How to Make your Email Program a Best Seller

Jan 31, 2013 9:59 AM  By

You are about to add “author” to your resume. You are going to create your “Email Anthology.” I’m sure it will be a page-turner.

Here’s what you need to do. Print every email you sent in December and staple the stack together. Did you just make a best-seller or a confusing, jumbled scrapbook?

While your subscribers are not likely reading your emails in this fashion, it’s important to consider the story your brand tells in the inbox. This is especially true during times of the year when your email volume spikes. There are central storytelling themes you can use to help shape the narrative of your email program.

As you evaluate your emails for opens, clicks and purchases, also consider how storytelling perspectives can influence engagement, brand perception and promotional effectiveness.

After completing the exercise of printing and binding your emails (trust me, you will learn something by killing a few trees), look for your voice. Are your emails consistently playful, salesy, formal, robotic… or does the tone vary wildly?

It’s important to make sure your email tone and the themes you use are in line with your brand’s image and that the approach resonates with your subscriber base. If you have tried a variety of tones and themes, compare the shifts with the data to determine which are most effective. Defining the tone and themes that work best will help you craft your communication plan, email design and segmentation strategies.

You may be able to determine the plot of your email story from the complete month-log “Email Anthology,” however I encourage you to focus on a meaty “chapter” like days where you sent multiple emails or weeks when volume increased.

I find one of the missed opportunities to craft an intriguing story is with a multi-day sale like a 3- or a 5-day sale. Many brands will repeat the same subject line, email design and featured products in multiple emails.

A more compelling approach would be to storyboard the emails to build a narrative. Start with a pre-sale announcement to your most loyal customers before launching the sale to your full audience. Follow up by shifting the email design to include different products or a secondary offer.

Start wrapping up the sale by reinforcing urgency to shop before the sale ends with a “2 Days Left” themed message. End the story with a “Last Chance” email on the final day of the sale. And the story doesn’t end there for everyone.

Send an “Hours Left” email to those who have clicked but not purchased. This email could help convince an undecided shopper that now is the time to buy.

I open around 5,000 promotional emails per month and let me tell you, there are a lot of boring email programs out there. Some of the most dynamic brands send really dull emails both visually and from the promotional angle. If your newly stapled-together “Email Anthology” had you dozing off, then it’s time to introduce some drama into your story.

Try an email design with a horizontal layout that shows products as subscribers scroll left to right. Use animation to show how a product can be used or as a novelty to engage subscribers. Launch a contest that asks subscribers to contribute their opinion on a hot topic.

While your “Email Anthology” may not make it to The New York Times Best Seller List, it should help you better understand how you can improve the story you share with your subscribers. It’s easy to get caught up with data, technology and the production of your email program, but it’s also important to take a step back and view it through your subscriber’s eyes.

Jim Davidson is Manager of Marketing Research for Bronto Software.