Direct Response Email in a Sea of Email Filters

direct response email

Is direct response email dead? No way, but it’s not the only way to get your customer’s attention…let me explain.


In the good old days (2006-ish) email marketers used email as a direct response tool.

One of my clients was a business that only sent an email when they were ready to drive some revenue. “Got a class coming up; Let’s fill those seats in Atlanta!” And so we’d send a series of hard hitting emails.

It was pretty formulaic: Usually some sort of fear factor. The word “Guru” thrown around. Three links driving people either directly to a sales page or a phone number to “call right now because seats are going fast.”

I’m thinking of one client in particular. I still tip my hat to him because his list was dedicated to the industry, loyal to his products, and engaged. They wanted and needed his classes, so seats really did go fast (usually) and we had an astonishingly low unsubscribe rate. The emails asked for a direct response from his subscribers and they did indeed respond.

Suddenly it’s 2012. Most active and savvy digital consumers regulate their own content with apps and filtering tools.

Nowadays, it’s less likely your direct response email actually gets the response you desire. Your email blast  — those triple play emails are the epitome of “blasts” to me —  simply doesn’t guarantee an engaged audience for your campaigns time after time.

There are just so many other ways to access content and deals. Even small marketers and solopreneurs can acces all those channels. The trick is getting your customers to actually see them and respond to them.

Today we have Facebook’s Edgerank squeezing out posts we may have really appreciated. Don’t you just hate finding out in person that your sister in law is pregnant again, when everyone else already found out on Facebook? There’s something oddly insulting about that…

Well. Now in the same way, we also have smart mailboxes that screen email better than the nuns screened visitors 30 years ago at my all-girls school. (Dear Old Notre Dame Academy!) On top of those services that assume your preferences before you actually get to personally make the cuts, we now can access aggregation software like:

Swizzle: which compiles marketing emails from all the brands you love. You simply unsubscribe from the list to keep it from cluttering up your inbox, then go to the Swizzle site and browse categories, (automotive, baby, travel, fashion) to your heart’s content. I suspect there are still deals available only to genuine email subscribers. Even if a site like Swizzle accesses those emails and links, some sort of cross matching of clicking customers’ email addresses must certainly occur to benefit those who remain on a company’s list.

Azigo: which lets you save the consumer emails you want to browse. Your resulting personal email site (eg. is to be read when you have more time. Like visual candy, it’s addictive — “like flipping through your favorite magazines!” (Thanks to Mike May for the Azigo tip and a great article on email branding narratives.)

Hipiti: (still in beta; you must be invited to join) which only sends you alerts of emails containing sales or other criteria you specify. There’s even a Facebook app, so you can bypass your inbox altogether. Mainly a fashion site, you can tell Hipiti you want to receive for example, only flash sales from the shoe department at Nordstrom’s, but not men’s sales. People who know exactly what they want will love this site.

If you’re the competitive type you can even play a game as you sort through your inbox. “The Email game” times your responses to your emails and challenges you to get them out of there quickly.

The point is, people who sign up to your list do so for their own personal reasons.

Preferences are the rule in email marketing. Click to Tweet.

Content: One subscriber may want coupons; another, quick tips, tricks and news tidbits; yet another wants to savor your email newsletters when they’re not pressed for time or at work. Many consumers have separate emails for personal consumption and business related content. For example, how distracting is it to get a tantalizing “Coach Sale” email when you’re busy researching an article on short sales for a real estate investor!

As a small biz email marketer, you could separate your list into segments depending on their content preferences (hint: Ask). OR simply do your thing and let the chips fell where they may. Just “you be you.” I honestly believe that’s the future of marketing! Crazy, I know. Sounds too easy.  Just be prepared to lose a few subscribers if they don’t like your particular style.

The Clutter Factor: That too is truly personal. People flag and sort emails to read later, but studies show that the more time goes by the less likely they are to open it again.

I revisit my saved emails about 50% of the time and am more likely to read only when I’m familiar with the sender/writer or the content. By habit I just delete everything if I haven’t read it within about four days.

Some people want to deal with email and get it out of there. They slash through their inbox with ruthless purpose.Delete, delete, delete! I stand in awe.

Some accept the messiness of it all; kind of like the lawyer friend of mine who who kept unopened snail mail in his car. His trunk, passenger seat and back seat were all filled with piles of paper and files from his office. Must have been a comfort thing. Digital hoarders, though they travel lightly, have the same penchant.

Anyhoo. Only you know your customers. What did you promise them when they signed up to you list?  The truth is: your customers may indeed prefer email blasts a la 2006.

I say go for it. In fact, if your only touch is through email, and your customers are waiting for your input only through their inbox, then you”ll be successful if you OVER-deliver in their inbox (just like my past client and email ‘gooroos” like Ben Settle). Direct response email may be your best bet for email marketing success.

On the other hand, you may offer content on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn as well as through email. You may have subscribers to your RSS feed as well as your email list. In those cases you are primed to segment your list to your subscribers’ preferences. You may also make great strides in your marketing if you use behavioral triggers to determine how to go forward with your email sends, using email responses to discern marketing directives.

Be aware of the many choices your subscribers have. Direct response email blasts may very well still work for you, but you will get to know your customers intimately if you understand that they’re filtering your content.

Direct response emails are not the only way to pull clicks.

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