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4 retro ways to win more business with email marketing for property managers

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Coca-Cola billboard

Last month, PayProp North America's Head of Marketing, Brenly McCulloch, took the virtual stage at Email Camp 2023, a two-day email marketing event hosted by Sinch. Titled "Cosmic time warp: Infusing 1960s billboard magic into email marketing success,” McCulloch’s session demonstrated how retro advertising can breathe new life into modern campaigns. This is a condensed version of his talk.

In this article, we’ll delve into the four key insights that property managers can leverage in their subject lines to boost opens, clicks, brand impressions – and ultimately, business.

  1. Condense, and condense some more

Billboards have limited space and time for words to catch people’s attention as they drive or walk past, so every word has to count.

The same is true for emails. Property investors are busy, so don’t lose them with lengthy, salesy subject lines. Carefully consider what specific message you are trying to communicate in the email body text and express it in as short and sweet a subject line as possible.

I call it the “rule of five” – every subject line I send out has to be five words or less (but emojis as extras work here too). That allows for enough context not to confuse or trick people, and a little mystery to lure them in.

Notice how Coca-Cola ads don’t directly tell customers to go to the store and buy a bottle. They instead use concise language that gets them to visualize the benefits of their product: refreshment, a tasty treat, or that sense of community when you “Share a Coke.”

To sum it up: make a long story short.

  1. Interrupt patterns 

Textual or graphical patterns such as repetition, common expressions or recognizable shapes are aesthetically pleasing and comfortable, but they are also predictable.

That’s why they don’t always make for the most successful billboards – a passerby will gloss right over it if they can automatically fill in the blanks from the very first word or the image alone.

What if a billboard’s message wasn’t immediately obvious due to a break of a common look and feel, like this one from Ikea? A person would have to pause and focus on it longer than they would a regular ad, meaning there’s more of a chance they’ll remember the brand later.

Similarly, I use email subject lines to break up the monotony of a full inbox. One of my go-to tactics is to list three things, with the third being completely different from the first two.

For example, a property management business advertising their services could use the subject line, “Maintenance, rent collection, chocolate cake.”

The randomness of “chocolate cake” piques the reader’s interest, makes them wonder how chocolate cake is related to the other two items on the list, and encourages them to click the email to find out.

In this case, maybe your point is that your customer service is as satisfying as eating a slice of cake. Whatever the connection, a pattern interrupt is an effective way to spice up your email marketing.

  1. Spark controversy, spark curiosity

The "Netflix is a joke" ad campaign is one of the streaming service's most memorable.

One would assume a competitor is behind such a provocative claim, but once you learn that Netflix is launching new standup comedy specials, you’re in on the joke and driven by a sense of belonging to check them out.

But it’s a tactic much older than Netflix. Here’s another example from convenience store chain Circle K in 1960s Scottsdale, Arizona.

Property managers can draw inspiration from the bold and tongue-in-cheek nature of these billboards, and inject intrigue and humor into their subject lines.

Call out something about yourself, your business, or the industry while remaining professional and taking care not to seriously offend.

  1. Write with the times

With that final point in mind, keep an eye on any automated email campaigns you’re using.

It’s easy to write an email, schedule its future send date, and forget about its contents. But the world moves fast, and you don’t want to land yourself in hot water with a subject line that was perfect last week but looks tasteless in light of more recent news.

Speaking of topicality, I find that when billboard and email campaigns capitalize on special occasions (e.g. holidays or sporting events), certain times of year (e.g. spring break or tax season), or even current events, they have a higher success rate.

A well-defined theme adds relevance to your message, and if someone has an interest in that theme, they are more likely to explore your unique perspective on it.

From billboard brilliance to digital success

The past is full of marketing inspiration waiting to be tapped. By embracing the timeless principles discussed in this article, property managers can write more engaging emails that win more clients.

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