Writing Internet Direct Mail That Works

As we rapidly gain experience and test results from Internet direct mail, we are learning more every day about what works in this new medium. Here are some techniques that seem to be successful in increasing click-throughs and conversions:

* Short statements that tease the reader, similar to “fascinations” in printed direct mail — e.g., “What never to eat on an airplane” — work well as subject lines in Internet direct mail. Example: “Advice from Bill Gates” is better than “Bill Gates on Innovation.”

* As with printed direct mail, offers that contain a bribe — a discount, gift, free shipping and handling — are extremely effective.

* Free money is a powerful offer, and given the dynamics of online buying and the lifetime value of an Internet customer, it often can be profitable. Example: One marketer told potential registrants that one respondent who signed up on the Web site during a specified period would win $500 in cash.

* When you have a strong offer, put it in the subject line and the lead of your e-mail. Do not bury it in the text.

* Do not make the offer exclusive to the recipient as sometimes done in traditional direct mail. Encourage the recipient to forward the e-mail and the offer to friends and colleagues.

* People on opt-in e-lists overwhelmingly prefer to respond to Internet direct mail online vs. calling a toll-free number or printing out a reply form that has to be faxed or mailed offline. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t offer those other response options, but you should always have a link to a Web-based response form embedded in your e-mail message. Example: A software marketer decided to offer an upgraded version on only CD-ROM with no option to download from its Web site. When the marketer sent direct mail with this offer, many recipients went to their Web site and downloaded the old version — that’s how strong their preference was to conduct the entire transaction online.

* Most people think of an e-mail marketing campaign as having only one part: the e-mail. But in reality, it has two parts: the e-mail plus the Web-based response form the recipient goes to when clicking on the link embedded in the message. The headline and copy at the top of the response page should carry the theme of the e-mail and motivate the reader to complete and submit the form.

* Long copy often works best in certain segments of the direct marketing industry, particularly in the marketing of newsletters, magazines and other information products. But initial testing seems to indicate that short copy works best in e-mail marketing. One solution is to use the e-mail to get the recipient to accept a free trial rather than pay for a subscription up front. A series of conversion e-mails then gives compelling reasons for the recipient to convert to a paid subscription. Another solution: Put more sell copy on the response form.

* One marketing manager makes this wise observation: People don’t hate Internet direct mail, but they are often bored, indifferent or annoyed by it. One way to overcome this is through personalization — adding customized information based on the prospect’s previous buying habits, preferences, Web surfing or other data.

* Always include an opt-out statement that makes it easy for recipients to prevent further promotional e-mails from being sent to them. Example: We respect your online time and privacy and pledge not to abuse this medium. If you prefer not to receive further e-mails from us of this type, please reply to this e-mail and type ‘Remove’ in the subject line. Most e-marketers put this at the end of the e-mail message; some place it at the top.

* When e-mailing to a house file, an ideal frequency seems to be twice a month. Make one of these e-mails an informative e-zine, a brief online newsletter. The other can be a special offer or promotion. Space them weeks apart. E-zines should be at least 80 percent news and useful information, with perhaps 20 percent of the content promotional.

* Before you begin e-mailing to your house file, send an e-mail notifying recipients of your intention and stating the benefits — e.g., they will get special discounts available only online. Tell them that if they would rather not get these e-mails, they can click on “reply” and type “unsubscribe” and then you will take them off the e-mail list. On subsequent e-mails to those who agree to be on the e-list, always include an opt-out statement. Never send any e-mail marketing messages without including an opt-out option.

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