Needle In A Needle Stack

With “Back To School” just a few weeks away (fellow parents, please, no cheering out loud), I thought I’d begin today’s newsletter with a one question pop quiz. Here it is: What common office supply item is the most difficult to find at Staples?

Manila folders? Nope, aisle 5, left-hand side. Rewritable compact discs? Wrong again — you’ll find them in a big bin next to the front door. How about those big plastic mats that go under your desk chair to protect the rug? Don’t make me laugh, they’re right there in back, stacked up beside all the office furniture.

No, the fact is, the hardest thing to find at Staples is, well, staples. I’m not kidding. The problem — and I know this from personal experience, having spent 15 minutes yesterday walking the aisles of the Bellingham, Massachusetts store — is that just about everything in the place has the word “Staples” printed on the side of it.

Boxes of envelopes; packages of paper; sticky-notes; garbage cans; paperclips; you name it. If they sell it in the store, they put “Staples” on it. And so as I paraded up and down, scanning the shelves for what I wanted, I couldn’t find it because there was too much noise coming from all the “counterfeit staples” shouting at me.

If this sounds familiar to you I’m not surprised; this is exactly the exercise we all go through every day, as we attempt to differentiate “real email” from the unsolicited junk that comes pouring into our respective inboxes daily. The people who send the junk deliberately disguise their emails to look like what we’re looking for, and like searching for staples at Staples, we can easily walk right by.

As senders of legitimate, opt-in E-Newsletters therefore, it’s important for us to do what we can to make this filtering process as efficient as possible for our readers. All the benefits I talk about here every other week only happen if our newsletters are being opened, and they’re only being opened by people who notice them in the first place.

With that in mind, I offer a few suggestions:

• Make the “From” line as recognizable as possible. Email studies such as the one completed by Forrester Research all reach the same conclusion: “The most important factor influencing consumers to decide whether to open an email is whether the message is from a recognized sender.”

If you’re a small company like I am therefore, chances are your own name is more recognizable than your company name, so use that(several larger companies I work with even take the extra step of sending the same newsletter out “from” different individuals in the company — the ones who hold the client relationships — so that the emails are more likely to be recognized).

Whatever you do,don’t put the name of your newsletter in this space, since nobody except you and possibly your mother will recognize it.

• Put the word “E-Newsletter” at the beginning of the “Subject” line. If you scan the junk email you receive, you’ll notice that very few of them pretend to be legitimate publications. Instead, they use the Subject line to either specifically mention a product, or to act as if the email were sent from a friend (e.g. “Are we still on for tomorrow?”). I’ve found therefore, that including the generic E-Newsletter word (along with the title of that issue’s newsletter) makes it easier for readers to pick us out.

• Drop the mail at quiet times. Most of my email deleting occurs first thing in the morning, since all the stuff that comes in over night piles up while I’m at home with the little penguins. As a result, legitimate email that comes in over night is more likely to be lost in the barrage than is email that arrives at say, 10:30 in the morning. The worst thing is for your newsletter to be sent late Sunday night, since your readers will now have two days of junk piled up when they come in on Monday, and they’ll be eager to lean on the delete key.

The best email vendors (I use Constant Contact) allow you to specify a time for the delivery of your mail. If your audience is spread over several time zones you may have to split the difference is some way, but the important thing is to be aware that the smaller the pile, the more likely you are to be found, so stay away from the middle of the night.

Bottom Line: Of course, the most important thing you can do to get your newsletter read is to offer your readers useful, interesting, relevant content. That said, until they realize it’s arrived in their mailbox in the first place, you’ll never become a staple (sorry) in their lives.

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