An article by Scott Clark

It is the era of Permission-based marketing. Powerful and dangerous, a list of customer email addresses can be like having extra cash burning a hole in a wallet… you sure would like to spend it. But how should you? It’s a topic I’m asked about almost every day. The answer is “carefully.” This is about balancing the immediacy of the medium with the sensitivity of the method. It’s about trust, relationships, and the very expression of your business’ voice, and its future.

Before any broadcast email is constructed, there should be thoughtful consideration towards value, intent, context and emotion of the message. Do you have a great reason to send this message? Consider your message in context of the estimated 3000 other marketing messages for an average day. Why open it? What action do you want them to take? How will you measure success?

Badly conceived marketing emails are worse than ignored, they make a withdrawal from your “trust account” with that customer. Even with sophisticated email marketing software, the statistics do not tell you how the recipient felt when the message arrived. A 2% unsubscribe rate is not a 98% success rate if half just deleted the message with a scowl. So, what makes a good email newsletter? This varies based on a thousand variables only you know about. You must in the first few seconds talk to them about topics that are on their mind. If you take the common, lazy road of sending another selfish re-wording of your mission statement or a ho-hum 10% off coupon, you’re using 1% response methods in a 30% world and become invisible.

One good thought experiment is the “print out” or “forward” tests. Would you print the thing out or put your signature on a forwarded copy? Take a look at the oft-clipped news magazine Bottom Line Persona for examples of hyper-successful mini-content.

The quality of connection is based not only on the relevance of content, but the ease of consumption. Even if never stated, the public doesn’t want to hear another “in order to improve quality and customer satisfaction we are undertaking a new initiative with the support of our highly qualified blah blah blah blah…”

Imagine your message is like the water in bottles handed to marathon runners. “Here is what you need, good luck in the race.” Consumed with the strain of their endeavors, you can’t expect much attention, but a positive micro-experience just happened, and your name was on it.

Where should you concentrate efforts? It may surprise you that the subject line is the most valuable real estate in the message. Frequently this is wasted on uselessness such as “Newsletter 3/10/06” or “This week’s happenings.” By using such subjects, you make a bad assumption: that people can’t wait for your message to arrive. You must assume they plan to delete it. The subject is all you have until they open the note.

Graphics in your messages should be well placed and supportive. So many newsletters’ graphics have a desperate “I can’t believe I figured out this software” look to them. It takes some practice to do this well. Graphics should support, not dominate, your message. Remember, you have about seven seconds to earn or lose their attention.

Every message must have a partner page on your website – a landing page – to receive the clicks from your message. These pages continue the story, moving the client closer to purchase or inquiry. No major visual differences, just a fluid transition from email to web. These are important clicks and you should give them a VIP pass to the most relevant content on your site. Sending people to your home page and telling them “you’re on your own, kid” is something we need to get away from.

Of course, only send to those who want it, and watch their patterns. First, you must comply with CAN-SPAM laws, which are more common sense than anything, but it pays to go a step further (Google CAN-SPAM to learn more.) If your messages go unopened by a recipient more than twice according to your software, pull them off the list yourself, or better yet, send them a personal email (or call) asking if they’d like to be taken off. If so, then thank them and send confirmation – no pressure, just consideration for their time and feedback. You’ll earn their respect and often some valuable insight.

With a subject that caught my eye, quickly digestible content that solves a problem I’m facing right now, and a simple-to-use mechanism to learn more if I need it, I will stay on your email list indefinitely. I give you permission and over time, I begin to trust your voice and look forward to the next time I hear it. You’ve closed the loop of trust with a customer.

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