Shout Softly to Gain Attention

It’s been pretty cold around here lately; the kind of bone-chilling weather where you run from your house to the car and back again as quickly as possible.

Last Saturday, however, there was a momentary reprieve, as the thermometer reached up into the low 50s (that’s about 900 foot-pounds-per-fathom, for those of you on the Imperial system). Knowing from experience that this wouldn’t last long, my neighbors and I took to poking around our respective backyards like bears awoken from hibernation.

As I walked by a small, wrought iron table that sits on our back deck, I happened to notice the word “Jonathan” written on the table, in what looked like black magic marker. The marker and the table were more or less the same color, so it didn’t leap right out at me, but it was there all the same. Needless to say, I was not pleased.

“Hmm,” I thought to myself, “Who could have written this word here?”

I sat down to think… and then it hit me. “Of course,” I remembered, “I have a 7 year-old son named ëJonathan.'” Off I went to take appropriate action.

Now I’m no criminologist, but I think you’d agree that if there were such a thing as the “Perfect Crime Hall of Fame” (insert your own Congress joke here), Jonathan’s indiscretion would not earn him entry.

The fatal flaw in his misdeed, of course, was that the crime itself was proof of his identity. With his handwritten name right there in plain site, even Jonathan – a fearless charmer with a knack for getting other people in trouble – couldn’t deny his connection to the event in question.

Which brings me (at long last) to E-Newsletters. Whenever I develop one of these with a client, one subject which always leads to a great deal of discussion is the design of the masthead (the header up top with the name of the newsletter).

Most people – particularly people with the word “marketing” in their job title – begin with the expectation that the company name and/or logo should be large and prominent in the design.

It’s a logical assumption. After all, the point of the newsletter is to generate business, and the “real estate” up top in an e-mail is limited. If you want people to notice you, remember you, and ultimately call you, you need to tell them who you are, right from the beginning.

It’s logical, but in my opinion, totally wrong. Here’s why…

  1. Your readers already know who you are. Just as Jonathan’s name was itself the proof of his involvement, the newsletter you send – with your name in the ‘from’ line, your company colors in the design, your welcome note in the beginning, and your point of view throughout – is already dripping with you.

    Jamming your logo into the design is unnecessary, and in my view, only serves to make readers think that this is a self promotion, rather than useful information.

  1. Your readers don’t care about you (much) anyway. My approach to professional service E-Newsletters is based on a simple truth: Give people information they want and they’ll invite you back next month. Do that long enough, and some of them will hire you.

    Sure, the point is to grow your business. But the minute your newsletter flips from “what’s in it for readers” to “what’s in it for you,” they’ll run the other way.

    Which is why I want the masthead – the thing that lives in that precious, “above the fold” real estate – to scream “clear value to the reader.” There’s a reason the Wall Street Journal name is so much more prominent than the Dow Jones logo.

  1. Your readers hold all the cards. One of the most difficult realities for traditional marketers to accept (to the extent they’re aware of it at all) is that when it comes to e-mail, you can’t force, trick or buy your way in. Recipients decide – not you or me – whether or not we’re invited back… a reality which calls for a very soft touch.

If you buy all this, here’s what I recommend. Create a masthead and overall look for your E-Newsletter as if you were creating a magazine or newspaper. In other words, lead with an emphasis on the content you provide for the audience you want to attract, and downplay yourself and all your wonderfulness as the source.

Don’t worry. If you can resist jumping up and down in the faces of people who spend all day avoiding people who jump up and down, you’ll stand out like a graffiti-laden piece of outdoor furniture on a warm winter day (don’t remind me).

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