I worked in publishing for almost 20 years. Starting in the mid-2000s, as advertising sales plummeted and readers headed elsewhere to get their news and information, a lot of publishers chased their tails rather than try to come up with innovative products and services of their own.

Some tried to make an online replica of their magazine or newspaper, allowing readers to flip through pages and save a few trees, while other publishers still flounder today at any attempt to create a successful online business.

Direct Marketing IQ Flash Sale

Publishers began scrambling to find other ways to make up for lost revenue, including ecommerce, but while their efforts are valiant, being the Amazon, or even the Gilt, of publishing didn’t necessarily work out.

The next logical―or illogical―step was flash sales. After all, traditional publishers are usually never first, or second, or third doing much of anything, and flash sales have been an ecommerce winner for quite some time (even travel companies are doing them now). I received this email last week from a business-to-business publisher (full disclosure, it’s a former employer) and immediately took notice.

While I have no idea if the flash sale for these books worked or not, here are three simple tactics missing from this effort that definitely would have helped make the publisher more money.

1) Add continuity between the offer in the email and then throughout the website. One or more pieces of creative would have reinforced the reason why the potential buyer responded to the offer and, in turn, helped increase conversions.

2) Once someone clicked through from the email, the publisher should have leveraged a referral link in the email to trigger the 20% discount and automatically apply it at checkout. This way, the buyer wouldn’t have needed to go back to the email to find the special code, potentially losing a sale in the process.

3) The countdown is on? What countdown? Going to the website provided no sense of urgency that the flash sale was ending in X number of hours and minutes. Use page real estate to show how much time is left before the sale is over (even if the discount still applies).

Rather than trying to turn analog dollars into digital dimes, publishers should focus on optimizing the website experience by treating every website visitor individually based on what they know about her or his interests and behaviors, including offers in an email.

For publishers that do this right, the end result will be the creation of new revenue that puts them not only ahead of their competition, but the envy of any business. Learn more in The Online Customer Experience Handbook for Publishers.