Email titles are really advertising headlines - so why don't we use them that way?



It’s hard to keep up with the changing roles of communication. Some time back, I scribbled excited thoughts on here regarding how ‘much TV advertising is now effectively entertainment sponsorship’, and why ‘traditional direct mail has the opportunity to behave like old school TV advertising, if it wants to’. (Can’t find them right now, oops, but if you message me I’ll tell you what I was on about…)

Today though I’d like to share a simple thought about email and how you can use it better than most everybody else. It won’t be difficult.

We all get hundreds of emails a week. Some of my client colleagues get 300 a day. No preview window is going to get a scrap of attention when you are ploughing through that lot, especially if you’re on a platform at King’s Cross looking at your mobile.

So, I submit that the headline of an email is quite remarkably important if you’re sending it to someone who doesn’t, absolutely, have to read it.

Assuming you are GDPR compliant, of course, your mass email campaigns are directed at people who might, at least, have some connection with your business. My problem is: most of the email I get vastly over-assumes that connection. Sending a sales mail should be, in a way, just like old school advertising. You can think of an email recipient as the reader of an old school newspaper, flicking through a lot of content.

Yes, you may have some claim on their attention because you’re in that newspaper. No, that doesn’t mean they’re going to actually take on board what you’ve got to say. Earn that attention.

You’d think this would be obvious but it clearly isn’t. Example: Most of us are Adobe customers because we use Acrobat. As such I received a sales email last year with the headline “Welcome to Adobe Stock”.

Who signed that off? My Outlook blocks image download automatically. So four words was the only thing I was guaranteed to see, of the communication, as it sat in a queue of 100 others.

I still don’t know what Adobe Stock is. Too busy, sorry. At the very least, guys, try to show me in a sentence why I might be interested in reading your email. It’s exactly the way an old school direct mail headline would try to get your attention. Direct mail gurus like Drayton Bird would never have sent a letter out with a banner headline saying Welcome to Adobe Stock. So why are we doing it electronically?

Also in the ‘naughty chair’, prompting my post today, is the IHG loyalty scheme.  You don’t know what that is, do you? Nor did I, at the time. But IHG struck lucky with yours truly – last month I booked the Crowne Plaza in Birmingham for Games Xpo and failed to avoid being auto enrolled for their cross-brand loyalty scheme.

On inspection, said scheme looks pretty good.  People who book hotels 10 times a year across the world are very unlikely to build up much credit in a single brand scheme.  IHG lets you build points by booking many of the more popular brands and redeem them against things you might actually want – like a free room.

So how did IHG Rewards introduce all this to me? They sent me an email. The headline was “are you ready?”

Just that.

It reminded me immediately of Vodafone’s new slogan “the future’s exciting – ready?” - a sort of half-arsed version of the 1990’s Orange slogan, only with the copywriting equivalent of a finger jabbing at your chest.

Bear in mind I didn’t even know I’d signed up for IHG and did not recognise the brand name. I only recall a mild irritation as I glanced down my inbox. Was I ready? Bloody hell. What for? Was it going to be a problem if I wasn’t? Should I have gathered the family in the living room and run through a checklist, like you might do before making a parachute jump?

How easy would it have been to do a better job communicating to this new, GDPR-compliant customer? OK, I did read the email. But only because I have an interest in this sort of subject, because of the job I do. Otherwise I would simply have deleted it and might even have blocked the sender.

This morning Insider Magazine’s Ian Griffin  invited me to a seminar next month. His email is headed “East Midlands Development Corporation to be discussed at Insider Breakfast – book your place”.  It’s not going to win any awards but it tells me what’s on offer, at what event, and how I might choose to respond.

Anyone can play ‘stop writing shit emails’. It doesn’t take much money, or time. Try: “Read about the free stuff your new IHG membership could get you”.  Okay, be careful with ‘free’ - there are some phrases to avoid as they tend to trigger spam filters.  Research these. But remember just because your email isn’t flagged as spam doesn’t mean it’s going to get read.

Even better, though, why not hire some professional help and create something creatively interesting – you know, the way press advertisers used to need to do? In a sea of dreck, brands should see ‘exciting email’ as a massive opportunity to differentiate.  Not sure how to do this? - ask me.

PS. I’d show you an example of this sort of best practice, but I’ve only got about 2000 emails on my hard drive at the moment…. 


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Wednesday 19th June 2019

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