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The modern email inbox is a perpetual promotion machine of colors, styles, and sales pitches all fighting to be seen.

In an attempt to break from the herd, many email marketers ironically adopt a herd mentality of more clutter, more content, more, more, more. This misguided pursuit of increased visibility merely leads to increased invisibility.

Before joining the invisible ranks of the "clutter cult" of email marketers, consider that a huge body of marketing research demonstrates that the human mind is a sucker for simplicity and focus. The eye embraces that which can be easily digested. Less is more.

Unless you're emailing something of personal relevance or urgency to your client, you have only three and a half seconds to be interesting. Fail, and you're deleted.

All those hours designing a big, bloated email reminiscent of an advanced Web page, only to be tagged as junk. Ouch.

This premature email death may be avoided with a little soul-searching. Before you design your next promotion, ask yourself three questions:

  1. What is your favorite kind of email?
  2. How much time should you spend reading an email that was sent to you along with a zillion other people?
  3. What else is happening on the page when you view a typical email?

Answer to number 1: If you're like most people, your favorite emails are those few lines of text sent by a friend or someone you were hoping to hear from—text solely aimed at you. If that person sent that mail in a decked-out styles-galore version, it would take longer to read, and you'd think that person needed to get out more.

Answer to number 2: How much time should you spend reading mass emails? Probably none. Think about it. The mass marketer's not your friend. You can tell by the polished visuals that he's working overtime to manipulate you. In this lies a vital tip for marketers: Be a friend. Keep it simple. Keep it nice. Make a good subject line that'll earn those 3.5 seconds you need to get your simple message across.

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Gary Levitt is the CEO of Mad Mimi in New York and is responsible for tactical aspects of Mad Mimi's development and brand. Gary was born on a remote farm in Southern Africa and went to school with Nelson Mandela's grandchildren; he was also a skateboard pro and champion, and a professional bass player.
Rob is creative director of RLCP, a creative and production boutique (www.rl-cp.com) in Chicago.