The old pros had it completely wrong.
Direct mailers of the past would accept as gospel that you needed a full color envelope with “URGENT” emblazoned across the front, view windows, and other gimmicks to get folks to open and read their mail. The flashier the better! Do whatever you can to stand out. That will get your letter opened and read, right?
What they forgot was that people sorted their mail over the garbage can. Anything that resembled a “pitch” or “sales material” would be gleefully destroyed with extreme prejudice (see: above).
So what’s the point? They put all their time and effort into selling to these folks but. . .
People don’t want to be sold to.
Fun Story: One guy I know hated commercial mail so much, he’d go out of his way to open it, tear the offer into teeny-tiny little pieces before shoving it into the return envelope and TAPING it closed (yes, on all the edges, so they couldn’t open it). He would get some strange satisfaction out of harassing these companies that tried to sell him things.
The only thing that glitter and fanciness would accomplish is their letter immediately being identified as garbage. On the other hand when the direct mailers figured out that mailing their offers in a PLAIN envelope (no graphics, no windows, nothing), with a REAL stamp (no bulk rate penny pinching), and with a personal, engaging, thoughtful letter inside. . . all of a sudden they saw their response rates TAKE OFF. Go figure.
So how does this lesson translate into email marketing?
Forget (or at least, focus LESS on) graphics and spend more time on your copy.
When an average person gets a commercial email what do they do? IF they open it (and that’s a BIG ‘if’), they SCAN it quickly, decide in 2 seconds whether it’s worth a 3rd second (it’s usually not) and mercilessly delete it. What does the average person do when they receive a personal email with no graphics or fancy type?
They read it.
Imagine that. . .They don’t begin by rushing to the end to see what is wanted from them, they simply begin reading. If your letter is written well enough (ie: the subject line compels them to open, the 1st sentence makes them read the 2nd, the 2nd the 3rd, etc.) you can just about sell anything to anyone.
If you’re trying to sell something via email and writing genuinely thoughtful copy specifically tailored for your audience isn’t your #1 focus (it almost never is) you’re doing it wrong.
So wise guy, what’s the lesson?
Here it is…
In email marketing: Copy > Everything Else.