Write Marketing Emails For Results

Learn the elements of an effective marketing message, and how to use them.

by Auctiva.com staff writer
- Sep 28, 2010

If you're ready to step up your marketing efforts, but the thought of utilizing Facebook and Twitter seems overwhelming or unappealing, consider good old e-mail. Even in the age of "social commerce," this tried-and-true medium is still the best solution for promoting your online business.

Writing e-mails that get the desired results takes some finesse, but once you get the hang of it, you'll have a valuable tool that will actually help you focus your overall marketing, whether you opt to use social sites or not. Here, we give you pointers to help you make your e-mails successful.

Why e-mail?

Researcher ExactTarget reports that 56 percent of consumers look for promotional offers in their e-mail inboxes, while only 28 percent go to sites like Facebook to find deals. The reason? People are simply more familiar with e-mail.

Here's more food for thought: About 93 percent of Americans subscribe to at least one "permission-based commercial e-mail," according to the report. That means people want to be marketed to. They want to get the best deals and e-mail is where they're most likely to look for them.

Your challenge in marketing your business by e-mail is three-pronged:

  • Entice the recipient to open your e-mail
  • Persuade them with your message
  • Get them to take action
  • Now, let's back up for a moment. What exactly does "permission based" mean? This is a term used in the marketing world to say your e-mail is not unwelcomed, meaning, in a legal sense at least, it's not spam. That's because the recipient has consented in some way to receive your e-mail promotions. Perhaps they checked an opt-in box on your site, signed up to receive your e-mail newsletter or even made a purchase from you in the past. That's right—you can, and probably should, e-mail market to anyone who has ever bought something from you.

    You've been saving all your buyers' e-mail addresses, right? If you haven't, please start now. An easy way to do this in Auctiva is under the Sales tab open CSV Reports, click the Transactions heading, select Buyer (Email), set your date range and download your report. Transaction records are kept for up to 90 days, so be sure to download this data periodically. This is the best way to start building your e-mail marketing list.

    A good subject line is so compelling that the reader can't help but open the e-mail

    Get their attention

    So you want to promote something—say, a site redesign, an end-of-season sale or a new product line. Now you've got to make sure your audience knows about it. But with the average consumer receiving more than 44 promotional e-mails daily, according to ExactTarget, it can be tough to get their attention.

    That's where the subject line comes into play. A good subject line is so compelling that the reader can't help but open the e-mail. But don't be dishonest to be provocative. You should always deliver what you promise, or you'll quickly lose credibility.

    According to IdeaMarketers.com, subject lines should summarize the content of the e-mail. At the same time, they should be short and concise. Don Alexander, an IdeaMarketers.com contributing writer, suggests "tickling the curiosity of your recipient." Do this by using specific words or phrases, posing a question or even giving a command (i.e., "Act now to receive this limited-time deal").

    Getting personal can also pique their interest, notes Nancy Schwartz of Getting Attention. "Use 'you' in the subject line [as in] 'Your gift can change this family's life,'" she writes.

    It's a good idea to write the body of the e-mail first, Schwartz further suggests. This way, you can identify the most compelling element and use that to craft your subject line.

    Your subject line drew them in. Don't lose them by making them work for the payoff

    What's your point?

    The content of your e-mail is just as important as a catchy subject line. But keep in mind you don't need to write a dissertation. You just need to be persuasive (or informative, depending on your intent). The most effective marketing e-mails are short and sweet, just the facts—delivered in an irresistible way.

    Think about the promotional e-mails you've received that induced you to open and then click through to the offer. More than likely, they contained very little text. But the few words they did contain were highly persuasive because they a) got right to the point and b) told you what to do.

    We'll discuss point b in a moment. First, it's important to decide what you want to say and then say it. Keep in mind the axiom "less is more." Leave out the fluff and filler—your subject line drew them in. Don't lose them by making them work for the payoff.

    Major catalog retailers are masters at creating concise, yet effective, e-mail campaigns. For example, JCPenney, Ann Taylor LOFT and Pottery Barn all feature e-mail ads that are heavy on graphics and minimal in text.

    E-mails don't have to be full of graphics to be effective. The point is to make your point quickly and clearly. It could be as simple as a big red box with the words "10% off your next purchase at MyStore.com." Or skip the box, and just use a large font type.

    Whatever your message, express it in short, easily digestible sentences. Use bullet points or bold headings, if necessary, to make it easier for readers to scan. It's also a good idea to include a clickable logo that links to your main site or the promotion page, as well as a brief sentence to describe any conditions of the offer.

    Don't forget to include "alt" text. Many e-mail clients automatically disable images until the reader enables them. If graphics are an integral part of your e-mail, be sure your alt text reiterates the key point, in case images are turned off.

    If there's no sense of urgency to the message, your reader may soon forget about it

    Tell them what to do

    The most finely crafted promotional message will still be ineffective unless the reader knows how—or when—to take advantage of the offer. In a perfect world, providing a coupon and a link to your store would be clear enough, but if there's no sense of urgency to the message, your reader may decide to put it on the back burner, where it's soon forgotten.

    For this reason, every good marketing e-mail contains a call to action. This is a way to politely urge people to do what you want them to do, and do it now ("Act now," "Subscribe today," "Shop MyStore.com").

    According to About.com: Advertising, some effective techniques for getting customers to take action include expiration dates, free gifts, free accessories, no-risk trials and creating an air of exclusivity (e.g., preferred customers, not available in stores, etc.).

    It's also helpful to link your call to action directly to the promotion page. Again, if you decide to include a graphic, make sure your alt text reflects the offer, and is clickable, in case the recipient has images turned off.

    A few more details

    Before you send off your marketing e-mail, have at least one other person read it to ensure your message comes across as it's intended. Then send it to yourself at a few different e-mail clients to make sure the formatting is consistent, and to verify that it's not getting marked as spam.

    One way to reduce the chances your message will be automatically sent to the junk folder is to include an "opt-out" or "unsubscribe" option, and link the quoted words to your e-mail address or a page on your site where they can request removal from your list.

    Including this information not only helps convince the e-mail filters you're legitimate, it also gives recipients a way to decline your future offers without flagging you as a spammer.

    And why not include one more important call to action? Encourage recipients to add your "from address" to their safe-senders list to ensure your upcoming promotions will always land in their inbox.

    About the Author

    Auctiva staff writers constantly monitor trends and best practices of those selling on eBay and elsewhere online. They attend relevant training seminars and trade shows and regularly discuss the market with PowerSellers and other market experts.

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