provide. Choose a style that fits your audience and your content. In some e-mails, this body of information is presented as a series of short paragraphs separated by lines or asterisks. Others present it as a continuous long letter.
Another successful format is the e-zine (Internet magazine), in which the e-mail resembles a short newsletter containing multiple items. Each short section covers one product or service. Each section has a link to a page on your Web site providing more information on that product.
Response options and measurement. Every e-mail campaign should contain multiple response options for both Internet and non-Internet replies. Internet response options can include clicking on a link embedded in the text that sends the recipient to your Web site, or clicking on an e-mail addresses the recipient can use to send you an immediate reply. These can be your general addresses, but even better is a unique Web or e-mail address. This makes responses easier to track, and a unique URL has the added benefit of bringing the prospect to a Web page designed specifically for handling inquiries for the specific offer advertising in the e-mail campaign.
The most common non-Internet reply mechanism is a toll-free number. This can be your general toll-free number, but a special 800 number specifically for Internet response makes results easier to track. To maximize responses, include a special offer in your Internet e-mail, such as a bonus gift, free shipping or discount. Even better, make clear the offer is available only to customers and prospects receiving this special e-mail promotion.
With these reply mechanisms in place, you can get a good sense of the response your e-mail campaign is generating. One common measure is click-throughs the number of people who clicked on a URL embedded in the e-mail message.
Many click-throughs bring the prospect to a Web page presenting more information and encouraging further response, such as completing a registration form, downloading a file, or placing an order. Measuring how many click-throughs go to this higher level of response gives an even clearer sense of whether your e-campaign is working.
With the low cost of e-campaigns compared to conventional direct mail, you can mail and test more, and more easily. Do so. The options for designing and writing e-campaigns are becoming clearly defined, but what works best is not yet well known. Test offers, messages, formats, response mechanisms, lists and list segments. Keep track of the results and you will gradually discover what your prospects and customers respond to in e-mail marketing giving you an edge in future success.
Michelle Feit is president of e-Postdirect Inc., New York, an affiliate of list company Edith Roman Associates. Her e-mail address is [email protected]