A few years ago, I had a small Internet sportfishing business that did quite well with direct e-mail marketing. Every week, I sent e-mails to customers aggressively selling one of my new products. And every week those e-mails converted into one or two more sales. After some time, I was certain that I had a profitable marketing model that would promote increased growth for some time to come.

But then I noticed something. While my sales increased, my return visits from existing customers decreased. Then it hit me: with every new sale I gained through aggressive direct e-mail tactics, I was turning far more existing customers off. For some reason, my message was repelling far more people than it was attracting.

And there's the rub. When it comes to composing an e-mail solicitation, it's equally important to think about what your tactics mean for those customers who do respond to your emails as it is for those who don't. And in doing that, it helps to think about where the fundamentals of writing and marketing converge.


Most customers decide to open up an e-mail based on the subject heading. So don't waste that precious space with hype; just give them the benefits you're selling. "Prevent Writer's Cramp with Our New Pen," is much more effective than "Our New Pen Is So Easy To Hold You'll Never Type Again!" Keeping it plain, short and simple communicates your message and spares your customer any superfluity.

The same goes for the first line of your letter. Don't start off with some sappy story about how your company understands your customer's busy life, or how today's fast-paced world begs for a new, revolutionary product. Just tell them what benefits you're selling. "Dear customer," the letter should read, "Our new fountain pen prevents writer's cramp and improves your penmanship." That's about as far as 99 percent of your readers get in a letter. Those who are likely to buy will be hooked at that point. Those who won't buy can move on without resentment.


This is a tactic borrowed from journalism. More often than not, people abandon a letter (or an article) midway through reading it. So as an e-mail marketer, you've got to get your message across in the first paragraph. Save the details for later on down the letter. This way, if the customer stops reading halfway through, you know you've gotten your main message across.

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Dan Lazar is founder of Monkeysuit, a market research firm that specializes in video gaming and other entertainment industries.

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