How to take lead generation email from boring to bankable!

You can rob me. You can starve me and you can beat me and you can kill me. Just don’t bore me!Clint Eastwood as USMC Gunner Sgt. Tom Highway, in Heartbreak Ridge

I received a lead generation email recently that stopped me because it was so bad. It didn’t have little animated things moving about, nor did it suffer from screaming overuse of graphics. The problem wasn’t design (it was a plain text email). It was bad because it was so boring.

boring_lead_generation_emailJust reading it triggered the mental checklist I used as an agency creative director when reviewing a junior copywriter’s copy. The sender pretty much wasted whatever money they spent renting an email list by not thinking through their email creative execution.

Here are just a few things it suffered from:

  1. An unclear subject line with no benefit to it
  2. Sloppy use of type sizes
  3. Bright blue type that makes the copy harder to read, for no good reason except perhaps matching their logo.
  4. The email copy opens with talking about them, not how they can solve my problems, or why I should care.
  5. And it assumes I’m going to be impressed with their honors and certifications (I’m not).
  6. The copy is unclear about what they do exactly, with no unique or compelling value proposition communicated. So they build Google Apps. Guess what: I Googled “Google App Developers” and over 317,000,000 hits came back.
  7. The call to action was weak and gave me no reason to want to take a call.
  8. Their logo is the biggest thing on the page, crammed in with 3 other logos.

It’s a prime example of how important creative execution is to your marketing, no matter what medium you are communicating in.

How a weak 20 kills the other 40+40 in lead generation email

Ed Mayer, the granddaddy of all direct response marketing and direct mail education, developed a formula he called 40-40-20.

  • The first 40 represented audience or list. 40% of the success of a direct response marketing program was tied to the message being sent to the right audience.
  • The second 40 stood for offer. 40% of the success of a direct response program was centered around having the right offer for that audience.
  • The last 20 was creative. The copy and art are important only if they relay the right message to the right people.

He explains it more in depth in his classic copywriting book, now out of print, How to Make More Money With Your Direct Mail. And many DM veterans have used his theories and methods in the email world 65 years later.

In several chapters of his book, Copywriting that gets RESULTS! (affiliate link) Otis Maxwell stresses the importance of writing skills, having a ‘voice’ in your writing, and editing.

So despite a great list and compelling offer, your lead generation needs strong creative in order to perform well. Even if you put different weights on each of the three factors, if your writing and creative execution is bad, you can actually depress response!

How to avoid DOA email creative

There is no 5-minute fix to crafting a well-written direct response or lead generation email. It takes an expert writer, and if you are crafting HTML emails, an equally expert designer. Here are topline considerations when evaluating your direct-response email creative:

Think Copy First. Props to my copywriting partners out there. Beautiful art and big visuals are not as important as clear, concise, to-the point-copy. For over half your audience, the visuals are not set to appear right from the start in their email Apps. So even in HTML emails, your copy needs to be able to stand on its own merit without visuals.

Work hardest on the subject line. Even if you are generating leads for business, you are speaking to humans with problems. Use subject-relevant emotion or pain in the subject line.

Use WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) language in your copy. Craft your lead generation email copy to appeal to the audience’s point of view, not yours, and continue what you started in the subject line by using the body copy to continue connecting to their area of pain, and how your product or service can help.

Use the Inverted triangle for the flow of content in your copy. Main points first, more detail, then on to more sub-detail as appropriate for your audience. Ask yourself, “If I cut off the bottom third of your copy, does what remains above still deliver a compelling message?” If the answer is ‘Yes’ then readers who skim will still get the gist of what you are trying to communicate.

Throughout the text, stay on point with WIIFM. Cover it from different angles as you go into detail. You are building a case to overcome objections.

Don’t include ANYTHING that doesn’t serve a purpose. Words, graphics, logos, etc. may not be seen, and if they are, they need to lead the eye, not get in the way of good copy. And don’t let your designer and developer cheat by burying copy in your visuals. Have all essential copy appear as HTML text.

Think through all graphics, and don’t be afraid to cut. As in the case of the lead generation email I mentioned at the start of this article, do affiliations mean anything TO THE AUDIENCE at this point in a conversation, or are we just chest-beating because we think it’s important? Remember, less is more.

Make your copy actionable with text links. Don’t rely on graphic buttons alone.

Keep away from webfonts or technology that isn’t broadly-supported by the majority of email clients (email reading apps on mobile devices and computers). You were hired to get results from your email, not to be anybody’s crash-test-dummy.

Close with simple, focused action, and make it easy to take the next step. This is not a quiz the audience is electing to play. They are busy, so get to the point, and make action easy for them.

A email creative review process and a handy reference tool to help with it.

If you follow these steps, will your lead generation email be unbeatable? Maybe, maybe not, depending on the quality of writing and design. But your email won’t be boring. That translates to a better opportunity to really let the list and your offer shine through in your direct response email.

You can receive a 20-point direct response email checklist that covers content, structure and design, and it is my gift to you when you subscribe to articles via email. Get your email checklist today, and improve your email tomorrow.

We all have routines to help us evaluate marketing execution. What do you take into consideration when you are reviewing lead generation email creative?


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I’m a creative problem-solver helping clients who use Direct Marketing but need more effective lead generation and deeper customer relationships. You can learn more about me on LinkedIn.