Zero-Calorie Email

Tis the season to indulge on many levels. Eat too much, buy too much, work too hard, and play too hard, as many email marketers are doing at the Email Insider Summit this week in Park City, Utah. Overdoing it is a natural tendency for humans in general, and not uncommon in the digital world. The Web site used to be functional, now it's become so busy to accommodate the attention deficit disorder we've developed as consumers. Email has become overused by many marketers and over-"stuffed," as I like to call it, with marketers trying to cram too much into a single email.

Case in point: Pepsi has long been known for spot promotions through its email loyalty program. Today, it's become a coupon book scrolling three pages, without a cohesive method or navigation. Not to throw this program under the bus, but it's a classic example of programs that have more content than they have reasons to communicate. Many justify this approach by saying they are appealing to the masses, allowing the consumer to select which content is most appropriate, but in reality they are often diminishing the value of their program. I believe it's one part laziness, one part not understanding your subscriber list, and one part guessing. The struggle with most newsletter programs is understanding what content is most appropriate, how often to syndicate, and developing a feedback look and measurement to understand the appropriate mix, cadence and audience interpretation. In a direct response world, it's a bit easier to understand if content is on-target: simple call to actions, simple timing and targeting can usually translate to the original intent. With newsletters or brand content communications, it can be a bit trickier to understand what content gets the best pull. Problem is, the more content you put into your newsletter, the harder it is to determine.



We know that few customers archive email today (at least from a marketing perspective), so it has an inbox shelf life of hours, not days. And once it's opened, its shelf life is a matter of seconds and minutes.

Here are a few principles my organization follows when developing newsletter programs.

  • Newsletters aren't focused on simply syndicating content; they're a matching exercise.
  • Content must be structured. Unstructured content confuses the marketer and consumer.
  • Poor design and navigation translate to poor consumer perception.
  • Success is measured through total reach, growth of base, historical trends in behavior, and survey response.
  • Think in terms of a suggestion engine. That which historically pulls the most response garners the highest priority placement.
  • Testing is a function of customer segments, NOT an afterthought you throw at your entire base.
  • Newsletters advertising isn't intrusive; it's actually become commonplace in most cases, and deemed less intrusive than media on a site. In many cases, if we are designing new "content" programs, it's a bit easier to design a testing plan, content plan and calendar that strives not just to serve the subscribers and create loyalty to the brand, but either proves or disproves our hypothesis. Ongoing programs are a bit harder to test. It's risky to test new designs, content and layouts -- and even harder to bite the bullet and exclude content.

    The best advice I can give to those caught in this situation is to look closely at who is "active" in your program, who is sporadic and who isn't; target your non-responder, "low-risk" segments, and try to prove a couple of simple points. Try a navigational linking strategy (anchor links), create a modular version, create long-copy and short-copy versions, heavier imagery, less imagery. If you have "fix it" tips that pull with men segments or older segments, try making that a feature element of your newsletter for key segments and alternating among other groups. These type of things aren't difficult to deliver, and can mean a great deal to the growth of subscribers' response.

    Like zero-calorie drinks, zero-calorie email is just that: a reduced version of the original, with only the necessary things you really need and want

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