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12 Common Mistakes in Email Marketing

Don't you simply adore these wonderful lists that spell out the potholes folks typically fall into when they set about accomplishing a task? I do. Especially when I'm about to embark on something as significant as an email campaign. A tidy collection of DON'Ts makes it hugely easier to catch yourself before you take an obvious misstep and tumble down some weird rabbit hole just like Alice. Except Alice landed in an interesting place and learned a few things.

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"What a wonderful site! You know how to put the powerful academic principles of marketing and sales into practical language. A great asset for getting past the current day hype in marketing."
Professor Allen Weiss
, Marketingprofs.com


I gotta tell you - when you fall into one of these holes, you don't wind up in a very interesting place (although you certainly can wind up learning from your mistakes, but who wants to waste that kind of time and money?). So how do you keep your head above ground? Just pay attention to these mistakes of email marketing, and you'll find yourself smiling like the Cheshire Cat!

Several years ago, my clever friend Roy Williams created a list of the 12 common mistakes advertisers make. With his permission, I've taken his sound ideas and recast them to apply to your email campaigns. Email marketing is, after all, a form of advertising. But it goes beyond conventional advertising, because it is also your princial pathway to building a long-lasting relationship with your customers. You really don't want to mess that up, do you?

I thought not. So let's look at these mistakes, one by one.

1. The desire for instant gratification

Launching an email campaign is like trying to push a car up a hill get your car rolling from a dead stop. You think you're going to manage it all in one push? Nope. It takes time to work up some momentum. And before you achieve a decent speed, you're gonna start wondering if you are even up to the task. Be patient!

Studies have proved the only variable that influences the success of any campaign is the power of your message. So make sure you are saying the right thing. "Uncover the story that is uniquely yours; focus your campaign; commit to your message."i And be prepared to give it time.

Once you get your momentum, it will be hard to stop it! Sure, along the way you're gonna have to give the occasional push, but with the momentum established, the job becomes much easier.

2. Attempting to reach more people than the budget will allow

This is the reach versus frequency issue. Let's say you are going to buy inventory or place an ad in an email newsletter. You can afford to make 100,000 impressions. Do you go for 10 placements in one newsletter that goes out to 10,000 people, or do you opt for one placement that goes out to 100,000 people? Same number of impressions, but the first option exposes fewer viewers to multiple impressions.

Think about it this way: Would you rather reach 100% of the people and convince them 10% of the way of them, or reach 10% of the people and convince all of them all the way? When it comes to maximizing your email marketing efforts, this is a useful analogy: Your message is the nail, repetition is the hammer, and a block of wood is the customer. If the nail is sharp and you hammer effectively, you will pierce through the wood and clinch the customer.

For more information on this topic, check out "Email As Advertising," written by my colleague Bryan Eisenberg, which will appear in ClickZ on November 12.

And it doesn't hurt to remember this: "Retention fades with sleep." Repetition has its rewards.

3. Assuming the business owner knows best

When it comes to stuff in which we you have a huge personal investment (your kids, your homes, your businesses), you risk losing your objectivity. Hey, it's a human thing. Too much knowledge about your company and what you offer leads you to answer questions nobody is asking. When you're inside the bottle, it's hard to read the label. But that's also when you risk pushing your own interests at the expense of your customers' interests. Sometimes it helps to bring in an objective outsider to give you some perspective.

4. Unsubstantiated claims

Folks make claims all the time that miss targeting their customers' needs and simply wind up turning them off. Specifics about yourself, your way of doing business and your products are far more persuasive and cut to the chase far more effectively than generalities. So get credibly specific!!

5. Improper use of passive media

Passive media are sight-based media - newspapers, magazines, billboards, direct mail, and yes, even email - that require the user to sustain focused attention in order to process the message. Intrusive media are sound-based - radio and television. Sound is heads above sight in its ability to get your message lodged into your customers' brains. The best use of passive media is as a follow-up to intrusive media.

This is a toughie, and there's not much you can do about it at this stage of the technological game. It is largely one of those obstacles you have to factor into your marketing equation. Trust me, now is not the time to go lining your emails with .wav files - and that misses the point anyway. The huge advantage of email marketing, passive though it may be, is its relative low cost. It's worth the effort, but be aware of the limitations.

Passive media is an effective way to reach those customers who are actively in the market for your product or service. You'll improve the effectiveness of your emails if you can use this to your advantage. Exactness is the key attribute of passive media - you can give a lot of specifics that your potential customers can check as many times as they want, simply by revisiting their online mail boxes.

Hmmm. This is a lot of stuff to digest all in one gulp, isn't it? And my editor (the one who counts words) is looking the tiniest bit grim. Tell you what. How 'bout you think on these gems and come back for the remaining seven mistakes in my the next issue. Same Grok time. Same Grok channel.


i All quotes from "12 Common Mistakes Advertisers Make." A Power Point presentation by Roy H. Williams.


click here for a printable version of this entire article

P.S. If you enjoyed this issue, why not share it with your colleagues and friends? They'll appreciate it. Share This GROK With A Friend


Hey, just wanted to let everyone know:

Meet my good friend Bryan Eisenberg, CIO of Future Now and author of ClickZ's "Converting Website Traffic Column", on 11/14/2001 & 11/15/2001. He will be at Search Engine Strategies 2001. His workshop will be "Measuring & Tracking Success". I've seen what he is presenting and all I can say is it is out of this world.  


Set Up Scanning and Skimming So They See

You spent your time to write right. Not only is your text persuasive, but now you're ready to make sure your reader engages with your text on your webpage. This is a usability issue. So how helpful is it when the terms folks use for talking about usability stuff sound different, but seem to mean the same thing? Take scannability and skimmability.

"You mean there's a difference … and I need to understand it?" you wonder. You bet! If your visitors can't scan and skim your web pages quickly and efficiently as soon as they first arrive, aren't going to stick around to dig deeper. Not good. Even though these two activities are related, they are distinct experiences in the usability equation and require separate treatment. If you lump scannability and skimmability together, chances are you're going to miss the Usability Boat.

So how do you keep your visitors scanning and skimming merrily toward taking the action you want? I'm so glad you asked!

Before we go any further, I'd like to refer to one of your favorite references: the dictionary.i

Scan: To look over quickly and systematically (scan the horizon for signs of land), to leaf through hastily.

Skim: To give a quick and superficial reading, scrutiny, or consideration (skim the newspaper).

Can you see that they’re similar but not quite the same? Both scanning and skimming are information-gathering activities, and humans perform them quickly, usually without thinking about them very much. But they don’t work exactly the same way, and they don’t serve exactly the same purpose.

Think of it this way: You're on the frontier of the wild and wooly west, and your trusty horse crests the hill. Before you is a vast expanse of territory. You don't know if there's danger out there. So you look around. A copse of trees to the left … a lake in the distance … a tendril of smoke drifting above a small rise … a wooden fence close to you on the right. Your "scan" suggests things look pretty safe. So you spur your horse to a trot. Passing the fence, you notice a piece of paper nailed to a post. You approach. It's a "Wanted Dead or Alive" poster. You dismount and get a bit closer, and "skim" the contents, looking for the most salient facts first that will help you decide if you need to bother with the fine print.

See the difference between scanning and skimming? Now let's apply it to your website.

Your visitor arrives and her eyes immediately begin scoping out the situation (see The Eyes Have It) to determine if she's in the right place. First, she will scan the visible screen for prominent elements, determining if they mesh with her mental image of her mission. As she scans, in addition to collecting “top-level” clues like headlines, she will be evaluating larger-scale issues such as legibility, arrangement and accessibility. This is where the more prominent features including the size of your type, the layout of your page and your use of color come into play. You want to help her minimize the time she spends on finding, sorting, and selecting information and get her engaged in the conversion process. If she doesn’t find top-level clues that she’s in the right place, or if she finds the page too hard to deal with, she’s back on her horse, galloping to another site.

Skimming is the second - but no less important - activity. It is a reading-based activity, a refinement in the information-gathering process. When your visitor has a fairly good idea of the lay of the land, she is going to start engaging with your copy. But she's not ready to stop and read anything thoroughly. She’s still not sure whether it will be worth her while. So she's going to start with just a superficial skimming, looking for the highlights and the important key words that will help direct further involvement. This is where bolding key words, bulleting, keeping paragraphs short, making sure the first and last sentences in each paragraph are strong, choosing a legible font, and even the effective use of hyperlinks (see How Many Holes Are In Your Bucket?) all make a difference.

At Future Now this is a critical distinction we help our clients understand as we guide them in improving their sites and their copy. It’s a subtle distinction, but one that can make a big difference in your results. Try it - you'll like it!


i Definitions are taken from The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition.


click here for a printable version of this entire article

P.S. If you enjoyed this issue, why not share it with your colleagues and friends? They'll appreciate it. Share This GROK With A Friend

GROK is taken from the landmark novel "Stranger in a Strange Land", by Robert A. Heinlein. It is a Martian word that implies the presence of intimate and exhaustive knowledge and understanding. Our "GROK" is a keen observer of the world around him and he takes a particular interest in the World Wide Web. The folks at Future Now like him a lot because he's taught them that "sometimes the price of clarity is the risk of insult."

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