Long copy works well in direct mail. But how does it work online?

Reading material online isn't the same as reading print. Yet, results repeatedly show long copy is successful. How can those long letters do well online when experts say to write brief copy and use headlines? How can long Web copy be so compelling?

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This Week's Dilemma

What makes long, long Web copy effective?

I am finding more and more of those long letters on Web sites. To me, they come across as scams or an exaggeration of the product. Yet, many marketing experts say long copy is successful in getting big sales. After all, we would not see so many of these letters online or in the mailbox if they didn't work. What makes those long letters so successful?

—Maria, copywriter

Previous Dilemma

Keeping a tight lid on spam

I have been collecting email addresses from as many customers as will volunteer them on our customer information form we use to record new customers. My intent is to begin offering an email newsletter beginning next year. I do plan to use a third-party service to manage the newsletter, so there will be an easy way to manage subscribers. Do I need to send an initial email asking subscribers to sign up for the newsletter in order to add them to my mailing list? How do the new spam rules apply to this situation?

—Elliott, marketing services manager

Summary of Advice Received

Darrell Crow, owner of DC Studios, starts us off with advice indicating that it depends on the situation. Here are a few things he suggests you consider before going further:

How were the names initially collected? What were the specific promises made at the time the names were collected? Was the request time-, subject- or incident-bounded? Did the responder perceive the request was fulfilled and that further emails would be an invasion of the trust placed with you? If the answer is that the respondent wants an e-zine and that intent was fairly clear in the initial offer, then go ahead.

The reality is that nearly all third-party providers insist that email candidates confirm their intention prior to becoming subscribers. The second answer is that it boosts one's integrity in the minds of the reader to request confirmation from them to be added on the e-zine mailing list. My experience is that if someone says they want a magazine, the odds are greater they'll read what they choose to receive. Unread e-zines help no one. Read e-zines provide potential profit.

Marcus Barber, strategic foresight analyst, has this to say:

In "theory," the anti-spam laws will not have an impact on any email that has been voluntarily provided to your organization. However, that is not the point when it comes to marketing. Consider the relationship you want to build with these people. How would you like to get something dumped on your doorstep that you never ordered, have no use for, and have to use your time and energy to get rid of? That's the feeling of spam—intrusive.

The following actions help ensure you're taking the steps to reinforce a relationship of trust with your customers:

1. Make your intentions clear.

2. Send an email to customers.

3. Use an opt-in/opt-out strategy.

1. Make your intentions clear

One of the better things to do is to be up front about what you're going to do with a person's email address. This information appears on the form or page where the email address is requested and in the privacy policy.

Martha Weaver, manager at Franklin County Empire Zone, says, "This won't help with the names you have collected so far, but from now on, explain to customers what you plan to do with their email addresses and include a description on your information form regarding 'permission marketing.'"

A reader suggests that when you're collecting email addresses, let clients know that you're collecting them for a newsletter and they will receive the first one. Then, they can decide if the information is useful and stay on the list.

2. Send an email to customers

If you didn't have a notice about sending emails to customers when you collected the email address, it's a good idea to send a follow-up email to explain the purpose of collecting that information. This builds trust.

A reader says email newsletters are a great tool, but not when they're lumped together with spammers in the junk folder:

It would be a good idea to send out a simple email giving your customers the opportunity to either opt in or out of your list. This gives your customers who don't want the newsletter the chance to get off your list; and the ones who do will start looking for it in their inboxes. If you just start sending your customers a newsletter next year, most of them will not recognize it as something they gave you permission to send to them. Your customers won't remember giving out their email address on a form from a year ago, so you run a high risk of being reported as spam. This can affect your relationship with your ISP (Internet Service Provider) as well as whoever is managing the logistics of your email campaigns.

Whatever company you decide to work with won't appreciate numerous spam reports that take time and money to clean up. Giving your recipients the chance to opt in or out at the beginning will give you a much cleaner list, which yields better results in the long run.

Darrell Crow says, "It does not hurt to ask readers to confirm their intentions or to invite them to receive the e-zine. It's also an opportunity for you to use your ol' persuasive writing skills to sell them on the benefits they'll receive in spending their precious time reading your periodical."

Erik Wolfe, director of online media with Blue Dingo, suggests emailing customers to let them know they will soon receive your newsletter:

Provide a link within the email for users to unsubscribe should they believe they're receiving the email in error. Also, provide a link back to your registration page that's pre-populated with their current info. By allowing users to change their information, you'll increase the validity of your existing information, while potentially adding to the user profiles you've already collected.

Marcus Barber says it's not necessary to get them to "sign up" for your email messages after you've collected their addresses:

However, I WOULD send a personally addressed email that says, "Hi Joan, in the past you've shown an interest in (insert your product offering here). We are putting together customized information to send to you (insert frequency here such as "on a monthly basis"). We want to ensure that it's okay with you. If you don't want to receive information about (insert product offering here), please click on this link and we'll take you off the list. If we don't hear from you, we'll assume it's okay to send you this customized information."

By the way, ensure your vendor does NOT gather names for their own use or to sell to others—that'd be an absolute disaster for you, and NEVER agree to send stuff from "affiliates."

3. Use an opt-in/opt-out strategy

The opt-in and opt-out process should be easy. Some experts recommend using a double opt-in process (enter email address online and respond to automatic email responder), while others say that one step should be enough. Christopher Knight of Ezine Tips has recently changed his strategy to stop allowing readers to subscribe by email. Instead, he advises having a Web page for subscribing. In this case, a double opt-in is strongly encouraged, as anyone could enter your email address.

Jim Price, managing director with Go4Growth Ltd., believes today's buzz is opt-in:

It requires the potential subscriber take the action of requesting addition to your circulation list. That action is usually hitting a "yes" button to answer the question, "Do you wish to be added to the circulation list? Yes or No?" Some publishers operate a "double opt-in" policy. So when subscribers hit the "yes" button, an email is sent and they need to reply to that email before they are subscribed. In that way, there is no doubt about the subscriber's intentions.

Also, subscribers should always have an easy way to unsubscribe through your e-zine. If they are REAL customers (not just random names you've collected), I would think they wouldn't take offense to an email from a supplier. For many companies an occasional email or e-zine is the preferred route to good communications with their customers. And (again), the customer should always have the option to unsubscribe.

Jill, project manager with SAGE, says, "Did you ask for their permission to receive additional materials from you? If not, you need them to 'opt in' to receiving additional material that is unrelated to the original purchase."

A reader says, "You could send an introduction email to the names you have already collected and offer them the ability to opt in. This would form the foundation for a double opt-in list of subscribers."

Marcus Barber says, "Provide a CLEAR and EASY method for opting out that works instantly. These steps should have you covered. Having a quick and easy opt-out method will keep your business integrity monitor rating high. To build and develop your list, ensure you provide quality, relevant information that isn't just an attempt to 'sell something.'"

Peter Donohue, principal at Expand Abroad Consulting, offers an important note to consider if you have customers outside the US, or if you're in a partnership. He says, "If you have customers in Europe, you need to comply with their laws. The laws for sending to businesses are not that different from those of the US, but for consumers they are stricter. Also, partnerships (like law firms) are classified as consumers, not businesses, so be careful about categorization."

* * *

Indicate your intentions on the form that collects the email addresses, and if that wasn't originally in place, send an email explaining that you plan to send a newsletter soon. Make it easy to opt in/opt out, otherwise why waste your "email count" on a reader who doesn't want your newsletter?

"Call" the marketing hotline anytime you need help. MarketingProfs readers are happy to help you.

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Hank Stroll (Hank@InternetVIZ.com) is publisher at InternetVIZ, a custom publisher of 24 B2B e-newsletters reaching 490,000 business executives.