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I'll bet when you read the title of this article, you thought, "Neato bandito--an article about the latest and greatest high-tech tools and gadgets in the e-mail marketing world!"

(Okay, so maybe you don't use phrases like “neato bandito.”)

Or maybe you thought, "Sheesh. Not ANOTHER article on yet another set of tools that I'll never use."

Well simmer down, slugger. That's not what this article is about. Quite the contrary.

There's certainly something to be said, generally speaking, for some shiny things—what we fun-loving, easily distracted humans tend to go after. In the e-mail realm, they can include promotions that use animation, voiceovers, video and Flash.

Since we're marketers, we often like to explore so-called sexy tactics like those that gain our attention. It helps us think of how we can apply them to grab new eyeballs from our own prospect pools.

However, when we do this, we often lose sight of the fact that we're marketing to people, and not eyeballs. Unique people at that—each with her own internal blueprint that determines all the variables that ultimately make her respond. And for many people, both online AND off, "sexy" just doesn't sell.

I had a conversation recently with a colleague—a bright, ambitious young woman who was telling me that the only commercial e-mails that captivate her nowadays are the ones that use nifty tricks that take advantage of the movement and sound that this medium offers.

She cited an example: A commercial e-mail with one large and colorful graphic and headline that, when her mouse scrolled over it, would project an amusing sound byte intended to sell.

Eye and ear-catching—yes. But would something like this sell high-ticket investment newsletters? Would it be helpful in developing a decent number of good quality business-to-business leads? (Emphasis on "good quality.")

My colleague suggested that e-mail marketing agencies like ours might want to create more promotions of this nature. To stay ahead of the game. To remain fresh. To ensure that we remain forward thinking.

My idea of forward thinking is keeping an eye on that eight ball. It's not about constantly coming up with innovative and glamorous ways to reach our potential customers. It's about maintaining our focus ON those customers. Getting inside their heads. Looking in and not out.

In the offline DM world, we see the variances between the markets, and the "packaging," clearly. After all, on a cost-per-message basis, direct mail is quite a bit more expensive than e-mail—so offline marketers have to be darned sure that they are targeting their prospects properly.

For example, you wouldn't see a (smart) marketer send a three-dimensional-premium-enclosed-lead-generation package that cost upwards of $30 each to a list of people that are qualified to receive it JUST because they're likely to enjoy the premium, would you?

In other words, there's a good chance these folks would open the package to get the gift, but probably wouldn't take the bait on the ultimate objective of the piece, which is to garner new, qualified—there's that word again!—leads.

By the same token, you wouldn't see Nielsen Media's TV ratings service send out mail pieces with silver dollars enclosed ONLY to people who, hey, could use a buck. The marketers at Nielsen need to target people who have televisions at the very least!

On the other side of the coin (not to be confused with the silver dollar from above), the plain-Jane packages from "yesteryear"—#10 envelopes with letters enclosed, 28-page booklets on newspaper stock—are STILL generating millions upon millions of revenue every year for companies that have historical success using it.

Because these packages are hitting the right markets that respond to these more copy-driven messages—and likely will continue to respond to them as long as there is a desire and a need.

Which brings me back to the e-mail space and what we do here.

It's no secret that so many of the markets that we target offline can now be culled online. The so-called high-falutin target markets from the DM world—the ones that respond to the boring, copy-driven messages noted above—are here as well.

I'm not saying that if we're working within those markets that we need to send them tomes through e-mail. I am saying, however, that words and the power behind them (embedded, perhaps, in a graphically enhanced HTML promotion) ARE critical to truly reaching these folks.

When we saturate the e-mail marketplace with "sexy" we dilute its power—and, in my opinion, we hurt our space. While glitz and glamour may have their place, they shouldn't be employed by every marketer. KNOW your audience. Hit THEIR unique hot buttons, which may have nothing to do with anything the least bit shiny.

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Kim MacPherson is founder and chief copywriter for Inbox Interactive (, one of the first agencies dedicated solely to email marketing. Reach her via