Hi there. I'm Matt. Don't hate the player. Hate the game.1

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Aug 9, 2009 | Comments



It’s easy to sort my email/mail. The unimportant marketing stuff looks the same. The funny thing is that I’m completely aware of this, but I still follow the crowd when writing copy and designing creative.


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  • 1. Agree that a first name would be more personal. But also seeing "Jim from American Airlines" might seem awkward.

    2. You're right about the subject line--it's written in such a way that if I saw such writing from a friend I'd probably slap them. I used to work for a credit card company, and APR offers are about playing the numbers, not hyper-targeting. Send out 1,000,000 emails 1 once a week and the 1.5% response rate earns you a healthy ROI, regardless of how many customers you piss off.

    3. Direct mail, regardless of whether its considered "junk mail," is probably one of the most optimized analytically driven marketing campaigns out there--rivaling online banners ads and TV commercials. From your site, I gather that this is not the "greenest" form of marketing. But even the most brilliant marketers will point to Direct Mail as the epitome of where most campaigns should be. Though I pointed out the examples of mail as trash, it's still better than most of crap out there.

  • I think there are probably a couple of different things going on here, esp. with your inbox.

    First up, the bulk of return addresses are company names, not personal names. Obviously it'd be misleading to only include a personal name, but why not make the return address "Jess at Roughstock Studios" or something that bridges the gap between commercial and personal?

    Eyeballs moving right, you then land on the subject line. In most of the above cases, the subject is so company- or pitch-focused that they're pretty much irrelevant to your personal life (unless you happen to be looking for a new apartment or shopping for flowers at the very moment you're checking your email...unlikely).

    And that actually leads to the real issue: the company is clearly playing the numbers by allowing for massive waste in exchange for a tiny percentage of opens. That's a weak marketing tactic, in my book. Example: you're 0% APR credit card offer in the snail mail batch. If they'd actually looked into your credit habits (as they have the ability to do, which is whole other conversation about ethics), maybe they'd have noticed you've been a credit card user for 15 years and haven't once made a transfer balance using a 0% APR offer. Skip you, target those who have.

    But companies would rather invest massive amounts of money in developing mass-market campaigns. Whether it's laziness, or simply that commodity products are easier to sell on that basis, I don't really know.

    Finally, move right again and you get the 1st-sentence preview. In most cases, the "Can't see this email?" line is a dead giveaway that it's a form newsletter. Trash.

    I just think the vast majority of both direct mail and email marketing is trash, which is why it...ends up in the trash.

  • I was thinking the same thing. It can't be too personal--then it's the bait and switch.

    I agree that the "human-voice" is much more convincing. If the headline doesn't scream, "I'm a piece of marketing," I'll read it. I'm reminded of this graphic here. I suppose that as long as the headline/subject/envelope has a call-to-action, it's likely marketing. But the call-to-action drives results. Perhaps the lesson is to not spam people at all, so that when you do have a marketing-esque communication, it is always opened.

    I'm mixed about non-profit marketing. Some of the tactics have gotten really sketchy--like taping a nickel to the letter or including personalized stationary. I agree that this is more likely to drive donations, but I would not expect such actions from reputable organizations like UNICEF and the United Way. Thoughts?

  • So to get through our brain filters, it needs to look like real communication; like an email from a friend or colleague, for example.

    Problem is, spam/junkmail that tries to imitate the look of a handwritten letter or personal email, and turns out not to be, is more off-putting to an audience than marketing that at least looks like itself, because it is deceitful - the ol' bait and switch.

    So I think it needs to still look like marketing. But it could be more innovative than the current formula: "Verb + something appealing" --
    example list from your inbox: Win..., Send..., Get..., Earn..., Leave... . I hate marketing that is immediately trying to talk me into doing something - it screams "used car salesman" desperate. It's not an attractive marketing voice.

    Some of the spamy email I get regularly is from non-profit arts orgs that I've signed up to receive news from - this translates a lot of the time into asks for donations, of course. But the approach is more modern - it's inviting, welcoming, "let us show you what we're doing and make you feel good for being in the loop about all these important programs" - it tries to gain your support, because good fundraisers know that giving a donation is a statement of personal belief, of supporting a cause - so it appeals to people's values, tries to get them on board, rather than playing to a sense of urgency and emotional need for material stuff, pressing them to "buy, buy, buy!" flowers, airline tickets, clothes, etc. all "on sale now!" Non-profit arts orgs genuinely want your interest and support, not just your dollars, because they measure success in terms of a mission rather than bottom line, and this mission generally relates to educating the public and spreading the word, or art, or whatever, and making the world more safe for something or another. Maybe this sounds ideal, too ideal for commercial companies to imitate, and the differences between the goals of a for-profit and a non-profit are too wide for their marketing to be similar.

    But you'd think they could take a lesson, at least. Because I find marketing with an inviting voice, that tries to involve me and educate me, more compelling than marketing with a pushy voice that feels like it's always trying to fool me.

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