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Why Email Works (And When it Doesn’t)

“Advertising is salesmanship mass produced. No one would bother to use advertising if he could talk to all his prospects face-to-face. But he can’t.” -Morris Hite

Morris Hite is in the Advertising Hall of Fame. He coined the word “slacks” and helped bring Elsie the Cow to life for Borden Dairies. He was a genius in the world of advertising who unfortunately passed away about fifteen years before the explosion of the Internet and email.

Not that he would have changed his thoughts above if he had lived during the digital age, but he might have looked at it differently.

That is the one true advantage of email. You get to speak directly to the people who most want to hear what you have to say. It is like bringing all of your best customers into one room for a brief presentation, but without the hassle of finding a room, without the hassle of meeting everyone’s varied and busy schedules, without having to pay for catering and getting an audio/visual person to handle sound and lights, without having to perform live with no edit button.

With email you can write it, edit it, proof it, and make sure it is exactly what you want to say before you hit send. It goes out to all your fans and friends who get to read it when it best suits them. And it is cheap, too. You can get an email service for a fraction of the cost of more traditional methods of advertising.

What’s the downside?

There are two downsides to email.

First, since sending out unsolicited emails is spam and turns people off, to do email well, you can only send your email to people who opt-in to being on your email list. In other words, you can only use email to advertise to your existing fan base. Unless you can convince people to share the email with their friends, you’re simply preaching to the choir.

Second, it takes time to build up a solid email list that bears fruit. Like any form of advertising, you’re playing a numbers game. How many people does the media reach? What fraction of those people actually see, hear, or read my ad? What fraction of that fraction takes action?

Image result for emailAccording to MailChimp, one of the email service providers, the open rate for a typical email ranges from 15-25%. So even if you have a good list of people who love you, three-fourths of the people on your list still don’t care enough about you to even open your email. Only a fraction that do will take action.

If you have a good list, though, it is still the most efficient, cost-effective way to advertise to your customer base and get that repeat business.

Here are my answers to some common questions about email marketing.

How often should I send out an email?

Some experts tell you to send them out daily, once-a-week, twice-a-week, or some other calendar-based number. They have data and stats to prove whatever number they are preaching is the most effective. My belief is that the optimal number is different for every business.

How often should you send out an email? As often as you have new, compelling content to share. If you don’t have anything new to say, don’t bore me with the details. The first time I click on your email with no compelling content will likely be the last time I click on your email.

(Note: the more often you have new content, the better. If you can do three emails a week, you are getting the frequency to keep you top-of-mind. Plus, you are sending a clear message to everyone on your list—including those that don’t open—that you are a hot, hip, new, current, growing business.)

Does the Subject Line really matter?

Absolutely! In fact, it is critical to your open rate. I was never good at writing subject lines. The best one I ever used was, “Toy House is Closing.” You need a subject line that compels people to want to read more. It can’t just be a tease, though. Many of your subscribers will only have time to read the subject line, so make sure there is enough info there to tell your customers what to do next.

Yes, click-bait is acceptable with one HUGE disclaimer … The first time I click on your email and the content doesn’t match the hype of the subject line will be the last time I click on your email.

One other tip is to make sure your subject line is searchable. If someone saw your email, didn’t open it right away, and planned to go back to it later, make sure there is something in the subject line that makes it easy for them to find it. I get about 100 emails a day. It doesn’t take long for emails to get buried in my inbox.

Do I have to offer a coupon or discount with each email?

No! In fact, I wouldn’t ever offer a coupon or discount in your email, otherwise you train your customer base to wait for the next email coupon or discount before they go shopping.

There are plenty of other ways to get people to read your email. Famed author and retail consultant Rick Segal always included a joke at the bottom of his emails. He said that way he knew everyone would read to the bottom. You can (and should) include pictures, stories of customers (and staff) using your products, success stories from your customers, interesting and obscure facts about your products, details about upcoming events, and/or fun, shareworthy information.

Although email should only be sent to people who have opted in to receive your blasts, you can reach some of their friends if you include content people want to share (and ask them to share it.)

How can I grow my email list?

Have sign-ups at the cash register. Have a computer on a display in the middle of the store that only goes to one page—your sign-up page on your website. Ask. Every. Single. Customer. Have a drawing each email for a gift card and announce the winner at the bottom of each email. (I know some stores that upped their open-rate big-time with this tactic.) 

Is long or short copy better?

Yes! Interesting, compelling copy that tells a story, makes only one point, speaks to the heart, and speaks to your tribe is always good copy, regardless of the length. People will read long email posts if the content is worthwhile. Fortunately for you, there is no extra charge for longer copy. Just remember the Make Only One Point principle for effective advertising. Unless you are a fantastic writer, the more you try to say, the less people will read.

How do I find time to write all those emails?

You can hire people to write your emails. Even if they are a contract worker, you need to interview them like you would any member of your staff. Ask for references and samples of work.

You can empower your staff. There might just be someone already on your team who has the chops for creating powerful content.

You can ask your vendors for content. Some of them already have created great content that just needs to be edited with your own spin.

As with most everything in life, there is usually a trade-off between time and money. Email won’t cost you as much of the latter, but you’ll have to spend a little more of the former.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS This is a series of posts to help you understand the upsides and downsides of the more common advertising media. Follow these links for my take on Television, Radio, Billboards, Newsprint, and Magazines.

PPS I know you probably have other questions regarding email. Either send me an email or comment on this blog and I’ll do my best to find you the answer.