Golfer Sam Snead famously quipped, “every shot that doesn’t go into the hole is a miss.” It would be easy to think about email marketing the same way, and try to drive action with every single message we send. But like in golf, it just is not possible to seal the deal with each try. While we do want our email marketing to drive activity, click-throughs and traffic, it should not be the objective of each individual message we send. Instead of a Call-to-Action in each message, consider working in a “Call-to-Inaction,” where you ask less of your audience with one message, in order to pique its engagement in advance of the next.

Here are a couple examples of common email messages that would benefit from a “Call-to-Inaction”:

Early event marketing emails: Event marketing emails are normally among the most direct of direct response messages. Their function is to drive registrations, so the call-to-action is commonly strong, even to the point of being strident. But many organizations send 4, 6 and even 10 messages promoting an event, starting months ahead of time. It’s not practical to expect that each of these messages will compel registrations, particularly the ones early in the cycle. I propose that we think about the first few emails in the event marketing cycle differently. Some will drive registrations even three months out and with no speakers or agenda yet in place. But that’s not a function of the email – it’s a function of the show’s reputation and the email’s recipient. Any email about the show would likely compel that same person to register. So instead of a message that zeroes in on that objective for the tiny fraction of subscribers who will register way in advance, write the first email messages for the 98%+ of subscribers who will not register yet. Instead of telling them to save the date or register early to save $300, craft the first few messages to develop the show’s personality and build a rapport with your audience. Change your objective from driving an immediate registration to simply ensuring that your subscribers anticipate and read the next event marketing message you send a little closer to the event.

Newsletters: The function of newsletters is to keep a subscriber base current with an organization’s happenings. A common execution of this objective is to use newsletters to point at articles and news items on an organization’s website, using brief teaser copy blocks with the promise of more details on the other side of a link. This approach is the same local TV news stations take in the brief 15-second commercials prior to the airing: “There’s a nasty low pressure system headed our way, carrying a lot of moisture from the coast. Are we in for a wet weekend, or just some wind? Tune in at 6 to find out.” But look, not everybody wants to tune in at 6 to know the darn weekend weather, nor do they want to click through to learn more about whatever your organization is doing. Wouldn’t it be refreshing if that same meteorologist said in the 15-second commercial, “There’s a nasty low pressure system headed our way. Saturday will be windy and dry, but Sunday is a soaker. We’ll have more information at the 6pm broadcast.” Even if the audience does not tune in at 6, information – and value – has been delivered. Consider writing your newsletters the same way – so that they convey important information all by themselves, delivering a service to the subscribers who do not want to click-through, as well as the ones who are engaged enough to visit your site for even more details.

Backing off a bit on the direct response aspects of your email marketing can go a long way towards improving your overall program. Messages written with more reasonable expectations of an audience will enjoy greater anticipation and readership, priming more of your subscribers for activitiy when you need it most.