E-Mail Gets Bigger by Going Smaller

As people scan e-mails with preview panes, disabled images and tiny-screened handheld devices, savvy e-mail marketers craft campaigns that aim small--but think big.

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By Gail Goodman

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Ten years ago, I'd get about 50 to 100 voice mails a day. That message volume has now moved into e-mail--and exploded as e-mail has become the dominant method of business communication. And just like we took our phones to go, now we're taking our e-mail along, too, moving out of the office and onto home computers, laptops and handheld devices like BlackBerries and Treos. And we mix business and personal e-mail together more than ever.

The increase in the sheer volume and diversity of e-mail has significantly changed the ways we interact with our inboxes. First, we've become experts at quick, visual sorting. We have to be! Otherwise, we risk falling into a perpetual state of e-mail backlog. Technology is also changing how we digest our daily e-mail intake. Here's how:

  • Sneak peek: Programs like Outlook give users the option to read a portion of e-mail message contents in a preview pane, without actually opening the e-mail.
  • See no evil: E-mail software now includes "block images" as a default setting. This is an anti-porn measure that blocks all images--including your advertising graphics. Users who want to receive images need to manually turn the images setting back on.
  • Handheld nation: Busy professionals, parents, students and consumers are reading their e-mail on the run. E-mails viewed on PDAs and even cell phones leave no room for anything but the basics. Thumbs up to e-mail portability. Thumbs down to HTML formatting.

Are these changes challenging to marketers? You bet. But don't get discouraged. These trends and innovations are opportunities for smart e-mail marketers to be seen. So how do you win?

1. Identify your business's brand, and spell out your subject.
People are far more likely to open an e-mail when they know who it's from and what they'll get if they click. Put your business name in the "From" line--not the name of the employee who distributes the e-mail campaign. Make sure the "Subject" line is specific and spells out the e-mail's contents. Don't make readers guess at the who or what of your message (because they won't). Give them a good reason to click.

2. Put newsletter contents and promotional offers up top and on the left.
You want readers to see this portion of your e-mail in the preview pane. Now how do you entice them to read more and take action? Reduce your newsletter's header space by putting the content links at the top of the screen and moving other, less-critical information, like administrative details, further down. Put a promotional campaign's main product, benefit, offer and promise up top along with your call to action. You have just a few precious inches to entice readers to open your e-mail to full-screen size and click through on your offer. Use it to your best advantage.

3. Create text-only versions of your e-mail communications.
Send subscribers using handheld devices text-only versions of your e-mails. Use a professional e-mail marketing service that sends HTML and text versions so the right version shows up in the right place. Keep text-only readers in mind when you write, and ask yourself, "Does this campaign work when it's stripped down to bare-bones text?" Remember, your subject line and first few lines of copy are more powerful than any snazzy graphics.

4. Don't let your pictures do all the talking.
Sure, a picture's worth a thousand words, but these days, those images could be blocked. Make sure your HTML version still looks good and makes your point even without the images.

5. Get to the point.
Well-chosen words can cut through any medium--even the small spaces of preview panes and BlackBerry screens. Think about your campaigns, and choose your words wisely. Don't make your readers work to figure out what your e-mail's about. Do make it fun and useful. The goal of any e-mail marketing campaign is to get customers clicking through to your world. That's where your relationships can grow big.

Gail Goodman

Gail Goodman is the author of Engagement Marketing: How Small Business Wins In a Socially Connected World (Wiley, 2012) and CEO of Waltham, Mass.-based Constant Contact Inc., a provider of email marketing, event marketing, social media marketing, local deal and online survey tools and services for small businesses, associations and nonprofits.

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