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Break through clutter: Get your e-mail read

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We all delete unwanted e-mails so fast that the keyboard shoots sparks. So how does a marketer break through the mess of spam to get the attention of a potential customer? The secret formula is in the acronym "MEATS." The initials stand for:

M: Make it a magazine. People like to read interesting content. They ignore advertising. If you add a little bit of content to your e-mail marketing, it instantly changes from an advertisement to a periodical.

It’s all about anticipation. If someone is looking forward to your newsletter, they are not going to delete it. Despite the glut of e-mail, everyone has a few newsletters that they look forward to each week. It’s the difference between the wad of coupons in your Sunday paper that gets trashed and the magazine section that you read first.

E: Editorial quality matters. Remember, if it’s not worth reading, it’s going to get deleted. The best strategy is to get a freelance writer to put it together. Marketers and public relations people rarely write interesting articles, even if they can write great promotional material.

It’s not difficult to come up with great content. Pick a theme that is relevant to readers’ lives and related to your services. If you are a PR firm, send a newsletter about interviewing tips for chief executives. The obvious implication is that your firm can get them those interviews. Interesting content sells by association.

Also, your newsletter should be no more than four or five paragraphs. The best compliment you can get is, "It’s quick. I read it every week." Keep the design consistent each week so your readers recognize it before they delete it.

A: Action items sell. You goal is to drive your readers to take action. You want them to visit your Web site, buy and forward the e-mail to a friend.

The secret is to have links everywhere—in the articles, in the header, on the sidebar and in the ads. The same links should be repeated in multiple places.

We had a client who saw a sudden 80% drop in sales from its e-mail. It turns out that the designer thought the newsletter would be more attractive if there were fewer links, squished at the bottom. Sales came back when the links came back.

T: Them, not you. People are selfish about their time. They read about things that interest them, and they really don’t care about your company. If your e-mails are just a spicy version of a press release, they’re going to get deleted—and your prospects are going to ask you never to e-mail them again.

Think about what is vitally important to your customers and send a newsletter about that. If you’re selling travel, don’t send yet another e-mail about travel savings. Send an e-mail about how busy executives can reduce hassles while traveling. Help them make travel less painful, and they will remember you when it is time to buy.

S: Sell everywhere. A good e-mail sells everywhere, without becoming a sales flier. You can infuse your message, your brand and your special offers throughout the content without removing its value.

Here are a few of the places you can promote your company: the "to" and "from" lines, the subject line, the name of the publication, your logo at the top, ads for your products, links to your Web site and a big "about us" section at the bottom.

Breaking through the e-mail clutter isn’t hard. You just need to create an interesting e-mail that is worth reading. In exchange, you get to advertise your company. Americans are very comfortable with this exchange: NBC doesn’t ask viewers to pay to watch "Friends," but it does ask them to watch the ads during commercial breaks. Use this proven strategy to get prospects to let you e-mail them in exchange for a little interesting news.

Andy Sernovitz (andy@sernovitz.com) is CEO of GasPedal Ventures, a New York-based e-mail strategy consulting company (www.gaspedal.net).

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