Email copywriting, Maslen on Marketing

Five tips for powerful emails

Here are a few of the challenges we face when writing emails.

First of all, your recipient can get rid of this intrusion into her working day without lifting a finger. Oh, OK, she does have to lift a finger, but only by 4 millimetres, before placing it back down on the mouse button to trash your promo.

All she needs to do is check out your From field and subject line before deciding that, yep, this is junk mail. (let’s just hope she doesn’t consider it the s-word and permanently block emails from you).

If she uses a preview pane, boy have you got a hurdle to jump. As she pages down through her emails, she can see a big chunk of yours without opening it.

Does it look interesting or boring? Relevant or time-wasting. How long have you got to persuade her? Current estimates say less than a second.

Once your email is opened, it has to perform as well as the best sales letter and then some. We all know how flighty readers of promotional emails are – that’s because we’re those people too.

A poor opening, an over-long sentence, lack of navigation or scannable elements will all encourage your reader to say goodbye. So here are my tips for a successful email.

Tip #1 – Start strong. Give your reader an instant reason to keep reading. What is the huge wow-factor difference your product can make to your reader’s life? Give them that. Straight away.

Emails that start off slow, with references to the state of play in the reader’s industry, will almost certainly fail to engage. Why? Duh! Because they already KNOW that.

Let’s suppose you’re selling a car wax product that just goes on with the water then dries to a glossy finish. Your email could start like this…

Dear Fred,

Want to know how concours winners get that deep, wet-look shine without polishing?

Tip #2 – Give them plenty of chances to order. Don’t save your call to action to the end like a traditional direct mail letter. Bung one in immediately. At the top. Above the fold.

And use a mixture of graphic and text links. Not everyone has their email client or browser set to download images. Put text links as captions next to or underneath buttons.

US email consultancy Silverpop found that the ideal number of links to maximise click rates was 6-10.

Tip #3 – Aim for the most conversational style and tone of voice you can manage without alienating your reader.

An email is no place for using “purchase” instead of “buy”. And your language needs to be less formal because people are used to the informality of email as a communications medium.

Even if you’re selling subscriptions to a journal aimed at hospital consultants, your can write copy like this:

Of course you want to be sure Consultant will do all I promise. That’s only natural. So here’s what I suggest. Try it, free, for a month. Then decide.

Tip #4 – Break up overlong paragraphs. That means virtually all of them. Most people, me included, are used to drafting sales copy in a word processor with page margins set for A4 (US letter). Which is fine if you’re printing it out as a sales letter.

But for emails, where you should in any case be constraining line length to 12-16 words, what looks like a fairly short paragraph in Word becomes a thick, lardy slab.

Where you do break them? Wherever it feels OK to do so. But do it as soon as you can.

Like that.

One-line, one sentence, even, is fine for a paragraph. Remember, your prime aim with paragraphing in copywriting is to train your reader to keep on reading.

Tip #5 – Keep it ultra personal. In direct mail letters, some copywriters feel it’s OK to talk about “subscribers”, “our customers” or “executives”. (They’re wrong.)

But in an email, which someone might be reading on their Blackberry or mobile phone, you MUST use a personal style to hook them.

Simplest trick I know?

Use “you”. And use it often. Let’s say three times as often as you use “I”.

And I’m telling you this because

Emails are cheap compared to print direct mail. But don’t let this apparent benefit distract you from their primary purpose. They have to sell.

And because the response rates are generally orders of magnitude less than for print DM, you have to ensure the copy (let alone the design) is working hard – very hard – for a living.

Be ruthless when editing your copy. And watch for the five issues I’ve highlighted here.

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