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Recently, we created a simple text email invitation for a client’s upcoming executive conference.

(By the way, in case I have not told you 10 times already, I’m a great believer in executive conferences that are created to celebrate and inform a key constituency: existing customers. The secondary purpose of an executive event is to identify and associate your company with the most interesting and provocative thinkers that influence your markets. Again, as I recommend with all marketing activities, make certain that your executive event places the emphasis where it rightly belongs: on them, not you. They are the folks who buy your products or have a strong say in the purchase decision. You are a subject that is endlessly fascinating to you and you alone. At your next marketing meeting, insist on placing an empty chair at the table. That chair belongs to them. What do you really know about them?)

The email invitation came from the client’s popular CEO. It went out to a clean house list of customers and legitimate prospects.

There was one unfortunate compromise. We weren’t able to use the CEO’s real email address in the “from” line. I could go into the reasons why, but they aren’t particularly relevant to the subject at hand.

In spite of this compromise — which I thought threatened to undercut the personal tone of the email — there were numerous responses from customers and prospects. In most of the responses, many recipients apparently took this to be a truly personal invitation. That’s what we’d hoped for.

But one thing did surprise us. The president of one significant prospect organization thought this was a real personal communication. He decided to take the opportunity to, in essence, do business with our client.

This project reminded me of some key assumptions with which I approach every email marketing assignment.

It’s not really business-to-business, it’s person-to-person.

I firmly believe that email to a real person should come from a real person. I can think of several exceptions to this rule. But, certainly when it comes to executive-level communications — when you’re trying to reach anyone at a director or higher level — the message needs to come from someone in your organization at that level or higher. This advice has a little something to do with status and org-chart snobbery. But, it’s more than that. You see…

People can say things in quirky, unexpected ways. On the other hand, companies speak the language of the undead: brand-speak.

Not that you would ever choose to speak zombie language, of course. But, keep in mind that by allowing your email to come from a real person in your organization, you are creating a space for possible experimentation, informality, and even, God forbid, sincerity.

“One swallow does not make spring.” (Aristotle)

Let’s say that, after months of alternately pleading and threatening (otherwise known as the “whine, whimper, and snarl” technique), you’ve convinced your senior executives that it’s time to try email marketing. If by “trying” email marketing they mean “Let’s send out one and see if it works,” why bother? Sure, you might get lucky and that right-out-of-the-chute email will be on the money. But I doubt it.

Sell your senior executives on the wisdom of multiple email communications over at least six months. This allows you to test various offers and messages. Plus, as any cold-caller will tell you, it’s about numbers and percentages. One morning, a prospect will ignore your email for reasons that have little to do with the offer or the message but everything to do with timing. The next go-round, the timing is right. With a single email, the percentages simply aren’t working in your favor.

The first three lines are key.

Take a look at the first three lines of your email marketing message. If any of the lines start with the bland “There are” or use the words “we,” “leading,” “solution,” or the company name, you must have a death wish. If, on the other hand, the first three lines go something like this, “Excuse me. I realize it’s hard to tear yourself away from the circle of hell that is your customer relationship management software implementation. But, I’ve got some good news,” then you have a chance.

Offend 1 percent of your list to win the undying loyalty of 10 percent.

I would argue it takes at least six wholly inoffensive, white-bread email marketing messages to achieve the effect of one message with a few smart, sharpened points.

This Web Marketing article was written by Chris Maher on 3/18/2005