3 Lessons Email Marketers Can Learn from the Miss America Pageant

For people who think about email marketing all day long, the Miss America stage is kind of like a crowded inbox. Every brand is trying to stand out, get you to admire it, and in the end, win you over.
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The 2015 Miss America pageant gave millions of viewers a chance to settle in for a night of big hair, gorgeous gowns and stiff competition. These pageants usually kick off with one of those choreographed routines that attempts to feature all 51 contestants (including Miss Puerto Rico) in about three and half minutes. It's a crowded stage, and everyone's trying to get noticed.

For people who think about email marketing all day long, the Miss America stage is kind of like a crowded inbox. Every brand is trying to stand out, get you to admire it, and in the end, win you over. Here are three lessons email marketers can learn from pageant life.

SWIMSUIT: Keep everything where it's supposed to be

To walk across the stage in front of millions of viewers -- in nothing but a two-piece and high heels, mind you -- takes confidence, and that confidence comes from feeling like you're in complete control.

For Miss American contestants, control means paying special attention to how you'll look under those bright lights (and on high-definition television sets). Their go-to tools are spray glue and body makeup. And maybe they're not thinking about it this way, but in email marketing terms, these contestants are considering layout and design as a way to get to a desired outcome.

Email marketers, take note! As much as it pains me to draw this lesson from the pageant world, it's the cold, hard truth: How you look matters. And if you don't feel confident about how your emails will display in all the places they're viewed, you're doing your brand a disservice.

With mobile email opens on the rise, designing for your on-the-go audience is more important than ever. You can use a responsive template that automatically adjusts your content for mobile devices and tablets, but you should also design with your mobile readers in mind. A single column layout keeps you in control of where the content ultimately ends up. Think of it as the double-sided tape for your email campaign; your call to action won't slip to the bottom of your message, making you miss out on an opportunity to get more clicks.

INTERVIEW: Don't say too much

If there's one thing I've learned from watching the interview portion of pageants -- sometimes with my hands over my face, anticipating the awkwardness -- it's that saying more doesn't help you sound smarter.

It's hard to be put on the spot like that. Contestants are asked about everything from the accomplishment they're most proud of to their stance on international conflicts. And the judges aren't just listening for the answer; they're tuned in to how the answer is being delivered. Here's how I imagine the judge's thought process: "Are her ideas clear? Does she get to the point? Is she rambling? Oh no, she's rambling..."

There's a clear lesson in there for email marketers. You can say too much, and when you do, you might lose the attention of your audience (or, in the case of some pageant contestants, you might attract the wrong kind of attention). Great marketers know their email subscribers aren't hanging on their every word, so they find ways to make their emails more scannable. Here are a few tips:

Use images to tell your story. People process images 60,000x faster than text.
Let your headlines do the heavy lifting. When written well and sized right, they draw the eye down the screen.
Embrace white space. Adding a little breathing room to your content can increase comprehension by 20 percent.

TALENT: Be memorable, and maybe even a little unexpected

Singing. Dancing. Piano playing. Violin playing. These talents run a dime a dozen in the pageant circuit. But you've got to do something unexpected, like perform a ventriloquist interpretation of Laverne & Shirley or or heck, play a red cup game while sitting downstage to be remembered long after your beauty has faded.

So what's the email marketing equivalent? Well, you've got a couple levers -- content and timing. Email is a fleeting thing. When you press "send" on a hand-crafted, painstakingly designed email, about 80 percent of people simply scan it and move on. But with the right content and thoughtful timing, you can get them to stick around a little longer. You can even get them to look forward to your next email.

One surefire way to boost clicks and get your message across in an expected way is to use video. It's easier than ever to create and link to a short video message in your email campaigns, and there's no better way to show off your brand's personality. Adding a video to your email can boost click rates by as much as 300 percent , so give it a try in your next email.

Sending your content at just the right time can also make you memorable to subscribers. Only 57.7 percent of companies greet new subscribers with a welcome note, and yet they work so well. Welcome messages have 4 times the open rate and 5 times the click rate of regular bulk mailings. They also increase long-term engagement with a brand by 33 percent. Set up your own welcome email (or a series) to be delightfully unexpected and keep customers interested in your content.

Another way to have great timing is to react quickly to an event. I remember which brands spring into action following a federal disaster, using email to share critical information and direct people to how they can help their community. I also remember which brands recover well from a mistake, like when Fab.com accidentally sent a test email featuring nothing but a kitten to their entire customer base. The lesson? Kittens solve everything. Kittens and a discount? Give that brand a crown!

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