Write an Effective Email Offer

The MadPipe team interviewed our Digital Ecologist® Daniel DiGriz about e-mail offers, and culled 11 ways to write effective marketing e-mails.

Why do e-mail marketing at all?

If you neglect e-mail, you’re neglecting a large potential audience. It still has a wider distribution and higher open rates, especially for business, than any social media platform. It’s also the nature of the conversation that’s different.

Where’s the most obvious place marketing e-mails fall short?

It’s the actual pitch that usually falls short. Too many companies write a strong email but fail at the call to action – the CTA. If your CTA is weak, is written as a question, or starts the sentence with “if”, you’re wasting your time and theirs. Instead, we need to lead with strong verbs and make the statement imperative: “Achieve x,y,z by doing a,b,c.” Leave less room for the audience to talk themselves out of it.

What about the tone in marketing e-mails?

It’s abysmal sometimes. Businesses play coy or get academic or try to become news services, which is unrealistic and unnecessary. An authentic tone takes into account the actual relationship you have with an audience. You wouldn’t walk up to a stranger and say “I’ve got some insider secrets for you and your family.” It’s absurd. But even if e-mails are true to both brand and audience, they can still lack the punch needed to get a strong ‘hell yeah’ from the recipient. Part of that is just being authentic with the reader. People often go into a mode akin to composing a prayer when writing a marketing e-mail. They don’t sound like anyone we’d feel comfortable listening to. But it’s also that they’ve assumed the reader is reading at all and, so often that’s a premature assumption. The recipient may not have even opened it.

What can they do to ensure more people read an e-mail blast?

plant seeds, email offers, marketing

The subject line is the most important thing. Far more people see the subject line than the body of the e-mail, because they use that to determine if they’re going to open it. But if they have previews enabled, they might see the first headline and some of the first paragraph too. You want to think of a title that is catchy enough that even someone who has never heard of you will want to see what’s going on. And you want to make sure it’s not too long or it will get cut off.

Do you even need headlines in a marketing e-mail?

You need headlines and strong ones in most marketing e-mails. People don’t read anymore. They scan. You want to provide your audience with a roadmap to your email offer and make them want to dig deeper. No one reads a 500 word e-mail unless it’s a dear friend and you’re having an emotional crisis. Give someone a wall of text, and they just won’t climb over it to see what you’re offering. Strong headlines aren’t hard. Make them complete sentences, and you’re more likely to write stronger headlines. If you’re an online appointment service offering a calendar tool, then “Stop what you’re doing!” or “Your days are numbered.” are both stronger headlines than “A Few Thoughts About Calendars”.

Are there any style pointers for e-mail marketing?

Use bolded text to highlight primary points, but also use colors to pack a punch. Remember, if your brand primarily uses wintery tones, such as blue, black, white, and  grey, you need to warm up your main points with an occasional splash of rust or brown or even red. Don’t overdo it on hot colors, though, unless your brand is all about that; it screams out too much desperation. Think about it, you’re going in for an interview. You choose your best navy suit, but you also want to be noticed. You’re not going to choose a grey tie; you’ll choose a red or orange one to stand out. It’s the same thing with your email; your audience’s eye will instantly be drawn to warm tones.

What about images in marketing e-mails?

Visual design is an entire art form, which is why it’s often best left to professionals, or else you use a standard, tried and true template, and yes – then use images. Your header image is the most important. It’s going to determine if it looks like reading the e-mail will be a delightful experience or a homework assignment. But don’t sequester that image – too much space between a header and a headline looks like these considerations are afterthoughts. If you can overlay your image with text, and create a unique one each time, that’s often the way to go – treat it just like social media because, increasingly, that’s what e-mail is. In short, look at your email the way that your customer will – delight is everything. Will be delighted or will it feel like one of those canned holiday cards where you just signed your name?

What about the body of an e-mail blast?

Well, if – and it’s a big if – you’ve gotten your audience past the headlines, you need to answer one question: Why should I care? If I’m really them, and I can really get out of my own way as representative of the business and simply channel where they’re coming with, then why should I care? You might nail everything else, but you can lose your audience if you launch into a pitch without warming them up first. If you can answer the ‘why’ of your email, and let that why carry you, you’ll have your audience hooked. Give your audience a reason to care, and then give them your best offer.

Any special way of handling marketing e-mail responses?

Yes, many. You could get 1 of 3 possible responses. I might say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to an email pitch, but I might also say, ‘Yes, but not right now.’ I close the email and never think about it again, which ultimately makes my response a ‘no’ because eventually I’ve forgotten about the pitch. Pay attention to e-mail analytics – don’t send e-mail without them. And find a way to stay connected with this person – your audience member – regardless of his answer, and remind him of your presence routinely. Provide links to your Facebook, Twitter, events, networking groups, video channel… your assets depend on your overall marketing strategy which, hopefully, is well-defined. You could potentially convert a ‘maybe’ into a ‘yes’ just because of consistent cross-channel marketing.

How do you ensure the audience perceives the e-mail as valuable?

There’s more than one answer. One is draw out how the audience is smart. Flattery is pointless, because that means they have to take your opinion at face value. But you can make an audience feel smart by utterly simplifying normally challenging concepts. If you can explain quasars in 75 words with a memorable analogy, your audience feels smart reading it. If your email offer can make your audience feel like they’ve learned something, you have officially gone above and beyond your intended goal by adding value to their lives. You also have the bonus of being memorable, and probably keeping them on your list. We go back to the well that waters us. When you inform them with a little tidbit, you not only drive your pitch home, but you give your audience a chance to learn something new that they can talk about later – sharing it with others. How cool is that? Even the most valuable players in the world need a little coaching; these days learning is social, and that means we learn in conjunction with others. That’s an extraordinary opportunity.

Any overall advice on e-mail marketing?

The principle of email marketing is you can’t just give a pitch. Your email marketing should always add value to your customer’s lives, even if the goal is to earn money or make that final push to your donations goal. Deliver value in every interaction so that, even if they choose to say ‘no’ to your offer now, you’ll have earned the respect of a solid ‘no’ and you’ll gain even more when you get a ‘hell, yes.’

MadPipe provides marketing leadership and strategy for brands that want to grow their businesses. Reach out via the contact form and let’s get your business moving toward more customer engagement.

Daniel DiGriz

Daniel DiGriz is a corporate storyteller and Digital Ecologist® at MadPipe, which provides creative direction, marketing leadership, and campaign direction for firms that want a stronger connection with their audience. A Digital Ecologist® applies strategic principles from both natural and digital ecologies to help organizations thrive across multiple ecosystems. Daniel hosts podcasts, speaks at conferences, and his ideas have appeared in Inc, SmartBlog, MediaPost, Forbes, and Success Magazine.
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