The inbox is a cave, and a madly rushing stream runs through that cave. You can hear the stream rushing, but you can't see it, because it is dark.

Every email in that inbox is a voice in the darkness, trying to get your attention.

One is calling "I sell headlamps. Come and get a headlamp." Another is calling "I have a map, and it's on sale today only." A third is shouting "I sell blankets," while another announces "I have rafts on special today." 

The cacophony is deafening.

But then, out of the darkness, you hear this voice:

"I know you can't see anything, and you need to get through this cave to the other side. I'm here to help. Take four steps to your left, then three steps forward, and that will bring you to me. I have a flashlight that you can buy when you get here, to help you get through this dark cave."

Which voice are you most likely to pay attention to? In other words, which email is going to entice you to make a move? 

Perhaps that one that told you WHY you should listen? The one that provided a little guidance? The one that understood the dilemma you face and offered a clear solution for it? 

Yep, that one. The one with the WHY.

Back to that in a second here.

I've been talking for a while now about a particular set of TV commercials that are run by an email vendor. These commercials pretend that sending an email with "Cheese is 15% off" at the top is marketing - when you and I both know that those kinds of emails are advertising, not marketing at all. Perhaps it's not the textbook definition, but to me, marketing has to connect the WHY with the WHAT. Let me explain.

Here's my stuff; buy my stuff - that's a presentation of stuff. That's it. Presenting the stuff is advertising. When you can add "here's why you might want to care about my stuff," now that feels like real marketing to me.

What good is a cave map, or a raft, if you can't see? What good is a headlamp if you don't know what a headlamp is? What good is cheese if you don't have any idea of why having that cheese might be a good idea? See what I mean? 

If you can tap into the WHY - the problem, challenge, need, or opportunity that your email recipients are most likely facing - you stand a lot better shot of being opened, read, and clicked than those who just present their stuff.

Here's a key - you need to understand the why and be able to communicate about it. If you sell only one thing, that addresses one single need/challenge/opportunity, then you have it easier than most of us. You can send emails to anyone who hasn't bought and tell them how you can solve that problem, address that challenge, or help them fulfill that opportunity. Great. You STILL want to tap into the WHY, but you have a pretty consistent story that you can tell time after time.

For most of us, however, our perfect potential customers fall into segments. Even if you only sell one thing, it does different things for different people, right? For example, if you sell Volvos (yes, the cars), some of your potential audience is concerned with safety while another segment might feel that a Volvo is a suburban status symbol. You'll address those two groups differently. Well, you will if you're doing marketing. If you're just advertising that you sell Volvos and here's the latest model, you'll get some customers, sure, but you won't set yourself apart from everyone else who is selling Volvos and doing similar advertising.

See what I mean? 

And, when you can get your perfect potential customers to segment themselves (which we've discussed elsewhere in this blog), you can get them to tell you their hot buttons - their needs, opportunities, or challenges - and then you can market to what they want. 

Let's pause to acknowledge that people buy for different reasons, and that trying to sell a safety-conscious consumer a car based on how many teenagers will fit in it will not work. If you sell maps to people, your best audience for cave maps is likely people who are going to be in - or already are lost in - a cave. Emailing people who always take the train about cave maps is not going to increase your sales.

"But wait a sec, Margaret, what if some of those train riders might someday be interested in cave trekking?" It could happen, sure. But do you want to risk losing them for your train maps while you're busy trying to sell them something they are most likely not interested in purchasing? 

That's why we segment. That's why emails that are sent to segments based on their interests work. That's why sending the same message to everyone all the time (batch and blast) does not work.

And that's how YOUR email, YOUR voice in the dark-cave-with-rushing-stream that is the inbox, can stand out and cause people to take action.

Because you get the WHY.