October 31, 2002, 12:00 AM

HTML vs. Text

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An online vendor of flowers had parallel results. HTML was the winner for offers not tied to a holiday-in a typical e-mailing, a 5-6% lead. Text was the winner in a typical e-mailing for offers tied to a deadline message that recipients recognized and accepted as a logical deadline, a 10-12% lead.

Making hotlists hot

You can see the logic, which applies not just to e-mail but to any form of interpersonal communication. “Production” can dilute message-impact. Back in the antediluvian days, when we used direct mail for Hotline offers, we learned quickly and thoroughly that “producing” the message watered down the intended impact. It’s parallel to a drowning swimmer yelling, “I truly would appreciate attention because my lungs are filling with water and I lack the musculature to swim to shore” instead of “Help!”

For the retailer who uses e-mail to announce specials or closeouts or short-term discounts or seasonal sales, text can be preferable not only because it costs less to create but also because changes can be made on the fly.

Visualize, for example, a car dealer sending a conventional mailing to neighborhood ZIP codes. The car dealer announces the 2003 models. He has to show something, which means graphics and pictures are necessities if he wants to generate response. Now that same dealer is mailing a hotlist of come-get-’em 2002 closeouts. Adding production and color and glamour will damage response, because such additions are out of key with the aggressive nature of this promotion.

Warning: Technicians invariably tout what they do. So a technician, in charge of a company’s e-mailings, tends to promote HTML. Okay, fine, if HTML enhances the message. Not so fine if it’s HTML because the sender is HTML-adept.

Deciding in advance that HTML or text will bring the greatest response per dollar spent is both arrogant and foolish. Testing may explode your pet theory, but in doing that, it adds a happy patina to your bottom line. l

Herschell Gordon Lewis is the principal of Lewis Enterprises in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., writing copy for and consulting with clients worldwide. His 26th book, Effective E-Mail Marketing, was recently published by Amacom Books. He can be reached at hgl@herschellgordonlewis.com or 954-565-0009.

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