By David H. Martin
With telemarketing hamstrung by the new national “do not call” list and direct mail postage more costly than ever, it’s logical to look to email marketing as a low-cost alternative to these more proven lead-generation media. But like telemarketing, email marketing is threatened by those looking to eliminate it in the name of “spam.”
The fact is, millions of unsolicited bulk emails are jamming up email boxes every day and people are looking for relief. Since April, three bills have been introduced on Capitol Hill. One calls for a national do-not-spam list, mirroring the national do-not-call registry. Another would require senders to have a physical address where they can be tracked down, accurate header and subject lines, and an opt-out link. The direct marketing industry favors legislation and the Direct Marketing Association approves of beefing up Federal Trade Commission and state attorney’s general enforcement powers. The definition of “opt in” may require email senders to express consent to send email to the recipient. Implied consent would be defined as a three-year business relationship with the recipient.
Michael Mayor, president of NetCreations, an email list renter, says, “It’s very important before any laws are passed to agree on opt-in definitions. Permission must be part of any legislation.” Mayor offers the following definitions:
- Double opt-in: A user has elected to receive email newsletters or stand-alone commercial messages generally by checking boxes on a sign-up form. A confirmation email is sent to the user to which he/she must reply (either by replying to the message or clicking on a URL within it) before the list owner may add them to their list.
- Confirmed opt-in: A user has elected to receive email newsletters or stand-alone commercial messages generally by checking boxes on a sign-up form. A confirmation email is sent but the user isn’t required to take further action to be included on the list.
- Single opt-in: A user has elected to receive email newsletters or stand-alone commercial messages generally by checking boxes or a sign-up form. No confirmation email is sent and the user isn’t required to take further action to be included on the list.
- Opt-in: Non-specific term defining some form or user consent to receive commercial email.
- Opt-out: A user must actively request not to be included on a list generally by de-selecting check boxes on the sign-up form.
NetCreations advocates a double opt-in standard. The company was the first list provider to insist that consumers twice actively consent to being placed on email lists. It claims 95 percent of its lists are double opt-in.
Hershall Gordon Lewis, president of Lewis Enterprises, claims we are “on the verge of a sea of change in email marketing.”
In his remarks at a recent DMA Catalog Marketing Conference in San Francisco, Lewis identified four major changes taking place in direct marketing as a result of the Internet and email, and he addressed these changes with colorful language and dozens of useful tips. The immediacy and directness of the web and email and withering attention span of those who rely on these media, says Lewis, require direct marketers to totally change their approach to include more informal language, more emphatic persuasion, greater substantiation of claims and, above all, a quick call to action.
On informality, Lewis argued email is a far more direct and personal medium than printed mail brochures and catalogs and, hence, requires more informal communication techniques. “If you aren’t using contractions in your email messages, you are costing yourself responses,” he declares. Similarly, he says putting the recipient’s name in the subject line of an email will result in a better response rate than leaving it out. Messages have to be shorter and paragraphs shouldn’t exceed seven lines of copy. With the overwhelming amount of information communicated on the Internet, notes Lewis, “People, today, have the attention span of a gnat. You have to grab them, impress them and then get out.”
The need for informality requires subject lines that dispense with initial capitalization of every word. “You may be in love with initial caps, but lower case works better in email subject lines,” notes Lewis. Yet, the need for informal communication doesn’t suspend the need for clarity, good grammar and correct spelling. Too often, Lewis says, email promotions lack all three because the ease of communicating over the Internet has led to sloppy copy editing. “It boggles the mind that some marketers excrete these email messages without checking for spelling and grammar,” says Lewis, noting that such errors reduce credibility and dampen response.
Watch your language
The flood of email messages with come-ons and empty claims, said Lewis, requires email marketers to employ more “emphatic persuasion” and to readily substantiate any claims they make. “People have been overwhelmed with email claims with ‘free’ offers they know aren’t free,” says Lewis. “People out there are just not ready to believe us. Their skepticism has hit a new peak.”
In the early days of email promotion, he says, recipients might well have clicked on a subject line that read “Start saving money today.” Now, they’ll hit the delete button unless the subject line is compelling and specific, and the offer behind it is meaningful. “On the web, people want specifics,” says Lewis. “They don’t want blather and chest-thumping. You can’t make empty promises; you have to be prepared to follow through on them.”
Adds Lewis, “Teasers in email promotions are a total waste of time. You are at point-blank range when you communicate through email; you must fire immediately.” While there are other rules that can help guide email markets, Lewis believes nothing beats testing a wide variety of email promotions to determine which pull the best response. “There has never been a medium where testing different messages has been so easy and so effective,” he says, “and yet, most people don’t do it. Not testing an email message is simply arrogance.”
Avoiding spam filters legally
Lewis reserved some of his most pointed remarks for advice on how to beat increasingly fine-woven spam filters. He characterized development of spam filters in the last two years as “the sword of Damocles over our necks. They’re like guys in a war movie who pull out a machine gun and spray bullets everywhere” hitting the innocent and guilty alike. Quoting a study that concluded 38 percent of email messages caught in spam filters weren’t spam, Lewis declared legitimate email marketers “have to get better at avoiding spam filters.”
The best way to ensure promotional email messages slip past spam filters, Lewis says, is to avoid words and symbols in subject lines that trigger the filters. On the top of that list is the word that has ruled direct marketing for years—free. Putting that word in a subject line of an email will almost certainly activate a spam filter, said Lewis. “The word ‘free’ has always worked well in direct marketing, and it has survived there for a 100 years,” he said. “But it may have been eclipsed with email in the day of the spam filter.”
Lewis cautioned that other “apparently harmless” words should be avoided in subject lines of email messages lest they trigger spam filters. These include complimentary, sale or discount, fun, prize, buy, own, approved or approval, increase, size, compare, cash, loan or mortgage, save or saving, and win. The same is true of dollar and cents signs, ampersands, percentage signs and trademark symbols. “These (words and symbols) are like dodo birds,” he said. “They are going into oblivion, but not happily so. If you avoid using them in the subject line, you will avoid most spam filters.”
Another method email marketers are using to outmaneuver spam filters is the now ubiquitous opt-in marketing newsletter. But, cautions Lewis, while such email communications may bypass spam filters, they often don’t convert prospects to buyers. Still, Lewis says newsletters could be effective email marketing tools if marketers follow a couple of basic rules in developing them. “If you are going to use them, make sure you load them up with information of use to the recipients,” says Lewis. “They are looking for news from newsletters, not advertising messages.” But to make sure that newsletters are also selling tools, Lewis advises his audience to “load them up with a lot of deals.”
Before plunging into email marketing as a reach-out, lead-generation replacement for telemarketing, or as a supplement to more expensive direct mail, be sure you understand the new rules for opt-in email. Moreover, make sure your messages won’t be confused with bulk spam mailings that are increasingly being filtered and not received. So, weigh carefully what you say in the subject line–and how you say it!
About the author
David H. Martin is president of Lenzi Martin Marketing, of Oak Park, Ill., a firm specializing in water improvement and environmental marketing that integrates old and new media. He can be reached at (708) 848-8404, email: [email protected] or website: www.lenzimartin.com.