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How to Write a Winning Marketing Email Message: Zeroing In On Specifics

The Nuts and Bolts of a Great Message

In How to Write a Winning Marketing Email Message we discussed top-level considerations for creating great marketing email messages. In this article, we’ll look at the parts of a marketing email message and how you can work with those parts to make a message that strengthens your relationship with your customers and, over time, your company overall.

The Subject Line

The first thing recipients will probably see about your message is its subject line, which means that it needs to be well-crafted. In “Email Marketing – Subject Lines,” Christopher Donahue of writes that in a 2007 study, 69% of email recipients based their decision to open the email on the subject line, rather than on other variables like the sender or the glimpse of the message in the email preview pane. “It is imperative that you put a lot of time and effort into this important aspect of your email campaign,” Donahue writes.

Donahue advises email marketers to keep the subject line short. “Most recipients’ view of the inbox only shows the first few words of a subject line,” he points out. “It’s important to keep it short and sweet and get the most relevant information in there first.”

Tim Langlitz, director of online business development at F+W Media, agrees. As cited in the winter 2010 issue of Audience Development, Langlitz recommends keeping the whole subject line to 60 characters or less. This is because most email programs, when you open them, show you 60 characters or less of subject lines—sometimes a lot less, depending on the program and settings. Langlitz’s company, F+W, has tested subject lines not only in terms of length, but also positioning of key information, and subject lines with relevant information in the first few words outperformed subject lines with key information nearer to the end, often by a lot.

Also avoid using all capital letters, words like “free,” “discount,” and “50% off,” and exclamation points. Emails with these subject lines are likely to be shunted straight into recipients’ spam folders, Donahue cautions.

User-Friendly Design

You’ll also want to be sure that your message design helps recipients move easily through its content. Choose a design or a template for your message that has a table of contents, with links to each item, if you have more than two or three items within the message. In an article in Direct Magazine in April 2010, Sherry Chiger writes, “If you send an e-newsletter, for instance, with five or six stories within, list them at the top of the message as a table of contents or directory, and have each title be a link that, when clicked, takes the recipient directly to the item within the email.”

Chiger also recommends offering a prominent link to a Web version of the email—because rendering issues on Fishbowl include such a link in their templates.

You should also include images. “The message needs to always, always have photos,” says Cheryl Bennett, general manager of northern Virginia’s Main Event Caterers. “People are not going to open up an all-text newsletter and read it. An email newsletter should be like a blog. If you look at most successful blogs, you’ll notice that each entry includes two or three pictures and two or three very short paragraphs to go with pictures—and that’s it.” As cited in “An Email Creative Tip Sheet,” Langlitz concurs. He points out that people read more slowly online than they do in print, and so visuals are extremely important.

Compelling Content

In terms of email content, many advise keeping it short and sweet. This demonstrates your respect for customers’ time and most people’s preference for reading from paper rather than a computer screen.

With respect to subject matter, the only limits are your imagination and what will interest your readers and win their future business. Write to current customers and customers-to-be about menu updates, new dishes, upcoming events, cooking classes, last-minute deals, new menu specials and other promotions and special rates.

“The most important thing is to offer value,” Bennett says. “Your readers need to get something out of what they’re reading. Send them recipes they’ll actually make and ideas for things they’ll actually do.”

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