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Do Your Emails Need Ketchup?

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by: Loren McDonald (@LorenMcDonald)
26 September 2008

While on vacation recently, I had one of the best hamburgers I've ever eaten: a Kobe beef Havarti cheeseburger with ripe red tomatoes, caramelized onions, wild arugula and, of course, Havarti cheese on a premium beef patty. As I stared at my freshly served gourmet burger, with a bottle of ketchup and jar of Dijon mustard in the background, I faced a critical decision:

Should I do what I and many fellow Americans do, which is to pour a liberal amount of ketchup on the burger and add some mustard on the bun, or should I bite in to the burger first to enjoy its various "natural" flavors?

It wasn't a decision on the magnitude of whether to loan $700 billion to U.S. financial institutions, but this gorgeous burger's appearance made me rethink a near life-long habit of automatically adding a dose of Heinz ketchup to my all-beef patty.

Later on, I realized, as I often do, that my dilemma paralleled a common situation in email marketing. Most marketers also automatically add "ketchup" in the form of discounts, free shipping and other common incentives to their emails, when what they really need is a better-tasting burger.

Now, marketers deploy these tactics for a reason. Incentives and sweeteners produce results, and, in most cases, still deliver a great return-on-investment. But what if you didn't need ketchup—er, incentives?

So, here's my challenge to email marketers: Rethink your $6 email burger and serve up a $15 version instead.

Remember, the success of my $15 burger (with garlic fries) rested on the quality of the ingredients: homemade (or homemade-looking) buns, fresh produce, gourmet cheese and high-quality Kobe beef.

Now, these are key ingredients that will turn your fast-food email burger into a mouth-watering gourmet burger that will generate a higher ROI and improved margins because you need fewer incentives:

  • Messages tailored to individual recipients based on their demographics or behavior
  • A welcome program that sets expectations and creates value for new subscribers out of the gate and confirms that their decision to opt in to your email program was a good one
  • Creative subject lines that motivate people to take the action they (and you) want, not just open the email
  • Emails designed to render well on multiple environments and platforms—PC, Web and mobile
  • Creative and compelling copy that motivates people to want to know more and act
  • A competitively positioned email program, which serves a clear need to recipients relative to your competitors’ offerings
  • Emails with genuine personality that provide a reason for subscribers to anticipate your next message
  • Emails designed from a user perspective, making it easy for subscribers to find the information and links they need to take the action they want, anything from changing their preferences to buying your latest widget.
Incentives and sweeteners will always play a role in email programs, but as you retool your email program—designing it from the ground up, with better ingredients—they may become less important to your success.

I'd love to hear feedback from readers who have been able to decrease their reliance on incentives and offers simply by improving the quality of the elements in their email program.

And, if you are ever in Laguna Beach, Calif, I recommend you stop at the Sapphire Laguna restaurant and order the Kobe beef Havarti cheeseburger. But, hold the ketchup!




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