Wary of Lightbox Ads?

Q&A on why you shouldn’t be.

Lightboxes may be one of the least favorite user experiences on the web. So why are they a growing trend and why am I touting their use? Because they work. (Some data on that later on in this piece.)

First, if you don’t know what I mean by lightboxes (also called hover ads), just look at the example above. A lightbox is an ad that opens front and center of a webpage that someone is actively viewing, blocking the actual content. It may even darken the area behind it so the lightbox message really stands out.

Now, here are answers to some questions you may have:

Q. Why are lightboxes effective?

A. They are effective because someone is definitely going to see the lightbox ad. When it pops up, a viewer needs to focus on your message for at least a second. And there is only one of two actions they can take:

  1. Follow what the message directs them to do, whether it’s to sign up for an email list, make a donation, or reply to any other CTA. Or —
  2. Close the box.

Q. Is a lightbox really necessary if a CTA button or signup button is very prominent on the website?

A.  The answer is a resounding YES. Reason: the lightbox puts the CTA front and center. No ignoring what you are asking someone to do!

Q. Can the lightbox be less intrusive?

A.  Not having the lightbox appear right away may help response, but this is something you need to test. See how the lightbox performs on the first page that is visited and then compare the results to when someone has visited 3 or 4 pages.

Q. Can lightboxes be employed to re-engage visitors?

A.  Yes. I encourage some of my clients to use exit intent technology. This tracks a visitor’s mouse movements: when the technology detects the mouse moving toward closing the window, you can have a lightbox appear, containing a special offer or message to keep someone on your website. Let me know if you would like me to direct you to a service that offers this technology.

Q. What about results?

A.  Lightboxes are well worth looking into — check out this article from Entrepreneur to see how lightboxes helped increase subscriptions 86% and sales 162%. Source

Let me know if we can be of any assistance in creating a new lightbox.

How Cubism Is Like Direct Mail

Do you enjoy viewing paintings by the masters such as Rubens, Michelangelo, and Vermeer? Most people, whether they are art aficionados or not, can connect with these painters, since their style of rendering the figure is very life-like.

What about Picasso, and the style of Cubism? I smile when I hear people who are not trained in the arts say, “I can do that.” And “This painting is not pretty.” But for those who fully understand the intent of a Cubist painter, that changes everything. They understand that Cubism is about multiple perspectives, meaning that it fuses the past and present, and different views of the subject at the same time.


Direct mail also uses a multiple perspective approach, and the most brilliant pieces are not necessarily the prettiest. Sometimes the creative appears so simple that, again, I smile when people say, “I can do that.

For a piece to be successful in direct mail you need to look at past, present and future simultaneously. From the past, you need to analyze the data of what worked and what didn’t. In the present, you plan the timing of the mailing, and how to get someone to open the envelope and respond. For the future, you need to think about how to retain that person for future purchases or fundraising efforts.

In the Cubist painting above, notice the face is rendered in different perspectives. The lips and eyes are drawn as if you are looking straight at the person, but the nose and ears are in side profile. Direct mail requires you to look at different angles also. Angles such as — Who is your audience? What is the goal of the mailing? If it’s for marketing a product or service, what are the benefits and offer, while for a nonprofit, it’s what would make someone feel as if they are making a difference?

When you take this Cubist approach, you too can become a master — a master of direct mail.

Direct Response in Action

What Happened When I Taught My Nephew 5 Simple Tactics

We all know that direct response isn’t child’s play. It’s hard work. Nevertheless, if you keep just a few things in mind, even a novice can make a difference — and the story of my teenage nephew, Ian, and what he was able to accomplish is a good example.

Ian is on his way to becoming an Eagle Scout. His final project in order to achieve this top rank is to create something for the community that includes a fundraising component. Ian’s idea was big: in memory of a deceased friend he would clean up and upgrade a student community area at the high school his friend loved and attended. This would entail purchasing and installing a new gazebo, as well as adding a picnic table and a bench or two. Total cost: $5,500.

That was a daunting amount for a teenager to raise. But I knew it was doable — as long as Ian followed some basic fundraising tactics on his crowdfunding site and in his letters. Here’s what I taught Ian:

5 Simple Direct Response Tactics That Work

1. Think: Who are you writing to and how do they want to be addressed? It’s important to start on the right foot. Ian was writing Mr. and Mrs. Smith (not real name). I asked if that is how they want to be addressed. Ian said no, by their first names. Then do that, I said. His teacher wants to be called Mrs. Jones (not real name). That’s how Ian addressed her.

2. Tell a sincere story: Show compassion, without ever going over the top. Ian told the story of his dream of becoming an Eagle Scout and his deceased friend simply and from the heart.

3. Give the facts: Where is the money going? Be as specific as you can because people want to know. Ian provided cost figures for each major item on his list.

4. Simplify: Make it as easy as possible for donors to respond. Ian added a form to the letter so people knew what to do next. He also provided a reply device: a postage-paid envelope with his return address on it.

5.  Remind people of tax benefits: Give donors an added incentive to be generous. Let them know that their donation could be tax-deductible. It’s easy to do, and Ian did it.

I’m happy to say that, in a month’s time, Ian exceeded his fundraising goal!

Lift Your Open Rates: 2 Tips from the Trenches

Part 2 — Spam Filters & Preheaders

I learn a lot from my email work with clients. In Part 2 of my series on mistakes to avoid, I want to alert you to Mistake 3 and Mistake 4, which — when it comes to lifting open rates — you should never, ever ignore!

MISTAKE 3:
Using this CTA phrase (a spam filter favorite)

sbutton

One of my clients was using the above phrase often in email text. Harmless, right? Wrong. To their horror, they discovered that many spam filters don’t like that innocuous phrase, making their emails prime candidates for the junk folder.

Here’s another phrase that we found to trigger spam filters:

money-back guarantee
One solution is to use images. But it’s not our first choice for these two reasons:

1. Images don’t work everywhere on the email and
2. Images lose impact when an email is opened and the images are not displaying.

We try to code as much as possible in the email, including the buttons, to make sure an email is most effective. Play it safe, forget these spam filter favorites altogether. We like to use LEARN MORE or GO HERE for the call-to-action button. For the money phrase, that’s a little trickier since nothing beats those 3 classic words. We normally don’t include the money phrase in the email but make it prominent on the landing page. If you feel you must include the phrase in the email, then make it a graphic image — but make sure your developer leaves the alt tag blank.

MISTAKE 4:
Ignoring the preheader and its impact on opens

You and I know that, together with the sender (or “From”) name, the subject line has the biggest impact on whether your email gets opened. But, today, when you often have barely 3 seconds to get someone’s attention, my clients make sure to pair the subject line with another tool: the preheader, which can increase open rates sometimes up to 45% (Litmus statistic). In my example below, the preheader is the gray text that is circled.

Sample Preheader
Most inboxes automatically take copy for the preheader from the first few words of your email, if you don’t specify otherwise. What we do for our clients: We write specifically targeted preheader copy, to hook readers. This is placed at the very top of an email, above the “view in browser” — giving it top billing. If we don’t do this, then “view in browser” will be the first sentence of the email, causing it to appear in the red-circled area above.

SPECIAL NOTE: Some email deployment systems automatically add their own “view in browser,” which knocks your composed preheader out of the top billing spot. To stop this from happening, the “view in browser” function needs to be disabled in the deployment service software, and your developer will need to code this part by hand.

Lift Your Click-Through Rates: 2 Tips from the Trenches

Part 1 — Alt Tags; Retina Images in Email

We all know that emails are the “workhorse channel.” But are you working everything available to you to optimize your open and click-through rates? In creating hundreds of emails for companies, I’ve learned to do just that. I see firsthand where the trouble spots are. To help you get the best results more often, here is Part 1 of a special 2-part series of newsletters I’ve created that address frequent mistakes and ways to avoid them.

MISTAKE 1:
Not proofing alt tags

Look at this edited email I received from a Wine Club. It came in my inbox with the images off.

Notice the blue text in the white boxes — the alt tags. They still allow me to see what the offer is. That’s good, since it’s enough of an incentive to click-see images. But do you see the typo in the second line of the blue text? Not so good!

I added that typo to illustrate that alt tags can have errors! Few people proofread the alt tags for sense and accuracy, leaving them open to errors that could reduce the number of clicks you get. Solution: Do as my agency does for each email: Proof. Use Firefox as your browser and add a Web Developer extension [here’s the link] so you have the tools you need to proof the alt tags.

MISTAKE 2:
Not recognizing the importance of using
retina display images

Think the images in your email look great on your standard office monitor? Well, readers on retina displays might be seeing something else — like blurry product shots or a blocky-looking logo! See my example below: same image, different pixel density.

 
sharp image
 
  2x image  

blurry image
   
1x image  

Only the 2x image on the left looks sharp on a retina display. The 1x image was created only for a standard office monitor and does not have enough pixels in it to render properly on higher pixel density retina displays. That’s why it’s blurry. All the emails created at my agency have the higher resolution, so no worries!

But how can you make sure your other vendors are supplying retina display images if you are using a standard office monitor? Simple. Just use the Web Developer extension (here’s the link again) and select image>view image information. If the images appear twice the size of what is used in the email, you have retina display images.

Hope this helps! Let me know if I can be of further assistance. And keep your eye out for Part 2 of my special series of blog posts for more tips from the trenches.

How to Stand Out with More Visual Promotions

Top 3 Reasons for Charts

Did this chart catch your eye?
Today, you may have just a few seconds — maybe less — to grab someone’s attention. Charts (pie, line, bar, and others) are proven attention-winners. Of course, they’re perfect for presentation of data. But, with a little creative flair, you can also employ them to make your most important sales messages pop, online and off.

What makes charts work?
No need to rack your brain — just look at the chart above. In addition to ATTENTION, they provide AUTHORITY and QUICK UNDERSTANDING. A chart speaks volumes, with just a few words. So today’s multi-taskers can quickly say, “Aha, I SEE your point!” Moreover, a chart lends an air of authority to what you’re presenting because it supports your point or actually proves it, when you include relevant data. Add a short caption to your chart and you can be certain it will be read.

Take a cue from infographics: Get MORE visual!
You’ve heard of Information overload? Maybe that’s why infographics are now so popular in content marketing. They break things down with visuals, including charts, and a pinch of razzle-dazzle. But you don’t have to go that far in your promotions — a simple, unstuffy chart will be just as effective, whenever you want to:

Make a strong price or savings statement
Provide competitive product comparisons
Visualize a problem/solution
Show a relationship
Highlight a trend

Try it! Charts might be just the thing to make your promotions stand out. Let me know if I can be of assistance.

Raise Response with Email + Direct Mail

When email and direct mail join forces, their combined strengths can really put some POW in your response rates and give your business or nonprofit greater ROI. Here’s how:

Email first, followed by direct mail

Time Inc. sent prospects an email announcing a special subscription discount offer that was coming in the mail soon. The email showed a picture of the direct mail package so that recipients would take more notice of it when it arrived. The package was sent about a week later. Result: Greater response than if only email or only direct mail had been used.

Direct Mail first, followed by email

Email marketing is so popular these days that cluttered inboxes are becoming a problem. Plus, research shows that emails are opened at much lower rates than direct mail. How do you fight those obstacles? Some marketers are sending direct mail — such as a postcard — to alert prospects to a special offer, followed soon after by an email with all the details. Result: Improved email OPEN and CLICK-THROUGH rates, and improved response.

Powerful takeaway for you:

Today, to get people’s attention, it pays to give your message double exposure by synchronizing email and direct mail so they work in tandem. You gain more mindshare, too, when you brand your campaign with a consistent look and feel across channels!

A Timely Message

motionmailapp.com

Get ready! It will be here before you know it! For what, you ask? Above is how much time we have left until it’s 2020!

Did this clock get your attention? Countdown clocks get results in emails and on landing pages. They engage the recipient/viewer and help create a sense of urgency for whatever event or product offer you’re promoting.

What’s unique about this clock is that, whenever you open an email or view a landing page you get the exact time before the event — providing real-time incentive to act.

NFL Big Win: One example of where the countdown clock was very effective, according to Marketing Sherpa. The NFL placed a countdown clock in their email newsletter, and it increased open rates by 121% and clickthroughs by 26%. Not only that, but people kept going back to it to see when the next game was. A marketer’s dream!!

That said, what better holiday to test a countdown clock than Christmas — especially when it’s 4, 3, or 2 weeks before the big event! And don’t forget to put some timely visuals in your print campaigns, too: Use a picture of a clock, with appropriate copy. Or show a calendar with the holiday date circled. These are classic tactics that continue to perform well.

Let me know if I can be of assistance.

8 Ways to Make a Great Thank You Deliver

Direct marketers know that FREE, FINAL CHANCE, and ACT NOW are some of the most effective words to get someone to respond to your solicitation. Today, I’d like you to consider the power of a simple THANK YOU.

People like to feel appreciated. And when you show your appreciation with a personal note, they feel a closer connection to your business or non-profit organization, which can prompt another purchase or donation.

The above statement is especially true in fundraising. Tests done by a major fundraiser reveal that quality thank-you letters outperform the typical when it comes to rate of renewal and average gift value**. Another fundraiser made almost $450,000 more in gifts with the inclusion of a thank-you note!***

Now, you’re probably thinking, what makes up a quality thank-you? Here are some DO’s and one big DON’T that will make things very clear – and quite possibly improve your donor retention rates.*

DO:
1. Send a REAL letter: No preprinted card or boilerplate copy. It must be personal.

2. Get to it right away: That means within days (not weeks or months) of the giving.

3. Use the name of the person who gave the donation. You’re starting a relationship, so no “Dear Donor” or “Dear Friend.”

4.Inform: Thank the donor for the gift and give details on how the funds will be used to make a difference.

5. Deepen the connection: Let the donor know when to expect an update—and keep your promise.

6. Be warm & positive: Invite the donor to contact you directly for more information. Or include the name and phone number of a staff person to contact at any time.

7. Make it short: A one-sided letter that speaks sincerely and succinctly will do the job.

8. Honor your donor: Get someone high in the organization to sign the letter.

DON’T:
Do not sell, do not send a survey, do not ask for another gift. Save that for another time.
So, start writing those great thank-you’s now. And if you’d like to have my team evaluate them, send them to me. We’ll be glad to take a look.

 ***Tom Ahern article: “No thanks? No, thanks!”; **Tom Belford article: “OK, Thank You!”;
*Penelope Burk article: “Thank You Letters: Powerful and Profitable”.

Responsive Emails: Make Them Work for You

Research proves that the best way to get your audience to respond to your email is with a responsive email.

For those who are not sure what I mean by responsive email — it’s an email that is designed and coded to enable the device it is being read on (desktop, tablet or smartphone) to automatically adapt the layout to better fit the reader’s current screen size.

Below is an example of how my latest newsletter looked in responsive email format. Depending on the device it was read on, the layout of the email changed.

email for mobile
Email on a desktop
 

Notice the same email looks dramatically different! Elements of the mobile version image have been “stripped away” to two key points. The rest of the content is either hidden with the “Read More” option or is absent. Stripping down is a needed component of mobile emails. Why? Mobile users are often on-the-go or engaged with other activities. If you want your email read, a simple, direct, clear message and image work best. Therefore the most important points need to be determined and all else “stripped away.”

Another thing to consider is if an email is not formatted properly for the user’s device — meaning not responsive, the user becomes less engaged. This translates into a lower click-through rate.

Responsive email is more complex to design and code than standard email, and therefore costs more. That said, it will result in a better user experience and has been shown to produce a higher click-through conversion rate, which can improve your ROI.

 

One Minute Critique

Take a look at this magazine subscription card above that I came across (I removed all references to the title and publication).

While keeping its simplicity, the above card can be improved dramatically to elicit a stronger response. I took the liberty to rework it below. Here’s what I did.

1. Knowing there are only seconds to grab someone’s attention, I didn’t want to hide the best component of the offer. It needs to be emphasized. A proven way to do that is with a burst.

2. “Free” is hidden under the “Yes” copy. I moved it to a more prominent position and made it much bigger. As all direct marketers know, “Free” is a very attention-getting word.

3. I emphasized the “Free” component even more by adding an image of an iPad. This gives prospects a better idea of what they will receive.

4. The title, “Special Subscription Offer,” is fine. If you can give a sense of timeliness to it, even better. Is there a holiday coming up that you can tie it to? Here I changed the title to “Special Holiday Offer.”

5. There are two offers on this simple card: one on the top and one on the bottom. Also, the strong selling point “SAVE 69%” is smaller than the rest of the copy. If someone is considering the offer, I want to make it as easy as possible for the person to select the best option. Therefore, I put both offers together and enlarged and bolded the “Save” copy.

6. Finally, I added an arrow next to “Best Deal.” Arrows have a way of attracting attention–let’s use them!

Fall email2

Now look at both cards. Can you see that the bottom card’s message is much stronger and easier to figure out quickly? These changes are just a starting point. Even more can be done.

Direct response creative (whether it’s email, direct mail, a landing page or banner ad) can be a very effective tool in bringing in new revenue, subscribers and members to your organization–when done properly.

Don’t Litter Between 11AM-12:30PM?

Look at the above sign. All other times it’s okay to litter?

We all know that can’t be and for those of us who live in New York City this is a very familiar sign — it’s the alternate side-of-the-street parking sign. But in this email the sign appears to be about littering, not parking. You may even wonder what the “P” stands for.

This is a perfect example of why these 3C’s — Context, Conciseness and Clarity — are so important in all creative. Let me explain how it applies to the above image:

CONTEXT — This sign is taken totally out of context. It’s not hanging on a pole on a New York City street and you’re not trying to find the best parking spot. When you are parking your car and quickly looking at this sign your eye only goes straight to the hours, because that’s the only thing you are concerned about.

CONCISENESS — This sign has two messages. “DON’T LITTER” is really not necessary.

CLARITY — The lesser message “DON’T LITTER” is really overpowering the real message. This is due to the strong design element of a broom popping out and directing your eye to the words “DON’T LITTER.” This confuses the real message of the sign.

These parking signs are bolted to steel poles, therefore they are only going to be seen where they are. But not all messages are like that. Always keep the 3C’s in mind with your direct response creative. Ask these questions:

1. How or when is a customer receiving your collateral? If it’s moved to another context will it have the same meaning? Also consider who and when your audience will see your mail piece. If people are reviewing their email quickly on their smartphone, is your message right to the point in the least number of characters?

2. Can you get your message down to its core? If your mail piece needs to have a second message, make sure it does not fight for attention.

3. Is it clear? I recommend getting a fresh set of eyes to review your message — ideally a person not at all connected to the project.

We’d love to help you improve response. Let us be the fresh set of eyes to review your current creative message.

Unopened Email: How It Can Bring In Sales

Try this out. Look at the above subject lines.

Just by reading the subject lines and NOT opening the email we do know —

1. If we stop by a Verizon store the new BlackBerry Z10 will be there
2. If we need a new Apple product we can save on shipping at Staples
3. It’s a good time to go to The Gap, we can save over 40%
4. If we want to hear Broadway Stars singing this weekend we can go to the Irvington Town Hall.

Therefore, we can easily say this: Unopened email can bring in orders. People will just show up at the Gap knowing they can save over 40%, or show up at the Irvington Town Hall and see Broadway Stars singing.

Does this tell us that the subject line is not only important for getting people to click-through, but also effective in doing a quick shout out? My answer is yes and no.

Look at which sectors it works well for, namely retail and entertainment. You can use the subject line as a marquee that basically states the offer. But if we look at this Adobe subject line — “Avoid the five pitfalls of personalization” — it’s a little different. Here, I can’t really do anything unless I open the email and read what the pitfalls are.

Conclusion: A subject line can stand in for an unopened email in certain sectors and with certain offers — but not if we have more of a story to tell.

 

How to Lift Email Response: 4 Call-to-Action Design Ideas

Try testing a new call-to-action. According to Hubspot by changing the design of your call-to-action, you can improve your click-through rates by 1300% (or more!)

Four ideas to try are:

1. Use different copy. For example, instead of “Learn More” try “See How XX Works”:

2_button

2. Add a drop shadow:
Button

3. Use a different color or texture:
button

4. Add an arrow and even change the shape:
arrow

**KEEP IN MIND ** When you are testing, a button needs to look like a button.

Plus: Do not create a long button along the bottom. People will think it’s a footer — not a button.

 

Ugly and Unorganized Worked!

The artist and organizer in me is always looking for ways to make things attractive and neat. But if there is one thing I’ve learned early in my career in direct response: pretty and organized creative is not always what gets the highest response.

My early work experience at Time Inc., when sweepstakes were a driving force in obtaining subscriptions, made that clear to me. As I was reviewing one of their controls, I thought: This is one of the most unorganized mailings I’ve ever seen! Place this sticker somewhere to get the extra $10,000 bonus … place another sticker on some other form to get the free gift … here’s a list of your prizes, but if you want this specific prize then check a box, etc.

CONFUSING, BUT IT WORKED! Why? Because the customer was thinking: “If I can figure this out, I really might be a winner.” However, what worked for this particular sweepstakes package won’t necessarily work for the direct response pieces we mail today. Each kind of piece draws its own emotional response from the customer. To find out what elicits the right response in your customer, you must follow the direct mail mantra: Test, test, test.

Are You Turning Off Customers?

Judging Email Creative Based on “Images Off”

The default settings on some email programs are with images off when opening the email. Above are examples of 2 emails with “images off.” The top one (which I created) is an HTML-coded email with several grayed “images off” boxes. Note here that the message was still strongly evident — which will help pique someone’s interest to turn the images on to see the entire email. On the other hand, the bottom image has just one very large gray “images off” box. We have no idea what the email’s message is. This is not good, since there is nothing here to get someone to want to learn more.

Big lesson: Don’t risk losing your customers before they’ve even had a chance to read your email: Never use one big image for your email. Besides, the big image may take too long to download, which is another way to lose your customer.

An Easy Trick to check U.S. Letter Mail Aspect Ratio

Here is an easy trick to check U.S. letter mail aspect ratio. Just divide the width of your envelope or postcard by the height. If your results are great than 1.3 and less than 2.5 you are good.

Why is letter mail aspect ratio important? It’s the key to getting the lowest postage rate, by ensuring the package can run through the USPS automated mailing equipment. When considering the aspect ratio you must also follow the sizing guidelines from the USPS.

Please use this as a guide only. To make sure that your documents follow the proper sizing guidelines check with your local post office.

Curiosity Opens the Envelope

Using Feel to Get the Envelope Open

A credit card company recently mailed me this envelope, which looks like a package due, to the label and kraft color. Upon touching it, I felt some padding inside. It certainly piqued my curiosity and made me think: Is there something special inside for me? I opened the envelope to find just a prominent credit card offer and some bubble wrap. Question: The package look and bubble wrap can certainly get people to open the envelope, but is the offer strong enough to get people to act? And will enough people respond to get a great ROI?

I don’t know the answer to that, but I will say this: including the padding in the envelope is a great trick to keep in mind, if you want to get people to open what you send them – which, as you know, is a critical first step to any successful direct mailing.