In this column, I want to share with you the three most important things I’ve learned about writing winning e-mail marketing campaigns.

1. Reference Current Events

The first is: when your e-mail copy makes reference to what’s going on in the news the same week – or even better, the same day – you distribute it, your response rates soar.

Financial publishers were probably the first to discover this: e-mail messages that reflect what’s going on in the market on the day they are distributed – for instance, “gold hits $700 per ounce … should you sell or buy more?” – pull much better than generic promotional e-mails or those with evergreen content.

Example: the publisher of a financial newsletter boosted subscriptions by referencing the Martha Stewart case during her trial. Headline: “Stay one step ahead of the stock market, just like Martha Stewart … but without her legal liability.” The HTML e-mail even included a color photo of Martha looking contrite on the courthouse steps – an image the reader probably saw daily on TV and in the newspapers, and which therefore immediately attracted his eye.

The idea of including news in your copy is not new. But e-mail marketing makes it easier to more precisely coordinate and time your e-mail messages with current events and developments.

Of course, it is easier to tie in with news and current events for some products than others. A company that sells aluminum siding to homeowners might find it more difficult to link their e-mail copy to Bush’s latest speech than a company promoting penny stocks.

But it’s not impossible. And anytime your e-mail can reflect news or trends, readership and response are likely to soar.

2. Give Away Content in Email Itself

My second tip for writing winning e-mail messages: giving away content in the e-mail itself is, contrary to what you might expect, a way to strengthen copy and results.

I say “contrary to what you might expect” because, you might reason, “If I give the information away in the e-mail, the reader’s curiosity is satisfied, and he does not have to click through to find the answers he is looking for.”

The trick is to give “partial content” – as a sample of the kind of help your product, service, or firm offers.

Ideally, this could be something as quick as a simple how-to tip embedded in the e-mail copy. Then, you promise many more useful tips and advice when the reader clicks through.

This works for two reasons. First, people are trained on the Internet to expect free content, so this technique fulfills their expectation.

Second, including actual content in your e-mail marketing – and not just teasing the reader with promises to provide valuable content when they respond – demonstrates your expertise and knowledge right then and there in the e-mail. The reader is quickly convinced that you know what you are talking about — and therefore, may be a resource he wants to know better.

3. Be Consistent

My third tip for writing winning e-mail messages: open rates and click-through rates both increase when your e-mail marketing messages match – in look, content, tone, and style — the other e-mails prospects get from you or the list owner on a regular basis.

For instance, if your e-mail is going to an opt-in list of subscribers to a text e-newsletter, your response will be better if you send a text e-mail rather than an HTML. If people on your list are used to extremely short e-mail messages, a long-copy e-mail blast probably won’t work as well as a short teaser e-mail linked to a landing page where they can read the rest of your message.

Take a look at past e-mail promotions to the list that worked as well as issues of e-newsletters these readers receive. If they all contain graphs … or technical information … or pictures of pets … or news … or a pithy how-to tip … or survey results … then your e-mail probably should, too.

Reason: people on a given list are “trained” to accept e-mails with a similar look and feel to the ones they get regularly. When your e-mail matches their expectations, they believe it’s something they read regularly and open it. When your e-mail looks wildly different, they view it as spam and delete.

This is contrary to the creative approach Madison Avenue favors in print advertising, which is to make their ads look different from all others the reader has seen.

This article appears courtesy of Bob Bly’s Direct Response Letter