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Techno-fetishism. It’s the disease of our times, even in these post-tech-wreck-what-the-heck-happened-to-my-401(k)? days.

It seems that many of us live in the hidden hope that some technique or machine will lift us from the grays of everyday human existence, align us with some greater order or next big thing, and anaesthetize us against the pain of having to guess the right path and the fear that we are just ordinary. There, I said it. And I said it in a column about email marketing.

Despite what you may have read or, for all I know, what you may believe, email marketing isn’t about technology. If you think it is, you are doomed to explore only what’s novel and to ignore what’s enduring.

(OK, now I’m going to backpedal a bit. Of course, email marketing does have an important technological component. There are choices you have to make about serving your messages, how to measure click-through rates, and so on. But don’t be intimidated or, for that matter, particularly enamored of the technology. Remember, you are still communicating with fellow human beings. And to that end…)

Email marketing must conform to the fundamentals of good communication: — Introduce yourself. When you show up unannounced at my virtual door, would it be too much to start by telling me who you are and why you’re here?

Speak with familiars (i.e., customers) in a tone that’s different from the way you speak to those who don’t know you at all. Your current customers don’t like hearing the standard boilerplate brand-speak. (Actually, I’m beginning to wonder if anyone likes to hear that bloated hoo-hah.)

Be polite and acknowledge the other. Translation: At the very minimum, invest in an auto-responder with a simple “Thank you for your inquiry” type message.

The psychologist William James, one of my favorite observers of humankind, noted that you could undergo no worse punishment than to move through your everyday life ignored by everyone around you. Think about that the next time someone clicks on your Web site’s “Contact Us” link.

Familiarize yourself with the “shop talk” of a given trade and use it in a way that doesn’t sound contrived. This is a gamble. Your message — as interpreted by an agency copywriter — may end up sounding as false as Dick Cheney performing gangsta rap.

Build trust, don’t spring traps. Remember, trust takes time and consistent conduct.

You Know More Than You Think You Do

If you’ve been paying attention to email as a medium, you’re bound to have recognized how similar it is to direct mail.

The subject line is just like the teaser on an outside envelope. The body of the email is a letter. Like all letters, it needs to open with a grabber. And, just as with direct mail, the use of your prospect’s name improves the response.

Not too surprisingly, the success of email marketing rests on the three traditional pillars of direct marketing: a clean, accurate list; powerful creative; and a compelling offer. A note about offers: Giving someone a chance to speak with one of your sales representatives or a golden opportunity to visit your site for more information isn’t an offer. When contemplating what might constitute a good offer, don’t think about your own provincial interests as a business marketer. Think about the interests of your prospects or customers.

You know even more about email marketing than just its similarities to direct marketing. You know, for example, that you are engaging in a very old art: the art of persuasion.

In truth, I think this art is lost or so degraded as to be almost irredeemable.

Persuasion has at its foundation an envisioning of “the other.”

You must find some common ground or common concern. Then, step by step, lead someone to a conclusion that seems logical, indeed, inevitable.

Like branding, persuasion does not happen only in the mind. It happens in the minds and hearts of those you are appealing to. During a time when minds and hearts are distracted by so many tasks and diversions, persuasion doesn’t happen all at once — and not in a single email.

Use your email marketing program to engage your customer in self-service persuasion. In other words, help your market find credible sources of information. Create opportunities for learning. Help them to sell themselves.

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