Email marketing gets real
"What is spam?" is a pertinent question when it comes to contemporary digital marketing. Email marketing – broadcasting eDM and eNewsletters to thousands of customer inboxes - is still one of the most effective channels for getting your business out there. With increasingly tight marketing budgets, email marketing is experiencing a sudden resurgence (thanks to how inexpensive it is); so, it’s a good time to stop and look at where the craft of creating a quality eDM and eNewsletter is, in the current consumer climate.
Like anything else, cultural shifts dictate what works and what doesn’t (or what consumers are responding to, and not responding to). As digital life has evolved, we’ve developed a defined set of ideas on digital phenomenon that we were, not too long ago, somewhat naïve to. In the beginning, eDM was so effective, mostly because people could not discriminate between what was a real email and what was an advertisement – they approached an eDM in the same way they opened a friend’s email. Those days are gone!
Now, we understand that the nature of emailing is a division between personal and commercial – how the term "spam" became collectively used to refer to the commercial content. Not too surprisingly, people weren’t too impressed to find their personal emails invaded by advertisers, and the word, "spam", is loaded with negativity for this reason. We hate spam. So, when approaching your email marketing campaign, the fundamental goal to your creative process is to come across as something else. But how do you do that? You’re an ad, aren’t you? How can you seem anything other than an ad?
You do that with content that adopts techniques designed to create the personal touch, not a commercial one. Yes, you’re an ad, and sure, I’m not suggesting that you’re going to fool anyone into thinking you’re anything else. But it’s not that people hate being communicated to by businesses – they simply hate having their personal space (and that’s what an email inbox is) invaded by blatant hard-sell. Most eDM has nothing really to say – it’s "BUY! QUICK! NOW! CLICK HERE! COME GIVE US SOME MONEY!" They mostly rely on click-through – placing the info at the website waiting for them – without realising that without doing enough, and doing it the right way, there will be no arousal of interest that will lead to that click-through. It’s like walking into a café and approaching someone who is sitting there having a relaxing chat with their friends, only to put a megaphone in their ear and demand they get up and follow you to your store. It’s a decidedly unpleasant experience that will – somewhat logically – yield little.
What you need to do is sit down on that metaphoric lounge and offer them some information that actually has some – gosh - substance. You need to exhibit an engaging personality; most of all, you need to give them an experience that treats them like an actual human being instead of a robot who may or may not click the appropriate button, if you hammer them hard enough. Not only will they respond to you, but they’ll begin to spare you from the automatic filtering system many people now approach their inbox with. I have a few companies who email me with quality marketing material, and I always make sure I open those emails – I do so, because I now have an expectation that they may offer me something worthwhile. But if I recognise you as what I call a "spammer"? Here’s my trashcan… hope you enjoy your brief stay.
Understand your medium!
For any channel or medium of communications, what you have to understand is that communication is greatly affected by context. We have different rules – and a different mindset - in different modes of communicating. How you say what you’re saying must accommodate this.
Emails are not a visual medium!
Got that? Because it’s the biggest mistake that has come out of contemporary digital marketing, as far as I’m concerned. What do people predominantly log in to their email to do? Read. Granted, a few years ago, email culture started to incorporate an additional element – mainly thanks to the phenomenon of mass funny photo sending, etc – but social media has now stolen that away, and people have returned to using email systems for traditional communication.
Don’t be afraid of copy!
The mistake many have made is that, in trying to respond to the perceived problem of there being too many eDMs in any one inbox (meeting a public who are increasingly frustrated with losing their precious time engaging them), marketers have tried to make the engagement-length of their eDM’s as short as possible. This was bad news for copy! They may take up half the time to read – but what do they say? What can you say with a couple of images, and "punchy" lines, and calls to action based on what little emotion an image and a punchy line can conjure?! Not much, when you’re communicating to a human being who has just deliberately made the time to sit down and be communicated to with the written word.
In the copy, you can inject your persona – you can create the effect of a personal email – even if you’re clearly an ad. What is generally deemed an "eNewsletter" understands this better - but there's far too distinct a line between the concept of an eNewsletter and straight-out eDM. Blur the two. And don’t be too stiff or fake with your copy - be casual, be relaxed… try to sound more like a human being than a voice-over on a quick-sell TV commercial. Don’t be afraid to approach your eDM using a dash of conventional email formula – perhaps, greet your customers at the top of your eDM, or even wish them well at the end. If you can get your email material across as successfully humanised, the recipients will see the communication as being with a PERSON, not an inanimate ADVERTISEMENT trying to steal their money. There will be a rapport, a sense of connection, that means they will come to choose your future material from their inbox, as if a friend has emailed them to let them know what they’re up to.
This is not to say that graphics have no place in any eDM. Particularly, if you’re introducing a new product, you’re going to want a graphic of that product. But introduce it – literally! And let the simple image speak for itself – don’t flood the space with image upon image; it will increasingly de-personalise the email, and you’ll come closer and closer to being declared as "spam". Remember, nobody ever refers to the communication of another human being as "spam". The minute your email looks like it has leaped out of any old magazine ad placement, you’re betraying the potential of the medium.
Businesses should be cultivating actual relationships with their customers – effective marketing is about creating this psychological dynamic – but its all talk, so long as businesses refuse to use marketing channels for the opportunities they present to create a personalised association to a brand. It’s the current opportunity in social media, but it’s still often ignored in the realm of email marketing. But, if you’re smart, and you’re looking for ways to achieve high cut-through and brand awareness with large amounts of consumers at a nominal cost (and, let’s face it, you are!), email remains one of the best channels of the digital era. What do people listen to the most? Other people.
How human is your eDM?