Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Direct e-mail: Lessons from the slush pile

It wasn't that long ago that permission-based e-mail marketing became all the rage. But now, after a few years of responding to free offers, book bonuses, and the like, I get a billion jillion e-mails from people. And you probably do too.

Like many people, I sign up with a specific e-mail address reserved for this kind of stuff. I check it every couple of months or so, open a few of them, and do a mass delete for the rest. And it fascinates me to see which ones I do and don't open out of the hundreds that are waiting for me.

Let's start with the ones I never open:

False urgency: If you use capital letters, exclamation points, or time limits, I will never ever click your message. For exactly the same reason I don't hang out with people who shout in my ear. Messages like "Rich, will I see you TODAY?" and "You HAVE to check this offer out" all go through the trap door immediately.

False intimacy: I realize you have my name. I gave it to you when I signed up for your list. But that doesn't mean splattering it all over your subject lines is going to impress me. "Rich, get my e-mail about tomorrow?" "What's your plan for 2011, Rich?" Look, we haven't even met, and here you go asking me all these personal questions.

It is even worse, of course, when you use the name from my credit card order. The only time I am ever called "Richard" is when my wife is mad at me about something.

Guessing games: I really don't have time to play "ha-ha, made you look!" So if you have cute e-mail titles like "Read this fast, Rich" (there you go with the "Rich" again ...) or "I'm totally convinced," you have to get in line behind a few hundred other e-mails that are willing to tell me what they are talking about.

Now let's look at the lucky few e-mails I do open:

You offer me something of value: One e-mail I did open had a subject line of "Want to meet Zig Ziglar?" Yes, I would. He is a legend, and being in his 80s, who knows how much longer he'll be working the speaking circuit. The workshop was too far away and too expensive for me, but at least I did click through a couple of levels to explore it. You offered me something cool and very specific, and I checked it out.

I like you: For example, I recently connected with a fellow speaker on Facebook named Al Borowski, based in my former hometown of Pittsburgh. I really liked his schtick, and his messages are pretty high-content, so I'm happy to see what new things he has to say in his e-mails.

You have a track record: My good friend and colleague Carolyn Healey, publisher of customer support industry portal site SupportIndustry.com, has an incredible radar for high-content articles on trends in the industry. Her content helps my business, so I have always read her weekly newsletter cover to cover (and still do). That's why her stuff gets delivered to my personal e-mail, not my "slush" e-mail.

It is tougher than ever to get your message through in today's ultra-high-bandwidth environment. To sum up what works for me: Offer value. Be likeable. Be genuine. Be specific. Amp down the urgency. And please don't call me Richard.

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