Ivan Levison —
Direct Mail, E-mail and Advertising Copywriting

How to use e-mail to fire up sales
(without getting flamed)

The other day I checked my e-mail and found a message waiting for me that began . . .

"Imagine never again having to scrape your windshield to get rid of ice, snow, and frost!"

"Stop imagining and take a look at FROST BLANKET. You've seen it on TV, heard about it on RADIO, read about it in NEWSPAPERS and MAGAZINES. And now FROST BLANKET, the windshield cover that eliminates the cold, wet, drudgery of scraping snow, ice and frost from your windshield is available on the INTERNET."

This is an example of spam at its very worst. You read this crap created by a direct response copywriter and your blood boils. In fact, everything about this e-mail message ticks me off . . .

They tell me that I know all about the Frost Blanket but of course I've never heard of it.

I live in California so I (blessedly) never have to "imagine" the pain of scraping my windshield of ice, snow, and frost.

I'm not delighted that Frost Blanket is now "available on the Internet" via my in-box. (In fact, the idea positively sickens me!)

If you react the way I do, it's no surprise that you're reluctant to use e-mail to sell your software. The last thing you want is for irate consumers to go bananas and start horribly destructive flaming campaigns against you.

However -- it's important to remember that if you use e-mail the right way, it can make you a whole lot of money and not get you into hot water.

My advice? In these early days of the Internet revolution, stay away from cold prospecting e-mail that is an uninvited intrusion. Instead, wait until the rules of the game have firmed up. But plunge right in and start copywriting e-mail programs for use with your installed base immediately!

Your registered users are members of the family and will not complain about receiving valuable information from you. In other words, upgrade programs are a natural for e-mail.

You can experiment with pure e-mail campaigns, or supplement your direct mail copywriting efforts with "last minute" e-mail reminders. You can also use e-mail to direct readers to special offers or demos available on your Web site.

If you're not using direct response e-mail to communicate with your installed base, you're missing out on a fabulous opportunity. Just as you'd expect, companies that are strong marketers are already putting e-mail to good use. For example, I recently wrote e-mail for Intuit and Asymetrix, one of Paul Allen's hottest companies. Though I am not authorized to share the results with you, I can tell you that this exciting new medium is getting a lot of attention. Maybe you should consider adding e-mail to your communications program.

Want to get started? Here's a list of tips to keep in mind.

1. You can only e-mail your customers if you have their addresses, so start collecting them now! Is there a place for an e-mail address on your registration card? Is it prominent? Don't make the e-mail address space an afterthought. Use every design and direct response copywriting trick you can think of to get the prospect to include their e-mail address.

2. If you make an offer that encourages the reader to visit your Web site, make sure you use a unique URL. On that custom-designed page you can thank them for responding to your e-mail, take them by the hand, and lead them along towards the sale. You DON'T want to send them to your general-purpose home page and force them to search for your e-mail offer!

3. Remember that when you're restricted to ASCII characters, you give up all your formatting tools. You're direct response copywriting without bolds, italics, underlinings, graphics. This means you have to lay things out very simply. Don't use big blocks of text. Organize your message into modules using simple borders created out of asterisks, dollar signs, etc.

4. Be sure you use wide margins. You don't want to have weird wraps or breaks. Limit yourself to about 55 to 60 characters per line and you should be O.K. If you think a line is going to be too long, force a character return.

5. Take it easy on the all-caps. You can use WORDS IN ALL CAPS but do so carefully. They can be a little hard to read and in the world of e-mail, all caps give the impression that you're shouting.

6. Get the important points across quickly. If you want to give a lot of product information, add it "lower" in your e-mail message. People who need more information should scroll down for it. The key benefits and deal should be communicated in the first screen, or very soon afterward.

7. Use an energetic, to-the-point subject line. That's what people see first. If you're using the word "FREE" make it the first word. (You don't want it to get cut off in the reader's "Subject" window by mistake!)

"FREE templates for JetSoft customers!"

not . . .

Get your fabulous templates FREE!

8. Lead off the message copy with a killer headline. You need to get a terrific benefit right up front. Pretend you're direct response copywriting envelope teaser copy or are copywriting a headline for a sales letter.

9. Watch your tone. When you're direct response copywriting e-mail it's easy to sound sarcastic or cutting without meaning to. Be sure you're not giving unintended offense. Watch the jokes. They're a lot less funny in ASCII!

10. Don't use emoticons:-> If you want to use happy faces (or whatever) in your personal mail, that's fine, but keep it out of your business e-mail. They're terminally cute.

11. In general, short is better. This is not the case in sales letters where as a general principle for direct response copywriting, "the more you tell, the more you sell." E-mail is a unique environment. Reader's are quickly sorting through a bunch of messages and aren't disposed to stick with you for a long time.

12. Don't forget to test! We all know that one of the exciting things about direct mail is that you can use it to answer vital marketing questions. You can find out which list works best, which price point makes the most money, which creative approach is the winner, etc. The same thing holds true for your e-mail campaigns. What can you test? How about pitting a warm personal message from a specific person against a more formal, longer, anonymous presentation of the offer. Or how about testing a very modularized, "zoned" graphic approach against an energetic letter without asterisk borders, bullets, etc.

The bottom line? If you aren't collecting registered users' e-mail addresses and using them to build sales, you're missing the boat. This low-cost new communications channel is a terrific way to stay in touch with your valued customers. Direct response copywriters, don't miss it!

© 2013, Ivan Levison & Associates. All rights reserved.