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You CAN Teach An Old Dog New Tricks . . . Sometimes You Don’t Have To

In the world of marketing, there are new things to learn, new innovations introduced, new techniques that surface, every day. It’s a fast-moving, wide-open world where marketers chase the next big thing, the new, shiny object that promises more information, faster feedback, better data or segmentation, easier tracking, more operations under one platform, and other enticing offers to help marketers make sense of this huge, complex puzzle called marketing.

But sometimes, that new shiny object turns out to be a tarnished, older, less spiffy tactic in a new package, or a reboot of a more traditional tactic, dressed in digital clothing. Old or new, the object of the game is to connect with, to engage, to persuade, and to change opinion and the subsequent behavior to a purchase.

Sometimes marketing skills and practices can be applied to new tactics as well. E-mail is a strong, successful tactic when used under the right circumstances with the right audience. The same characteristics that make an effective e-mail campaign, the same skills that e-mail uses to reach the audience effectively –

  • strong, persuasive copy;
  • a solid, clear, concise and compelling offer
  • eye-catching headlines and carrier tagline (read “Subject Line”);
  • the right list, one that is accepting, responsive and relevant and clean of undeliverable addresses;
  • attractive imagery that resonates with the audience and conveys the message and reinforces the brand;

are those used in direct mail. Yet direct mail, and it’s practitioners, are increasingly marginalized by clients, agency leaders, and pundits as a dying art, an antiquated technique, an anachronism. However, those same experts agree that those elements are what makes e-mail campaigns successful – so why are those skills declining?

One reason might be the ease of using e-mail versus crafting a direct mail campaign. There are lots of moving parts to doing direct mail well – there are formats, sizes, stock selections, printing techniques, postal regulations, list prep, personalization issues, pre-sort and data processing, on top of the writing, imagery, offer, list and subject line to consider. The time required to put together and manage a direct mail campaign is almost always longer than an e-mail campaign – production time, mailing time, list data management, merge-purge, and other operations to allow for postal delivery, and the physical transport from one production process to another takes much more time than writing, designing, loading, and sending an e-mail. That additional time comes in handy, it allows for lots of thought, editing, revision and review by lots of different sets of eyes along the way, with lots of opportunity to spot errors, typos, color and size problems, regulatory and weight issues, and a host of other potential errors that can sink your program and tank the results. E-mail, thanks to a variety of competent and inexpensive software programs, can be executed solo, with no oversight as to what goes out, how it’s designed, and no restraint as to the content, the biggest constraint being the list has to be deemed an “opt-in” originated, so that SPAM regulations don’t apply.

Old or new, the object of the game is to connect with, to engage, to persuade, and to change opinion and the subsequent behavior to a purchase.

Yet, all the simplicity and speed of e-mail should free up time to write tremendous copy, to craft a very persuasive offer, to tell a story with endless insight and as much real estate on the page as you need to tell the full compelling tale. But with all that extra time, how many top-quality, really creative and persuasive e-mails have you read recently? Based on the total received on a given day, not many arrive in my inbox that compel me to do anything but hit “delete” . . .

. . . and the ones that do, I’ve found, were usually crafted and written by those with direct mail experience in their past. DM pros make great e-mailers, but the reverse is not usually true.

Turns out, the craft of copywriting, the ability to relate directly to an audience in writing, the skill required to turn features into benefits, to make offers that are easily interpreted and unambiguous, to build rapport with the audience, to engage and entice that audience with something as mundane as a plastic widget or a monthly meeting, is still just as valuable in the new digital frontier as it was in the bad old days of catalogs and direct marketing. Kudos go to those who’ve taken the time and energy to learn their craft, to perfect their art, to become true 10,000-hour experts at the art and science of communicating to an audience of individuals. Next time you think you’ll dash off an e-mail to your hot list and it takes you twenty minutes or less to get it out the door, take a few minutes before you hit the “send” button, and see if that’s really the best, the strongest, the most interesting and compelling message you could possibly send . . . if not, maybe wait until someone else gets to read it before you launch it out into the ether . . . the job you save may be your own!

About David Poulos

Speaker, Consultant and Author David Poulos is known as the Marketing Doctor because of his proven ability to accurately diagnose and prescribe the most effective solutions for successful business growth with absolute surgical precision.

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