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Sometimes, it seems like everything in the world has turned upside down and few immutable rules are left standing. But that’s not so in the world of business-to-business (B2B) email marketing as far as I’m concerned. So to help draw some order from the chaos, I’ll share my 10 commandments of B2B email marketing.

Rule 1: Nobody cares. No one is sitting at his or her desk anxiously awaiting your B2B email. Yes, I know you have a carefully crafted messaging platform and that you’re extolling key product features. But those are irrelevant. All that matters is that your email, on some level, connects with the recipient. Now ask yourself, what do you know about the people receiving your message?

Rule 2: Inform and link. I have never ignored an email that contained a citation from an analyst group or a link to an article about my industry. Yet, I seldom receive such email. Most business professionals are information junkies. Feed their habit. Help them do their jobs better. Become an authoritative source of information about your industry or profession.

Rule 3: Email newsletters work. Not the way you do them, though. Sorry, friend, but your idea of an email newsletter is some kind of “house organ” that is all inside talk, not outside talk. Guess what. I’m on the outside. The content of your email newsletter should be 80 percent about industry trends, analyst reports, and white papers and just 20 percent about you, such as a press release about a new customer you have signed or a new product you are offering.

Rule 4: Words over images. Trust me on this. B2B marketing is still dominated by copywriting. Of course, businesspeople are people, too. They might find an HTML email to be pleasing to the eye. Ultimately, though, you make your connection with readers, not viewers. You make that connection through the art of gentle surprise, candor, intelligence, and self-effacing humor. (Business brands so seldom “speak” in this way. In other words, there’s a real opportunity here.)

Rule 5: Email for a person must come from a person. Use a personal address for your email marketing communications. If you’re trying to reach an executive audience, it is imperative that the email comes from your CEO or, at the very least, from someone who might be viewed as a peer.

Rule 6: Don’t ignore the world. Too often, it seems that email marketing messages exist in a vacuum. And in that vacuum one can use the equivalent of a phrase like “end-to-end enterprise antigravity and pro-levity platform” with a straight face. Remember, there is a world out there: current events, rumors, fads, and so on. It might be wise to selectively reference current events.

Plus, 2001 is quite different from 2000. A certain cynicism has gripped many enterprise decision makers who feel that they were scammed by the new economy’s pitch people. Then along comes September 11, the Pearl Harbor of the New World Disorder. And it’s safe to say that business folks are in a sober, cautious frame of mind. You might want to give that some thought before you push “send” on your next campaign.

Rule 7: When all else fails, try being truthful. Let’s say that yours is small start-up firm specializing in electronic logistics. Is it really necessary to portray yourself as a “leading” anything? How much more powerful might it be to speak in a personal way about how your firm can save transportation costs, even admitting to the fact that you’ve got a staff of just 15?

Rule 8: Get a free Aberdeen Group e-sourcing white paper. That is to say, don’t ignore the obvious. Put the obvious in the subject line of your email. White papers attract attention. Don’t be impolite to your market by making them root around for the good stuff.

Rule 9: Tell them what you’re telling them. We’ve had great success with putting an executive summary — usually with a dollop of humor — at the top of an email message. That way, the market knows what it’s getting and can choose to dive in or race away. It’s not bad when they race away. You had nothing for them, so why waste their time?

Rule 10: It’s OK to be long-winded. I know, this violates email marketing gospel. But if you have something valuable to comment about — such as a myth you’ve uncovered that needs debunking — we’ve found that even time-constrained executives will stay to the end of your message. The real problem is that email is, more often than not, crafted by advertising agency folks who don’t really understand your industry. And no matter how times you revise, something almost always rings false. In that case, keep the email short. And strongly emphasize the free white paper.

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