Outdated marketing with new technology

We seem to have come full circle when it comes to communicating with our prospects and clients. I recently realized that I have been paying much less attention to online newsletters and those nice HTML ads that hit my inbox every day. There are some exceptions, of course. But for the most part I am interested in the CONTENT of what is delivered, not the layout or graphics. When given the option, I no longer ask for the HTML version of anything, but instead choose the text-only version.

There was a time when it was unusual to receive something other than plain text in your email box. We then moved on to designing branded newsletters and “postcard” invitations that would grab the attention of our readers. Now, thanks to ever-improving SPAM filters, many of those fancy invitations, announcements, and emails don’t even make it to our desktop. And for those who break through the firewall, we’ve gotten sick and tired of looking at all those designs. We just want the information: short, sweet and simple.

Building on this hunch, we recently experimented with a client who has been conducting a series of seminars. As usual, the invitations were sent using HTML and branding design. But enrollment was low and we were looking for a way to boost attendance. We then sent out another announcement about the event, except this was a simple email message. In the “from” section we had the person’s real name. In the “subject” line we insert the name of the seminar. In the body of the email there was a sentence inviting the recipient to attend the seminar. We had about 3 key “what will you get” vignettes and the basic description of the 2 hour session.

Within 24 hours of sending the text email, we received an additional 10 registrants for the event. Since the event had a maximum of 25 attendees, this was almost 50% of our audience! We thought we could be on to something so we did it again for another customer event. And again, the results were similar. The plain text email performed the HTML invite by more than 50%. Why? I think our brains are a bit tired. You can compare this to walking the Las Vegas Strip at night. At first the lights are beautiful and everything catches your eye. But walk the strip every night for months and months, and after a while those pretty flashing lights won’t catch your eye anymore. You will simply focus on reaching your destination.

Because of this, I think we are returning to the starting point towards a more antiquated form of communication. I don’t have time to read my newsletters online as often as I want. But I notice that on Sunday afternoon I sit and read various printed newspapers that I receive in the mail each month. “Cold calling” email blasts never get my attention, but last week I got a very clever direct mail message that got me thinking and actually made me call the service provider. And I recently signed up for a webinar on advanced search engine marketing techniques that I learned from a plain text email sent to me by the owner of the interactive consultancy.

Am I advocating that we completely remove HTML ads and newsletters? Of course, no. Those have a place in our marketing mix, just like everything else. I suggest that you consider alternating HTML with plain text and experiment with both. If you are hosting an event, why not alternate each ad? The first in HTML, the second in plain text, etc. And the day before the event, send a plain text reminder. And let me know if your response rates start to increase with this “old-fashioned” approach to email marketing.

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