If you know me you know I am strongly averse to internet advertising and spam.
I worked recently at an ad agency that are still, today in 2010, sending bulk emails to bought lists and developing complicated flash ads for their clients. It might explain my very, very short time working there!
Understanding the very Le Corbusier-like qualities that that underpin good web experiences is the key to understanding web interaction design and its role in email marketing.
Consider the ‘user’ who is on their way to a performing a task when they come into contact with your email. They were on their machine to do something: answer emails, pay a bill, research products or talk to friends and so on. If your communication does not take into account the journey the user is on then it is poor interaction design. The chance of a random email being personally relevant at the time it is read is slim at best.
Unlike traditional advertising and DM, where media was being passively consumed, and a little interruption is sometimes tolerable or entertaining, a computer is a tool. Users are actively engaged and you are in their way. This is wonderfully demonstrated in another study and book by Jakob Neilson focussing on eye-tracking. It shows, essentially, that advertising on the web is not looked at.
Heatmaps from eye-tracking studies: The areas where users looked the most are coloured. Image credit: useit.com
A better way to get our user’s attention is to define their needs and be the destination for their active and directed information consumption. There is a lot written on the web about e-newsletters because it is permission-based and more likely to hit the mark with the informational needs of the user. Relevant and targeted information can be done in the form of a blog, a social networking post, an rss feed or a newsletter.
When a user has agreed to receive information (I receive a few choice relevant eNewsletters happily) then it is likely that the content is designed so that it is contextually relevant. In contrast, eDM (or spam) is contextually jarring and unlikely to be best practise by virtue of the fact that it was sent in the first place.
So where do we look to create a sale then if we can’t spam prospects?
I am Billy Blue trained so for me, visual design, compelling copy written for screen-based media and an idea that plays right to the mind of the user are all foundational to good communication.
I have bought books by both Jakob Neilson and Smashing Magazine. They targeted my professional needs, supplied me with informational fodder on a regular basis, then actively sold to me on repeated occasions and I was very happy to be sold to.
By the way, they did this most successfully targeting me via social media. A topic for another day, and many more blog entries from me.
If you are doing email marketing, challenge the way you are doing it and do it well. Get permission, consider the context in which it will be received and spend time testing the relevance of the content with your audience as you go, listed to their replies and comments and you will be well on your way to building trust with your audience.
(and start reading up on web 2.0…)