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Email Marketing Messages: Same as Direct Mail?

By Al Bredenberg | Founder of

I’ve written a lot of direct mail copy, but I find that when I’m working with email I need to do some things differently.

Every piece of written communication has a “sound” or tone. Most direct mail letters are written with a “hard-sell” style — pound away at the offer, the benefits, the call-to-action.  And in direct mail, that style works.  Not so in email marketing.  People feel differently about their email boxes than their post office boxes. The email inbox is much, much more a personal space.  So the approach in your email marketing communications has to be more personal, friendly, low-key.

As with direct mail, you should focus on the recipient rather than yourself — use the words “you,” “your” and “yours” frequently.  But avoid over-use of such words as “free,” “save” and “money,” — and stay away completely from such hype-tinged words as “fantastic,” “unbelievable,” “first-ever,” “indispensable” — you get the picture.

Give your email message a more relaxed feel — no pressure. This is not the time for the frantic, relentless cadence of hard-sell direct mail.

Whereas long copy works well in direct mail, email communications should be short — initially, at least. Let your first message be brief — two or three short paragraphs. Let the recipient request further information via a Web page or a follow-up email message. Use that second stage to do a more in-depth job of selling.

At all costs, avoid the look and feel of spam — no screaming headlines, message in all capital letters, multiple exclamation points, or deceptive “gotcha” subject lines.  Never try to hide your identity by forging or concealing message headers.  Provide full contact information.  And don’t send commercial email to someone who has not given you permission to do so.

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