Inboxes are loaded with them: well-meaning, but poorly designed, badly written e-mail marketing messages. Digital envelopes stuffed with logos, banners, boxes and text that yank on the eyeballs just long enough to be jettisoned from the inbox.

According to Forrester Research, eight out of 10 broadband users delete most commercial e-mail without reading it, and six out of 10 say most e-mail doesn't offer them anything interesting. With e-mail users' time and inbox space increasingly at a premium, and patience wearing thin, how can marketers stay in customers' good graces and ensure that their e-mails are eagerly anticipated?

A good marketing e-mail sparks trust in the "from" field, piques interest in the subject line, and follows through with concise, relevant content that is easy to act on. Here are some simple things you can do to create e-mail that looks great, and works even better, from the inbox to the order form.

Be the friend in the "from" field

The relentless assault of spam has changed how people approach their inboxes. Today, it's not your offer, but your reputation, that matters most to e-mail recipients. Research shows that the number-one factor influencing people to open an e-mail today is knowing and trusting the sender, followed by an intriguing subject line. Presuming you have done everything to ensure a recipient wants your e-mail--that is, you've obtained permission, and are sending only relevant communications at an appropriate frequency--using your company name in the "from" field and in the subject line will help recipients to recognize your messages, and increase the chance that your e-mail will be opened and read.

Use the preview pane to draw them in

Some e-mail programs, such as Microsoft Outlook, open e-mail in a smaller window called a preview pane. You can use the preview pane to further draw in interested recipients, or to convince ambivalent ones, to read your message by making sure the portion of your message that is viewable looks good in this abbreviated space, and builds on the interest generated by your subject line. Keep in mind, however, that more and more preview panes disable the graphics in your message. So examine your message templates and content in advance, and make sure recipients can still understand them with the graphics turned off.

Place key information above the fold

When a broadsheet newspaper is folded in half, the information visible to readers "above the fold" must be compelling enough to convince them to buy the paper. Digitally speaking, the term refers to the portion of a page visible on a computer screen without scrolling. To maximize response, place your brand, offer and call to action above the fold, and place housekeeping items, such as your unsubscribe link, address, disclaimers, privacy policy etc. further down in your message.

Tailor messages to recipients

Relevance is crucial, and the key to relevance is personalized content. Ways to personalize your e-mail marketing messages include addressing recipients by name, sending different offers to recipients based upon geography or demography, and using behavior (i.e. purchase history, e-mail click history, visits to your Web site) as an attribute to guide campaigns.

Write in terms of customer benefit

E-mail customers don't want to read about great sales; they want to read about great discounts -- on items they are interested in. Subscribers to e-mail newsletters want actual news, not advertisements disguised as newsletters. Recipients also want to know that you value their privacy and will not share their data with others.

Keep content simple

Simplicity is the hallmark of elegance. Research shows that including too many elements or offers can divert reader attention and degrade response, so keep content simple, direct and targeted. Promotional messages should focus on one main offer and consist of short statements and bulleted text in an easy-to-read, sans-serif font such as Arial, Tahoma or Verdana, in size 10-point or better. Dark text on a light background is easier to read, as is boldface rather than capitalized, underlined or italicized text for emphasis.

Clearly state your call to action

Prominently-displayed hyperlinks and big "click-here" buttons, accompanied by explanations of exactly what "clicking-here" and "going there" does, make it easy for recipients to understand what you want them to do. To motivate readers to follow through, you can create a sense of urgency by giving them reasons why they should act soon, such as limited availability, subscription expiration or offer-ends dates.

Create campaign specific landing pages

The landing page -- the page recipients are taken to after clicking a link in an e-mai l-- is a marketer's last chance to convert a recipient to action. Research by MarketingSherpa shows that customizing a landing page's text, forms and buttons so that it reflects a campaign, and including a photo or graphic of the actual product offered, can convince recipients to take action, and can boost conversions by more than 40% on average.

In October 2004, the Direct Marketing Association reported that e-mail marketing topped every direct marketing channel except telemarketing for return on investment, including dimensional mail, direct mail, newspaper, coupon and catalog advertising. E-mail's unique ability to drive direct response and cultivate online relationships makes it an invaluable tool in every marketer's arsenal. And its low cost, high response and immediacy in comparison to other forms of direct marketing make it one arena where smaller companies can successfully compete with larger enterprises.