Why Softly, Softly Beats The Repeated Hard Sale

It's a timely reminder from MediaPost's Research Brief today that email isn't all about selling. OK -- it's the reason you do it, but that should always be the first thing that strikes a recipient every time you get in contact. The figures from Yes Lifecycle Marketing, which is behind Yesmail360, show that open rates are 28% higher when subject lines do not lead with a sales offer. 

In email marketing circles we spend all our time working out how to get more opens, how to drive click-throughs all based around the best offer. Typically, research will suggest that putting in a personalised, well targeted offer with a percentage saving spelled out in as few words as possible is the best way to go.

So it's pretty surprising to hear that even if you have perfected your "Act Today To Get 10% Off BBQs" headline, an email that didn't lead with the hard sale might have been better received. Or is it? Is it that surprising that people don't always want to be sold to?

The background to this is, of course, inbox fatigue. Research shows that people tend to use an account for their personal or work life while another is filled up with sensational offers from brands you once ordered something through. So inboxes are becoming fuller, yet people are not suddenly requiring more stuff. 

I use the BBQ example because I bought a very fine one last year. Guess what the retailer has done ever since? Yes, that's right --  they've tried persistently to tempt me to buy a BBQ. Obviously, there's no personalisation there -- or else they would realise that I'm probably more in need of some fancy utensils.

It's the same with car rental companies. Honestly, how many cars do they think we need to rent? One keeps retargetting me with offers for the exact car at the same airport I have already booked. Great profiling, guys!

So just think about your own experience, and it's hardly surprising that sales email get less traction than emails that might be helping. It could be an article, some research, an update or a poll related to the brand which they thought you might find interesting. It might be something that will help you get more out of a recent purchase or perhaps understand the product or an industry better. That's surely going to appeal more than a constant barrage of money-off offers?

If it's done well, it's also a disguised opportunity to sell. Just look at TripAdvisor, Airbnb and hotel chains that get it. Rather than hit you with a 10% discount offer, they catch the eye with 'best rooftop bars', "infinity pools to die for" and "rooms with a view for two" or whatever the headline is to wrap around a top ten list of attractive places to stay. There will still be a call to action -- they still want you to book, but it's just done in a more informative, attractive way.

So many brands could learn from this approach. Why doesn't my BBQ retailer send over some recipes, a weather alert for a great weekend ahead, how to cook fish without it sticking and then back that up with offers and a call to action to buy the appropriate items. Why don't rental car companies realise that you have already bought and if they are hellbent on an offer, send out a code for someone else in the party to get a discount, why not offer an upgrade to a less painful airport experience? 

Regular readers will know that I subscribe to the mantra of help three times, sell once. But even when you're helping you can be selling too with a helpful link to the product you're talking about. Companies that keep sending out discount offers for products you already own and typically don't need to replace will just find the worst of all worlds. Fewer people take notice, more people unsubscribe, and then they have fewer people left to talk to when it is time to replace an item.

Just think about how many times you go online to find something out or to be entertained compared to how many times you log on to buy something. That will give you a pretty good idea of the ratio most people have in their head as to how many times they want to be helped or served compared to how many times they will look favourably on a sales offer. 

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