Don't Believe Everything You Hear

As my regular readers know, I'm always cautioning against taking the advice of pundits in our space too literally. All the statistics, all the trends, all the reports add up to a lot of general findings, none of which may be totally applicable to your particular e-mail program. To flesh out this thought further, I invited Teresa Caro, senior manager of strategy at Avenue A | Razorfish, to add her viewpoint to my column this week. To Teresa, a lot of the e-mail counsel she hears is nothing more than... an urban legend. -- David Baker

How often has this happened to you? A friend or relative sends you an urgent e-mail expressing concern over the dangers of plug-in air fresheners, or urging you to sign a petition. The e-mail sounds valid; you are tempted to react. Before you do, take a trip to This urban legends site is one of my favorite reference tools. Here you will find out whether or not air fresheners are safe and how old that petition is.



The same can be said for e-mail statistics. Many years ago, I was plugging right along with my HTML marketing e-mails when one of the company execs came running in with a study that said text e-mails are the way to go. "Text is X% more effective than HTML e-mails and we need to switch today," he exclaimed. I quickly explained this was simply not true. We had done the tests and HTML continued to pull better results than the text e-mails. It took a while, because the experts had said otherwise, but he was finally convinced.

Today, the pundits say "beware of graphic-blocking ESPs." Never create an all-graphic e-mail because no one will see it or it will get flagged as spam. Instead, your e-mails should be in HTML text or even better-text--so none of your graphics are blocked. Just say "no" to graphics. It makes sense, right? Wrong. It depends on the situation, your audience, and what you are trying to achieve. Earlier this year the AiMA held an e-mail event where one of the participants talked about an all-graphic versus HTML test they performed for the Olympics. Which e-mail was hands down the more successful campaign? You guessed it, the all-graphic version.

Here are some other favorite myths:

Preview pane

  • What you hear: Ensure your most compelling content is at the top and to the left so it appears in the preview pane.
  • Reality: Test different layouts and designs to see which is most effective for your audience. What may be compelling in your eyes may not be compelling in the eyes of your customers.

Below the fold

  • What you hear: Everything below the fold will not be seen, so the e-mail will not be successful.
  • Reality: You need to define success before you can determine if something is not successful. More often then not, I hear people say an e-mail was not successful because the links below the fold did not receive any clicks. First off, if you are measuring an e-mail's success by the number of clicks it receives, we need to talk. If it is a direct response e-mail, then sales or leads is a better measurement. If it is a reference tool, then measure opens over time. If it is informational, counting the number of clicks makes sense, but you may want to complement this information by tracking time on site and where users go on the site.

Short content

  • What you hear: Make sure your message is short and to the point. No one has time to read a lot of copy.
  • Reality: This is a blanket statement that cannot cover all situations. Especially when it comes to direct response e-mails, the key is to test long versus short and different designs and layouts. The value of some products cannot be conveyed in just a few sentences. The headers tell the story, grab attention and then the copy fills in the blanks for those who need more information.

The moral of this urban legend is, use best practices, studies, and guidance from the experts as a starting point, but don't consider their advice to be absolute. You need to adjust your e-mail for your target audience and for what you want to achieve. Most importantly, test, test, and test some more.

You can visit with Teresa and me at the Media Post E-mail Insider Summit in a few weeks.

And The EEC invites you to participate in its latest survey.

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