Attention Getter: Carefully planned and executed, targeted direct e-mail campaigns can have a success rate ranging from 8 percent to 18 percent. But if you try shortcuts or don’t plan well, take cover. Your credibility and image could suffer.

Editor’s note: Daryl Toor, who has worked in marketing and public relations for more than 20 years, is founder of Atlanta-based “Attention.” He writes a regular column for Local Tech Wire about trends in marketing and communication.Email campaigns can be a successful tool in generating business for your firm.

However, if done wrong, direct e-mail can be ineffective.
And at its worst, it can seriously damage your hard-won corporate image and credibility.

The following are the top five direct email blunders and how to avoid them:

Sour subject lines

“You Too Can Make Millions” is a subject line that has them reaching for the delete key faster than you can say junk mail. An e-mail subject line should initiate a positive emotional reaction. It must assure readers that what they are about to read could have a positive effect on them by teaching them something, solving a burning problem or simply making them laugh.

Examples of potentially good subject lines include, “Marketing Experts Share Direct E-mail Secrets,” or “New Tool for Sending E-Mail Campaigns” or “Exclusive Interview with Internet Guru Esther Dyson.”

The bottom line is, the top line matters most.

Lousy return address name

Have you ever opened an e-mail with a return address that reads something like, “From: 78yournamesearch62”? Of course not! Why? Because it has spammer (or worse, virus) written all over it.
Return addresses in direct e-mails are directly related to your company’s image and products. Just as your subject line must communicate that there is information worth reading inside, your return address tells your readers the message is from a source they can trust.

Looks that don’t kill

It is true that a picture is worth a thousand words. While words can be effective, studies show that the brain prefers color graphics and images. This means if your customers have the ability to receive HTML messages, you should always opt to spend the extra time to creatively design the piece. The odds are much greater that the words will be read.

The text should be no more than 10 words per line in a 10-point font. It bears repeating that there should be absolutely no grammar or spelling errors. Rich media (such as audio or movies) can be linked in your e-mail message, but only if it adds value to the piece and your customers can handle the download time.

Bad personality or bad breath

Less is more is a basic sales technique. Coming on too strong can take a valid promotion and turn it into the likes of a bad used car sales pitch. Conversely, a boring “speeds and feeds” corporate-speak campaign will not engage a reader much, either.

The middle ground is a personal, casual tone that sounds like a letter from someone your readers know and trust. Your e-mail represents the challenge of developing a relationship with your readers.

No engaging call to action

You have written a brilliant subject line. You used a trustworthy return address. You crafted a witty and entertaining direct e-mail message. Your readers are opening your message and reading it. All they need now is that little push — that call to action — to engage them. But it’s not there. They don’t know what to do, so they do the worst possible thing: Nothing. And your crafty communication fails. A simple, “Try It Now for Free” or “Click Here for a Free Sample Report” is the missing call to action that will get those potential customers one step closer to where you want them.

So here is another call to action: Never send a direct e-mail campaign without asking your audience to do something. Ask and ye shall receive.

The beauty of direct e-mail campaigns over traditional, printed campaigns is that by including a URL in the message, your customers can be right where you want them, on your Web site, with one simple click. And by using direct e-mail tools that allow tracking of click-through statistics you will know instantly whether your campaign is working. Carefully planned and executed, targeted direct e-mail campaigns can have a success rate ranging from 8 percent to 18 percent.