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Dec 16, 2004
How To

Design & Copywrite Email Postcards for Maximum Results: Tips for B-to-B and B-to-C Marketers

SUMMARY: How long do you think your average opened email is actually looked at by the recipient? A few seconds perhaps. Even if you're sending a newsletter that's packed with great content, people's eyes are flickering quickly over the screen and then moving on if nothing jumps out at them right away. That's why email postcards can average 50% higher open-to-click rates than newsletters or multi-offer sales alerts. Discover:
The 5 types of marketers who should test epostcards
How to avoid common copywriting and design mistakes
"It's short, it's sweet, it's really built to sell." Peter Scott, Co-Founder Blue Tent Marketing describes the epostcard format.

Anecdotal data from campaigns for roughly two dozen clients Scott tracked over 2004 suggests that epostcards averaged 50% higher open-to-click rates than email newsletters to the same lists. Why?

We suspect people tend to spend less time per opened email message these days. In fact, this year for the first time our own single-story newsletter format response rates significantly outpulled our multiple-story-summary newsletter format.

Email recipients don't always have the patience for multiple images, multiple summaries with links, multiple offers, or longer copy anymore. The epostcard format may be the best for this quick-skim email age.

5 types of marketers who should test e-postcards:

We're not advising you to abandon longer messages and newsletters entirely, but instead to test tossing an epostcard into your regular mix.

Scott says he recommends that clients test alternating formats to their house list. So one issue a marketer may send a full-blown newsletter that's chock full of content, and the alternating issue they'll send just a quick blurb.

These five types of marketers should test epostcards:

#1. Newsletter publishers with declining clicks

If your click rates have been declining and you tend to feature long content (articles with more than 100 words) or multiple articles, test a postcard.

You can set up your email response database to make this work better for 2005. The goal is to collect individual reader topic preferences either by simply asking them and/or by tracking the types of stories they tend to click on.

Then when you test the epostcard format, focus on their absolute favorite topic. You only have a few seconds of eyeball time, don't waste it promoting links or info about something your reader isn't passionate about.

#2. B-to-B marketers seeking subject guidance for future white papers or webinars work best

As we learned from our own epostcard test this week (info below), tracking clicks from this format makes for great market research.

Do you have a library of content such as past white papers and canned webinars? Divide your content into a handful of general topical areas and then send an epostcard invite to your house list to see which topics they'll click on.

You may be surprised to learn that the topics that catch interest now may be different than those that originally got the most responses. Either the market has evolved, or perhaps your specific item title sounded boring although the topic itself is interesting.

Then use the results when planning 2005 white paper and webinar topic launches.

#3. Retailers highlighting one special offer

Single offers almost always outpull multiple offers in classic direct mail packages (even on catalog covers), so why should email be any different?

#4. High-ticket item marketers with longer sales cycles

Scott says epostcards work exceptionally well for his clients in the hospitality industry. For example, Angler's West sent thousands of fishing hobbyists a series of epostcards on a monthly basis during the off-season to ramp up pricey tour sales.

"He was sold out for the October trip by June," says Scott.

A fun, friendly epostcard featuring an enticing photo worked much better than longer newsletters or straightforward sales offers would have. Angler's West was gently top-of-mind when the prospect was finally ready to book a trip.

#5. Viral wanna-be marketers

Your email recipients are protective of their friends' time. They'll act as gatekeepers, not sending on longer or complex email. If they find an interesting factoid in your newsletter, they'll often cut-and-paste text rather than forward the entire issue ... which means the friends never see your hotlinks or offers.

A quick, fun epostcard is much more likely to be forwarded in its entirety. If you're counting on pass-along from AOL and Hotmail members, just remember the text-only version of your card may be the only thing forwarded-recipients see.

Epostcard design and copywriting tips

Avoid the four big mistakes:

Mistake #1. Don't put text over the picture

In the real world, postcards generally have eye-catching art on one side, and a text-message on the other side. You need both to work best, but they must be separated.

Recipient's eyes look at pictures differently than they do text. You view a picture but you read text. Combining the two usually ends up with the text losing out. (In fact, print advertisement tests indicate any text that's placed on top of a picture is significantly less read than text that sits in its own dedicated white space.)

Split your design so that text is on one side and the photo is on the other.

Pictures are always more compelling than text is, and in our culture people's eyes move from left to right. So, if you put the photo at the right, the eye will be sucked into it ... and never get to the text. Best practice -- always put your photo on the left.

Mistake #2. Waaaaaay too much copy

We've never met a copywriter who could turn out perfect-length postcard copy in the first draft. If you are making more than one point (such as, here's our sale and here's who we are) and/or writing more than 100 words, cut, cut, cut.

Easiest way to write postcard copy: Set up your writing program so the typeface and margins mimic the exact amount of space on the card itself for text. You'll be stunned at how little room there is.

(Note: Don't try to fit more copy in by reducing type size to less than 10-12 points. You're reducing the power of the postcard format if you minimize typeface to squish more content into the space.)

Mistake #3. Boring picture

Try to get a human being in the photo, because people look at people. But let's face it, your CEO (or salesguy) may not be all that enthralling. Can you have them looking at your product? Holding an item of interest? Standing next to a customer?

However, don't use clip art of people. In the Internet age, clip art is not only boring, it appears amaturish. Tiny companies use clip art to appear bigger (and everyone knows it.)

If you're offering a white paper, the "cover" of the PDF may not reproduce well when it's reduced to fit a postcard. Consider mocking up a cover with larger type for the title. Also, consider showing an open page if you have charts or diagrams inside. (Anything that makes recipients more itchy to get their hands on it.)

Mistake #4. Transferring HTML copy to the text-only version

As we mentioned above, given the vagaries of email systems, anyone getting a pass-along version of your epostcard may only see the text-only version.

Plus, of course, there's that portion of your list who routinely don't see HTML. (With the way GMail, Outlook, and AOL are evolving, that portion is probably growing.)

But, copy that's written as a companion to a picture won't work nearly as well without the picture. Both the frame of reference and the excitement may be missing. You need to make your copy work harder -- it has to do the work of the picture to conjure fun, friendliness, etc.

That said, this is still an epostcard, so your copy can't be much longer than it was before. Consider yourself writing a post-it note, not a letter.

Hotlinks & offers that work best

One offer may work best, but Scott says as long as your offers are all in the same theme as the picture and text, you can get away with as many as three hotlinked offers.

Remember to use best practices in hotlinks -- underline the term "Click here" with a brief description of what they can expect to find.

Scott also strongly recommends adding a graphic to the left of each click link that communicates a little visual excitement about where the viewer will click to. It makes the destination feel more "real."

If you're testing using a button to click on, definitely test multiple button designs and wording on the button for your first postcard run. And ask your designer to up the button size. Almost always the first button they'll show you is a bit too small.

Last but not least, don't forget to include a phone number.

Lessons MarketingSherpa learned from an epostcard test this week

Inspired by our research for this article, we decided to test an epostcard for our big end of year SherpaStore sales push this week. As always, putting a marketing tactic into action was a lot harder than merely writing about it. Here's what we learned:

Lesson #1. We forgot the human being

Our card featured a book cover with a big red bow. In retrospect, we should have tested a photo of our friendly Customer Service Manager Sharon Hamner holding the book with a box. We bet it would have pulled better.

Lesson #2. Text-only outpulled the HTML (Whoa!)

Our text-only version got a 4.7% click rate (that's the percent of total sent that were clicked on). Our HTML version got a 2.03 click rate.

Both versions used the same subject line. And the open rate on the HTML version matched about what we normally get for our regular HTML newsletters these days... which means the all-HTML message didn't set off any unusual spam filters.

Does this mean our text-only copy was so much better than the HTML copy version? Or does it again point to the fact that we should put Sharon's face in HTML cards from now on? We'll keep testing and let you know.

Lesson #3. The bottom link got the most clicks

We put the topic we thought was the most appealing as the #1 of our three links. We talk to readers every day and constantly track what topic books are selling best in our store. Yet, we were completely wrong about what was the hottest book topic.

Turns out the topic we thought had the least potential, the topic we stuck as #3 on the hotlink list, got 39.8% of clicks. The topic we thought was the best got 27.7%.

Which goes to show, everything's worth testing and measuring, even when you think you know your customers fairly well.

Useful links related to this story:

Creative samples of two epostcards we loved, plus the test we learned from:

Past MarketingSherpa Case Study: Shoe Store Uses Emailed Postcards to Raise Sales Dramatically

Blue Tent Marketing

EmailLabs -- the email broadcast firm Blue Tent uses to easily create and send e-postcards on behalf of clients
See Also:

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