2 Email Campaigns Show How (and How Not) to “Sell” Content

Two email campaigns that arrived in my inbox recently serve as useful illustrations of how best to promote informational content. One, a white paper offer from sales tax automation company Avalara, is a plodding recitation of facts that does little to grab the reader. The other, from email marketing software provider ExactTarget, drives action by communicating the value of the content in concise, compelling language. Let’s take a closer look:

2 Email Campaigns Show How (and How Not) to “Sell” Content image Avalara Email Campaign 150x1502 Email Campaigns Show How (and How Not) to “Sell” ContentTo their credit, Avalara’s email header takes up very little vertical space, so more valuable selling copy doesn’t get pushed down the page. An image of the offer appears in the sidebar, making that offer more “real” and tangible. Unfortunately, the main body copy lets down the side completely.

From top to bottom, the copy reads more like an executive summary or abstract. You’ll need to wade through two-and-a-half paragraphs of facts and figures about sales tax before you even know what the offer is (a white paper) and even then there’s no clear call to action or anything remotely action-oriented. Even when the writer attempts to communicate why the content would be of value, it’s communicated in first person terms (“we will show how your business …”) versus a more effective second person (“you’ll learn how …”)

2 Email Campaigns Show How (and How Not) to “Sell” Content image ExactTarget Email Campaign 150x1502 Email Campaigns Show How (and How Not) to “Sell” ContentIn stark contrast, the email from ExactTarget wastes no time in communicating exactly what the offer is, and why the reader will find it valuable. Note the sub-head (“Forrester Research, Inc. defines 4 tips …”) that instantly delivers tangible value in specific, quantifiable terms. The bulleted points are all clear, compelling learning benefits – what the reader will gain by downloading the report – and the fact they’re bullets makes them easy to scan at a glance, whereas Avalara’s email is just a mass of text. Use of the second person (“You’ll also learn how …”) drives home the point, and a clear call to action (“Download Now”) closes the deal.

If I were being picky, I’d change only a couple of things about the ExactTarget campaign. First, the header is too large by half. I’d lose the ExactTarget logo and reduce the mobile phone icon (or replace it with something that better represents the offer.) I’d also make the headline HTML – in its current form it disappears entirely unless I’ve set Outlook to download images automatically. And lastly, I’d add a text link (“Download your copy now”) in the very last paragraph for the same reason – with images turned off, there is no visible call to action for the reader to click.

Using email to promote content? Remember these tips:

1. Keep email headers short to avoid pushing valuable selling copy down the page.
2. Feature an image of the offer to make it more tangible.
3. Communicate learning benefits, not facts.
4. Use bullets in body copy to make key selling points stand out at a glance.
5. Use both text and button-style calls to action.

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