My first trip to Paris was three years ago…and I fell in love with the place.

And as you might imagine, my thoughts turned to romance…gluten-free crepes (do they exist?)…and of course, email marketing.

I’ve been back to Paris twice since then—both times to speak—and I actually did three interviews/videos for my friends in France (with my host, Sebastien Night, “The French Marketer”).

In those interviews I talk about some epic failures, my favorite books and continuous improvement…and you can access them here.

And in addition to wanting to share those videos with you this week, I also wanted to continue on the theme around the resurgence of that “new medium” called direct mail…the medium that I recently compared to “making sushi at home”…that is, you can do it yourself but I wouldn’t recommend it.

But even though you shouldn’t do direct mail without a lot of support, you also shouldn’t ignore what is clearly “the least crowded In Box” for consumers and business people alike.

Back to Paris to illustrate this point further… but more importantly to talk about best practices in email marketing.

One of my favorite stops was at the “Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris”…an amazing edifice.

I worked off some “croissant calories” by walking the stairs to the tower (and when I got to the top, I hung out with a famous gargoyle …see picture at the end of this e-mail).

I swear he reminded me of a sleazy Internet Marketer I met recently.

I thought I heard him asking me to send him money to support a Nigerian prince too.

The church was built in the 12th century…well they started building it in 1163, but it wasn’t completed until 1345.

The craftsmanship is phenomenal…and seeing it up close and personal got me thinking…

Lots of folks put in a lot of time, planning and effort to figure out how to get that thing built without a crane…or an elevator shaft…or any modern tools.

I know what you’re saying…go visit the Pyramids, Brian, and you won’t be so astounded…but stay with me.

The craftsmanship had to be perfect and no move could be taken without it being thought through in a big way.

Sort of like doing direct mail.

OK…it was a lot tougher to build Notre Dame than to do direct mail…and the relative cost was a lot more in 12th-century dollars too.

And I have to admit that the cathedral is a lot prettier to look at than any #10 envelope I have ever received in my mailbox.

However, the way some people today fear direct mail, you would think that building Notre Dame would be easier than considering the medium that has been creating marketing successes for decades…dare I say a century.

And even Ben Franklin thought it had potential over two centuries ago.

So great news…direct mail is cheaper than building Notre Dame AND we don’t have to wait for almost 200 years to get the final results!

Although some online marketers think that waiting 6 weeks to accurately read a direct mail campaign might as well be 200 years.

And then I started thinking about email.

After visiting Notre Dame, I remember going back to my hotel room to check my e-mail for the first time in a week…I have 9 different Gmail accounts…and one of those Gmail accounts is where I “sign up for stuff” to track what others are doing marketing-wise.

Some examples are retail stores, memberships, programs, webinars…maybe even some opt-in pages from some of you in my online family.

All of my “In Boxes” were flooded with stuff since I had been a free man In Paris for a week (a reference to a song that shows my age).

In particular, the email address where I sign up for stuff had hundreds of unread emails in it…most of them sucked…they were noisy, not targeted and very repetitive.

I hadn’t noticed how bad they were (and how often I get the same bad e-mails) until I didn’t check the box for a week.

I started thinking about how much thought (or lack of thought) goes into sending 5 emails in 5 days to someone with virtually the same offer, maybe worded a little differently each time.

But not enough difference to have it qualify as being “creative.”

Or effective.

Or useful.

It is all so annoying.

Then I thought about the construction of Notre Dame…and the building of a direct mail campaign…and how neither could afford the sloppiness I was witnessing in that one Gmail account.

A good friend of mine (and a world-class marketer) Dean Graziosi gave me a quote to live by…and I encourage you to spread the word on this one:

“Customers refund transactions, not relationships.”

There was nothing about “relationship building” in most of the e-mails in my In Box.

It is so frustrating to see all that waste.

I often lament that in all my years in direct mail, we really couldn’t do true relationship building by itself…direct mail was way too expensive.

Gordon Grossman, the architect of the Readers Digest, used to tell me:

“Everything in direct mail has to sell something.”

The idea of “content marketing,” (i.e. giving away our best stuff for free or at least some of our best stuff for free), which we all take for granted today as something we all should be doing online, was just not affordable offline for the most part.

And while I agree with Gordon on the need to always “sell” with all of our direct mail due to the high cost, I remember making a commitment to developing breakthrough direct mail creative that actually did give away “real content” even when it was dangerous to do so—and it made for relationship building while selling.

That was not the norm at the time I was cutting my teeth in direct mail but we were trendsetters…and there were many like us that marketed similarly…and those are the mailers who have survived to this day in a very tough and expensive medium.

Today, the best direct mail has this component built in wherever possible.

I think Gordon would agree on this the new rule for online marketers based on what we have learned over the years offline:

“Everything in the  email must achieve something”

And those of you who are big e-mailers, I dare you not to sell all the time…and if I could recommend just one thing to you, be selective when and how you sell. Many of you know this already…hopefully you are OK if I am preaching to the converted too. It is just such an important message.

E-mail being cheap (and having a responsive email list that others want to mail to as much as you do) is not a license to kill your list…or your relationships.

Doing these weekly e-mails has taught me a lot…and even though I sometimes sell you something…whether it was my Titans materials, the Bill Jayme swipe file…and soon to be the classic books Breakthrough Advertising and The Brilliance Breakthrough by Gene Schwartz…I am careful to keep the selling relevant and congruent.

The key, I think, is that I only want to offer you something of true value after I spend considerable time and effort developing this relationship with you.

And everything I sell has been–and will continue to be–congruent with my overall mission of providing you with the best direct marketing education I can find.

And while I’ve made some money selling stuff, do you know what has been the most satisfying thing over these last 3 years of writing this weekly blog?

It’s that I receive very few unsubscribes over time, higher open rates even as the list becomes larger and virtually zero complaints.

And I address every complaint one-on-one.

Always remember that customer service is a marketing function.

Please read “The return on returns” where I hopefully prove that point…

Unsubscribes, open rates, and customer complaints are the key metrics these days (in addition to “sales” and “profit”)…so thank you for your trust…and thank you for continuing to read and interact with me.

And please pay close attention to those metrics with all you do as you sell.

I know that I never could have figured out how to build the “Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris”…in the 12th Century or the 21st…but as you read some weeks ago about “How paying postage made me a better marketer,” I am confident that I can build a list and “use e-mail for good rather than evil” because of how I learned to build direct mail campaigns.

And as we have all learned, the fact that e-mail is inexpensive is not an excuse to exploit our respective tribes…it’s much more about the opportunity to build.

In short, please think about the craftsmanship of the Notre Dame cathedral the next time you write an email…and before you hit send.



P.S. Here’s a picture of me with that Internet Marketer…er…gargoyle…atop Notre Dame.

Can’t you tell I was thinking about e-mail marketing here?