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How To Make E-Mail Marketing Click For Your Training Or E-Learning Business.

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Yes! A highly-placed training purchase authority is opening the e-mail promotion you sent them. Out of dozens of messages of all sorts in their mailbox, they have chosen yours.

What was it about your message that enticed them to open it -- rather than immediately delete it as just so much worthless SPAM? What will it take to get them to read your message and act on it? Here's some advice on how to make e-mail marketing work for you.

Getting Your Message Opened

The key to getting your message opened rather than deleted is the "From" and "Subject" line.

In these times of rampant SPAM, the best “From” line is a name that your audience recognizes and respects. Most commonly, this will be your company name, e.g. “Training Colossus.” It’s also a sound practice to use your company name to unfamiliar audiences since it will likely serve as a cue to what you have to offer and suggests substance and credibility.

You may also want to try a combination of your name and your company name, e.g. “ - particularly if you have a prior relationship with your audience.

Don’t identify yourself by your personal name alone to a general promotion audience unless you are famous or enjoy an existing personal relationship. If folks see your message is from “Sam Smith”, and they haven’t a clue who Sam Smith is, then your message will almost certainly wind up in the trash.

The ideal subject line includes a key word or phrase that immediately relates to your prospect audience. If you are promoting to a sales training audience, then consider working "sales training" into your subject line.

Subject: Who Says Salespeople Can Be Trained?

If your prospects are CIOs, then consider putting "CIO" in your subject line.

Subject: This Certification Even a CIO Could Love.

If you're promoting a learning management system that's undeterred by fire walls, you might author a subject line that says:

Subject: Finally, an LMS No Firewall Can Stop

You may also occasionally want to personalize your subject line. For instance, following is one of the subject lines we use to promote Training Business E-Visory:

Subject: John, you can sell more training - here's how.

Our goal here is to challenge complacent training company execs with the slightly cheeky and uninvited use of their first name. The result: an excellent subscription rate -- and no complaints. Note also that we are also trying to trigger curiosity on the part of the message recipient. Always try to author your subject lines with a bit of an unfulfilled promise that requires opening the message for resolution.

Try and keep the substance of your subject lines within 40 characters or less. If you go much longer, your copy will be cropped by your recipients' inbox margins. Also, some studies have shown that shorter subject lines attract higher open rates.
If your company name has big time clout with your audience, you may also want to see if there’s a way of including it in your subject line.

What should you avoid in your subject line? Any generalities that don’t resonate with your target audience. Copy without any “tease quotient.” Most importantly, avoid any language or syntax that will get your message branded as SPAM and zapped by your recipients’ ISP or SPAM blocker.

In general it’s best to avoid the following:

  • Words like “free” “no obligation” “act today” and other direct marketing clichés. (Instead of “Free LMS Offer” you might say “Try this next-generation LMS on us.”)
  • Exclamation points, gratuitous capitalization and other hyperbole. Order TODAY!!! isn’t likely to get through the spam police.

Rather than run the risk of inadvertently triggering spam filters, there are a number of free spam check resources that will evaluate not only your subject line but your entire message for SPAM issues and identify problem areas that need to be addressed. One resource that we occasionally use can be found at:

Getting Your Message Understood and Acted On

Some people will tell you that writing effective e-mail promotion is an entirely different craft than writing effective direct mail. Generally, that's because they don't know how direct mail is really read and responded to.

Just because you send somebody a 2-page traditional direct mail letter doesn't mean they read it through from A to Z. What they really do is to read the first paragraph or so. Then they fast forward to the reply form to see what your proposition is. Then they browse your attachment to see what sort of proof of performance you have to offer. Then they skim a few more paragraphs of the letter. Then they read the P.S. Finally they return to the reply form and fill it in.

If you were to require this kind of hyperactive reading behavior with an e-mail message, your audience would wind up scrolling themselves silly. So you need to reformat your message to cater to your reader's natural inclinations.

Since many readers will want to cut to your reply form after they've read your first paragraph or two, put a link to your reply form here. For readers who are more patient, also put a link to your reply form near the end of your message. Finally, for die-hards, include a link in your P.S.

In general, it’s preferable if your e-mail message comes from a real person (preferably your president) and is written in a one-to-one way.

Be sure and include a signature section at the end of the message including the writer's name and title. Also be sure and include full contact information (address, phone, e-mail address). In a virtual and uncertain world, this will help make your firm seem more substantial and legit.

And where should your e-mail links go? To a landing page or mini-Website that is totally focused on supporting the premise of your promotion message and on getting readers to qualify themselves and provide the necessary contact information.

Be sure the landing page repeats any important information that folks will have missed by clicking through to it after the first paragraph or so of your letter. Because it's not likely they will want to go to the trouble of toggling back and forth between your landing page and your e-mail message.

Organize the supporting information on your landing page so it surrounds your reply form. That way if someone is immediately inspired to respond they don't have to wade through it. Don’t forget to include credibility elements like a prominent logo, company credentials, industry awards, testimonials, and other supporting evidence that makes it clear that you are not just another fly-by-night Internet shyster.

Try and capture everything on one page. However, if you decide you must layer the supporting information on separate pages in a drill down way, then try and use pop up windows so your reply form is always visible.

As for your reply form, don't request any information you don't really need to qualify and contact your prospect. And, if you request their e-mail address, be sure and indicate that you will hold it in confidence and not share it with any 3rd party.

Whatever you do, don't dump prospects on your general Website homepage. If you do, you run the risk that they will go off on an extended surfing expedition and erroneously conclude that you can be of no help to them. In fact, it is generally better not to provide a link to your homepage from your landing page. Better to summarize the general Website information that supports your offer within the confines of a closed landing page loop.

Questions You May Have

Q: Should we use plain text or an HTML/rich text format?

A: HTML e-mail formats are like a mini Web-page. They allow you to use full color graphics and multiple fonts - and to format your message almost any way you want. In addition, in going the HTML route, you are able to measure how many folks receive your message, open it and click through to your landing page – which for a direct marketing pro is almost like dying and going to heaven. Properly configured, an HTML message can add both interest and credibility (in the form of your logo) to your message.

The downside to HTML is that a number of folks adjust their browser settings to block out graphics, and still prefer to receive messages as plain test. In addition, a “Hollywood look” can compromise any attempt to communicate with people in a one-to-one personal way.

While many marketing types report universally higher response rates to HTML mail, we have not always observed this to be the case. A great way to hedge your bets is to send folks an HTML mailing and then follow up in a week or so with a plain text version (perhaps with a different subject line).

Q: Does e-mail marketing mean I can dispense with traditional direct mail?

A: Probably not - because of a practice known as "Permission Marketing" also known as "Opt In."

While snail mail list owners will cheerfully sell the mailing addresses of their entire file without asking for permission, reputable firms will not sell e-mail identities without each person's express permission.

This convention stems from the efforts of the industry to protect people's identity and privacy – (and preempt the government from taking action in a more draconian way). There's also another pragmatic reason. With inboxes increasingly crammed with unwelcome solicitations, few individuals are willing to disclose their e-mail identity without assurance there will be limitations concerning how it will be shared.

As a result, many list owners have yet to make e-mail addresses available. And, where they have, permission requirements have reduced the number of e-mail identities available to a small fraction of the overall file.

What this means is that if you want to reach all of your prospects, you will most likely need to use direct mail to supplement your e-mail promotion efforts. Also, you may not find e-mail "opt-in" prospects to be of the same quality as traditional direct mail prospects.

Q: Will e-mail marketing be a financial windfall for me?

A: E-mail promotion costs nothing for envelopes, stationary, printing, and postage. So, even though external e-mail lists are typically 3x more expensive than direct mail lists, you're likely reaching your prospects for 1/2 to 1/3 the expense of a full blown direct mail package.

Will you be inundated by responses? Several years ago, e-mail marketers were reporting response rates 2x - 3x higher than direct mail -- a downright bonanza. However, as the novelty has worn off and inbox clutter increases, e-mail response rates have come down dramatically.

Today, in many cases, the cost of an e-mail inquiry from a rented list has stabilized at about the same cost as a direct mail inquiry.

What sort of results can you expect? Try promoting your training offerings to a qualified e-mail list and see. If you are able to attract qualified prospects via e-mail at less expense per inquiry than traditional direct mail you're in business!

Q: What is the primary advantage of e-mail marketing?

A: One big advantage is speed!

It can take 2-3 weeks to produce a direct mail campaign. Plus another 4-6 weeks for all of the responses to trickle in. In contrast, an e-mail campaign can be launched the week it is conceived -- with most responses on hand within 3-5 days.

This means you can get leads out to your salespeople almost immediately. And that you can provide more notice on time-sensitive offers like Webinars and showcase seminars. It also means that you can determine whether a promotion campaign should be rolled out or nipped in the bud while there's still time to act on this information.

Another advantage is the cost savings and convenience that e-mail marketing offers in communicating to your house file. It’s a wonderful way to notify your customer and prospects database about new product announcements, forthcoming events, case study whitepapers, you name it. E-mail is also a godsend for publishing and circulating customer/prospect newsletters.

Q: We have been totally unsuccessful with direct mail marketing. Will switching to e-mail marketing give us the breakthrough we need?

A: Sorry, probably not. Both delivery methods require the same planning disciplines. Check out "Not Enough Sales Leads? Try This 'Less Is More' Approach" in the back issue area of our Website (

Q: We've come up with 2 exciting alternatives for a subject line. Is there any way of testing which line is best?

A: Absolutely.

One way to test the click through appeal of alternative subject lines is to simply do a split test against a small segment of your mail universe. Set up separate landing pages for each cell and you’ll be able to compare traffic no matter whether you’re mailing plain text or HTML. This is the most statistically infallible method.

To keep things inexpensive, try testing against your housefile and then rolling out the winner to purchased lists (assuming you’re comfortable that your housefile is reasonably representative).

Alternatively, you can develop each subject line into a headline for a Google AdWords ad, purchase several key words that apply to your target audience and pit each headline against each other. Within 7 days and for a cost of less than $200 you'll have your likely winner. (We'll be addressing pay-per-click advertising in a future E-Visory).

Q: We're interested in brand awareness as well as inquiries. Is there any way to measure the number of people who click through to our reply landing page but don't respond?

A: Sure, simply refer to the traffic reports for your landing page provided to you by your ISP. As a rule of thumb, for inquiry offers you can expect 3x-6x as many people to click through to your landing page as actually wind up completing your reply form. However, this can vary widely.

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