Build Your Business:

Planning an Engagement

June 30, 2015

When it comes to email, I’m a bit of a fanatic. I’m fascinated by what works and what doesn’t. Sadly, most of what clogs our inboxes is junk that’s only worthy of deleting.

Then there are the emails I read every day. In fact, I eagerly anticipate receiving emails from certain senders. This month, I’ll show you how to move your email from the “bulk-delete” to “must-read” categories. It’s not difficult and your customers actually will thank you for emailing them.

Let’s begin with some preconceptions. What is spam? The classic definition is any unsolicited, irrelevant or inappropriate message sent to a large number of recipients.

To be clear, your customer is the sole judge of whether your email is spam. It’s easy to get your mail server or domain blacklisted if it registers too many spam complaints, and the risks are unnecessary.

Effective email marketing centers on three main areas: permission, respect and relevance. While you can email small numbers of people without their permission — my rule is less than 100 per day — it’s a good idea to reach out and ask to continue correspondence. For small companies searching for leads, it’s common to email prospects based on the contact information posted on their websites. That’s only the starting point, however.

Asking for permission is a sign of respect. Even though your unannounced and unexpected email is an intrusion, you have an obligation to present it if it will significantly benefit the reader.

Relevance means your emails give readers immediate, tangible and applicable value. If your mail can catch and hold his attention, it means your foot is in the door. Relevancy will cause readers to have an open mind and actually consider what you’re offering.

Think of email marketing as a form of dating. If the first exposure is a pitch, offer or some other promotion to “buy my stuff,” the automatic reaction is rejection. There’s no consideration; they don’t know you and they certainly don’t trust you. On top of that, you’re now branded as someone who has annoyed them. It’s not a good way to start a relationship.

Do your homework ahead of time and have a plan. Know your prospects and their interests. If you know their problems, you can connect by providing solutions. The more specific you can be, the better your message relevancy will be. This is called “Message-to-Market-Match.”

After you’ve created the precise prospect profile, get his attention and permission to converse with you. First, choose an engaging, intriguing subject line for your email. Be creative, but keep it short.

For example, an engaging headline for a seasonal Halloween shirt offer might be, “Vhat Vould Dracula Vear?” Another one for a sweat shirt promotion could be, “Can the Shirt Off Your Back Save the World?” Or, “Actually, It Is Rocket Science” if you’re talking about new technical fabrics and silicone inks. The subject line is the hook. Now that you’ve got the reader’s attention, you need to follow through smoothly and professionally.


The next step is to engage readers with interesting and intriguing body copy. This is about expounding what they don’t know, and educating and engaging them. Give them a very good reason to give you any of their attention and subsequent action. Remember, your goal here is to start a conversation and get their permission to continue it.

This step is the elaboration phase. You build off the subject line and expand on the premise. Let’s continue with the rocket science example.

The prospective audience might be race directors for Fun Runs, 5Ks, 10Ks and half marathons. This is a market audience that uses a lot of technical moisture-wicking shirts, and is familiar with the design and printing limitations.

Since the goal of this introductory email is to educate and get the reader’s permission to continue, the easiest way is to give him something cool in exchange for his permission. For this example, a free special report or sample works nicely (see “Sample Body Copy”).

Clicking the link takes the reader to the download page where he enters his email address. Using an email program like Mail Chimp, AWeber or iContact, he’s directed to confirm his intention to receive email messages from you.

The aforementioned example is a one-off instance used for building a prospect list. Downloading the special report is just the beginning. The prospect still doesn’t really know — or trust — you yet.

The more professional your presentation, the better the first impression. It’s important not to make any kind of pitch or offer, except for something that will benefit your recipient. In the old days of email marketing, you could get away with giving your lead something and then following up with an offer. That’s not the case today. Because of the ubiquitous spam problem, you may need as many as seven to 10 exposures to a prospect nowadays before you can make an effective offer. How will you do that?

The answer lies in a technique called problem escalation — a process that allows us to educate the lead and solve his immediate problem. This is what we did by giving the race director access to the free special report. Few people will perform the next steps, but this is where you begin to earn real credibility and trust.

Our natural tendency is to live in the moment. Once one problem is solved, another problem always presents itself. This is where you escalate the conversation. In the case of the special report, the information details how to overcome sublimation and dye migration in technical polyester fabrics. Here is the key, essential difference: The information in the report is useful, but incomplete.

Furthermore, the proposed solutions generate a new set of problems the race director had not even previously considered. This formula has been used for years in the entertainment industry. It’s called a “cliff hanger,” and leaves you dangling and waiting for the next solution.

We want to turn our email sequence into serial emails using the same formula: Problem > Solution > New Problem > New Solution > Bigger Problem, etc. The pattern is endless and only requires you to think slightly ahead and set up the scenario.

In the case of our race director, two days after he downloads the special report we follow up with a new email. In it, we thank him for taking the time to read the report and then we escalate the new problem:

“In our special report, you learned the new high-tech inks can provide the solution to annoying dye migration. But what you don’t know yet (and neither do most printers who use these new inks) is the printed designs need to be processed differently than the inks they’re accustomed to using. The difference is in how they’re cured and the special steps the printer must perform to ensure they aren’t giving you shirts that look great the day you hand them out, but flake off the first time they’re washed.

In my next email, I’ll tell you what you must do and how to tell if the shirts you already have still will be around after the next washing.”

This scenario is completely hypothetical, but you could drag it out for a long time. The next email would tell your lead how to know whether the shirts are safe and that they must be processed properly. That email would end with the need for special dryers and how only “6% of local screen printers have equipment that can properly handle these inks.”

Serial emails can be highly engaging and create powerful connections with you, prospects and existing customers. Prospects, especially, will enjoy the emails you send to them. That’s your goal. This is how you get open rates that are greater than 50%.

You want to be seen as a credible authority. By keeping the engagement factor high using problem escalation, you create anticipation with your target prospects and reward them with relevant information.

Mark A. Coudray has been an active member of the Academy of Screen Printing and Digital Technology since 1989, and has written for Impressions since 1978. For more information or to comment on this article, email him at