Dave: Hey Stan, we need to send out an email ASAP promoting the new product updates, and the service we’re launching next month.
Stan: Yeah Dave I agree. Want me to put together a quick email and we can blast it out to our customers tomorrow morning?
Dave: Sounds good.
What follows is an example of one of the worst marketing emails in history…
Subject line: You’ll love it! Try it!
How are you doing today? We are so glad that you are a customer of ours! We’ve recently updated product X, and will be launching service Y to help your business even more in the future. We look forward to many great years together.
If you have any questions don’t hesitate to reach out!
Director of Product Development
At this point, one of two things are going to happen:
1. Your email is going to get deleted
2. Your customers are going to bombard support, and tie up those communication lines when a better email would have explained things adequately.
That’s just one example of email copywriting gone wrong.
That one email, which had the potential to increase customer loyalty and retention (with the product update), and increase sales (talking about the new service) likely cost this company thousands upon thousands upon thousands of dollars in revenue.
You can avoid a disaster like this by following a list of proven email copywriting best practices.
Whether your company is in the same boat as the example mentioned above, or you are a seasoned email marketing veteran looking for tips to get more customers to interact with your email messages, I’ve put together a list of 17 email copywriting best practices that you can use as a guide to ensure that you don’t make the same mistake as the guys above.
#1: Master the Subject Line if You Want More Opens.
Emails with poor subject lines don’t get opened. In fact, 35% of email recipients open email based on the subject line alone according to an article from Convince & Convert.
So, as an email marketer, what can you do to ensure that your subject lines knock it out of the park?
Here are a few suggestions:
Use language that helps people avoid something.
Psychology is fascinating, especially when it comes to studying sales psychology. It’s been proven time and time again that the vast majority of people gravitate more toward products and services that will help them avoid pain (solve their problems or potential problems) rather than gain pleasure.
As an email copywriter, I use this to my advantage when writing email copy, and you should too. For instance, let’s say that I was writing an email subject line for a data security client. Which subject line do you think would be more effective?
A. Get data security monitoring from an industry leader
B. How to avoid a $1.6 million dollar data breach lawsuit
I’d bet my house that to a targeted prospect list, B would perform better. The reason is because it subconsciously presents two different “nightmares” to the recipient that they want to avoid; a lawsuit and losing millions of dollars.
Use industry news or rumors to your advantage
If there is a big story going on in your industry, or a rumor floating around that a lot of people are interested in, you can capitalize on it to increase your open rates.
For example, as I’m writing this it is June of 2015, and golfer Jordan Spieth just won the U.S. Open. So, if I was a marketer in the golf industry, I might send my customer or leads an email with a subject line link this:
5 things you can learn from Jordan Spieth’s U.S Open victory (must read…)
Using industry news or rumors is easy peasy. The key to using this strategy to increase your email open rates is to make sure that the news you are sharing really is timely and relevant to your target audience.
Don’t talk about something that is old news, or something that only you or a small group of nerds in your industry care about (don’t kid yourself, we all nerd out on small things in our respective industries).
Last but not least, here’s another copywriting tip for better email subject lines:
Craft email subject lines that focus on emotions
Many companies don’t like “emotional marketing.” In fact, it’s often thought of as being unprofessional. However, a “just the facts ma’am” approach to marketing is likely to leave your company or organization with very poor results.
Just take a look at the chart below from NeuroMarketing:
The key takeaway here? Play to your customers and leads emotions. I don’t mean toy with them or jerk them around…there is an ethical way to do it. All that you have to do is use subtle psychological sales triggers in your subject lines.
Here’s an example:
Information based subject line: 7 Ways to increase efficiency with our CRM software
Emotion based subject line: How to crush sales quotas & get a standing ovation from your CEO…
As you can see, the information-based headline is just bland and boring. “Increasing efficiency” is one of the most overused sales pitches in the b2b marketing space. However, put yourself in the shoes of a sales/marketing executive; what would exceeding sales quotes and pleasing the CEO really mean to them?
- Job security
- A raise (equated with better quality of life)
- A pat on the back from senior management (makes you feel good).
So don’t be afraid to insert a little (or a lot) of emotion into your email copywriting. You can still keep it professional and get better results in the process.
#2: Avoid any “Bait and Switch” Tactics.
Oh the classic bait and switch…you tell someone something in the subject line or beginning of the email, and then when they click on either your email or offer within the email they are lead in a direction that is a little different from what they were promised.
It’s a classic marketing tactic, but it needs to die. Right now.
What’s sad is that many email marketers may think bait and switch tactics actually work, because they can produce solid open and click-thru rates for your campaigns. The only problem is that sometimes numbers really do lie.
There’s one company in particular that I follow that uses bait and switch tactics (as well as false scarcity, which I’ll discuss later in this article) all of the time. I’m taking an educated guess here and saying they are using shock value to generate opens and clicks, but aren’t getting much in the way of real results.
It may sound like I’m poo pooing on metrics, which I’m not. However, I do have a big problem when a marketer lets metrics overtake their common sense.
Put yourself in your customer or lead’s shoes for a minute. Pretend you’re opening that bait and switch email on your computer, tablet, or smartphone. When you finish reading the email or get to the offer page, don’t you feel a little mislead?
People buy from people (and companies) they trust. If you’re misleading your subscribers with emails, how are you going to treat them when they buy something from you?
Your leads and customers can’t trust bait and switch tactics, and they get old pretty quick…and there my friend is the death of your email campaign.
It’s pretty simple; don’t send emails that are sleazy or misleading. If you were a lead or customer and wouldn’t want to receive that email, your company probably shouldn’t send it.
#3: Use Story Telling to Grab the Reader’s Attention Immediately.
Stories are a vital part of sales psychology. Stories connect people. No one likes listening to a sales presentation, but a fascinating story? That’s totally different. As humans we’re enthralled. We love them.
Smart businesses are understanding the power of storytelling, and adopting it as part of their marketing and sales process. In fact, HubSpot predictcs that storytelling will be the biggest business skill of the next 5 years.
If stories aren’t a part of your autoresponder series emails that you send out to clients and potential leads, you’re missing the boat.
But fear not, your email copywriting boat captain is here to steer your ship in the right direction. Here are 3 ways to generate awesome story ideas for your email campaigns in just a few minutes:
- What obstacles have you or someone you know overcame in your life? Write about it and tie it back to your business.
- Think about a hilarious moment you’ve experienced or heard about that will having people roaring in laughter. Write about it.
- Take a well known story, or even a current event, and tie it back to your business.
Here is a short example on how to use obstacles to tell stories.
When I was 4 years old, I remember going to my aunt’s house for a 4th of July party. I was having a blast with all of my older cousins…the whole family was there.
Then it happened…
I was running around the backyard when I fell and cut my finger. It was just a scrape really, but I was absolutely terrified. I thought the world was over and all I could do was cry.
You see, even though the problem was easily solvable by someone who knew what needed to be done (my mom), I was so scared that I nearly passed out.
You’re probably thinking “what they heck does this have to do with me?”
Maybe something. Maybe nothing.
But this is the real point…
Since my mom had the knowledge, experience and knew how to handle the situation I got some ointment, a bandage, and was back playing in less than an hour.
It was no big deal. Because I had someone on my side who had seen this exact problem countless times before, and knew exactly how to solve it.
Do you see where I’m going with this?
At (insert company name), our management consultants are battle tested and currently used by over 6,000 clients around the United States.
So even if you’re whining like a 4 year old and don’t know what to do, we can help. Just like a mother treating a 4 year old’s scrape, we’ve seen this problem before and know exactly how to handle it.
Click here to register for our webinar on “The 7 profit leaks that are killing your software business.”
See you there.
P.S. We are doing a live Q & A on the webinar with one of our top consultants. He’s going to spend a full 60 minutes after the webinar answering questions…and it’s 100% free. So register now.”
End of story
That’s a quick example, but you get the idea. If you want to use email to “sell without selling,” then tell stories that will hook your audience as soon as they open your emails.
#4: Sell the click multiple times with specific, actionable CTAs.
Sending out an email without a strong, specific, clickable call to action is a recipe for disaster. When it comes to email marketing, people need to be told exactly what you want them to do; even if it’s obvious.
I like to use a variety of call to actions within my emails (usually giving the recipient 2-4 opportunites to click-thru to my landing page).
Some of them are “naked URLs” such as http://www.site.com, while others are hyperlinks such as “See what other customers are saying! Click here.”
The reason it is best to use a varied format is that some individuals prefer to click on URLs, while others prefer to click on words. So why not use both to appeal to everyone on your email list?
What you want to avoid are generic calls to action such as “learn more” or “get more information.” There’s nothing wrong with using this language, but spice it up a bit. If you’re asking people to learn more, what specifically are you wanting them to learn about?
Here’s how to add some flavor to a generic call to action:
“Click here to learn more about how you can cut administrative costs by 30% and make the boss so happy he’ll want to buy you a cupcake.”
That may be a little silly, but you get the idea. As we discussed earlier, don’t be afraid to invoke emotion with your email copy and be a little risky; you’ll stand out from 95% of your competition.
#5: Don’t be afraid to write longer emails (yes people actually read them).
The majority of marketers that I talk with have the impression that shorter emails are better. While short emails that focus on selling the click can certainly be effective, don’t underestimate the value of a long, well-crafted email message.
There’s power in creating longer emails. Emails where the copy is so unbelievably good that by the time your prospect clicks to your landing page, they are just looking for the buy now button.
So how do you create long form email copy that produces results?
By using a copywriting formula known as AIDA (Attention, Interest, Desire, Action).
To gather your prospects’ attention, you’ll need a killer subject line that gets your email opened, following be a story or compelling argument to emotionally engage them in the email.
You use attention as a building block to create interest by appealing to their emotions (their wants, needs, fears, dreams, etc.). When your email copy creates an emotional connection with your prospect, you’ve got their interest.
By this point, you should have completed enough market research to know what your prospects’ problem is. The desire portion of this formula is to show that your product is the solution to that problem.
Lastly, you need to get them to take action with a simple, specific call to action that they cannot ignore.
Writing long sales and marketing emails is actually simple; it just isn’t very easy to get it right.
#6: Be consistent with your tone and voice.
Do yourself (and your leads/customers) a favor; don’t be all over the place with your email copy. One of the most important best practices you can follow is ensuring that each and every marketing message you send sounds as if it is coming from your company.
If you’re a serious company and that’s what leads and customers are used to; be serious and professional. If your leads/customers are used to a more off the wall, creative brand that likes to talk about silly things, do that.
Be yourself. There’s no right or wrong tone and voice. Always show respect for your customers, and create copy that speaks to them, and shows them that your product/service is a solution to their problem. If you do that, you’ll be able to rock your email marketing campaigns.
#7: Don’t use language your leads and customers can’t easily digest and understand.
Seriously, who wants to read emails they cannot easily comprehend? Your not trying to write the next great American novel, it’s email marketing for goodness sake.
Nobody, and I mean nobody wants to have to put their thinking cap on when reading a simple email message. It’s fine to write email copy that is educational and informal (in fact, you should), but there’s no harm in dumbing it down slighly for your audience.
You can’t sell your products and services if people don’t understand how they can help them. Remember, it’s all about your customers. Using plain english that is easy to digest and understand will get you more sales than trying to write intelligent commentary. We aren’t defending our PhD thesis or writing for The New Yorker here.
#8: Be scannable by avoiding large blocks of text.
I guess I’ll blame the english teachers for this one. Between 4-8 sentences in a paragraph? They clearly weren’t responsible for creating email copy!
You’ve probably noticed in this article that most of my paragraphs are only a sentence or two (three max). The reason for this is simple; people scan.
No matter how awesome your content is, people likely aren’t going to read every word. If you write emails (or any other content for that matter) all in one large, bulky chunk of text it’s going to get ignored.
It’s easy for us as marketers to get caught up in our own world, and think that people are just dying to hear each and every word that we have to say. But when you step back for a minute and examine your own behavior, you’ll realize you probably scan a lot too.
We mentioned above that it’s incredibly important not to confuse your target audience. It’s equally important that you present your email copy to them in a format that is easily digestable, and breaking your content up into smaller paragraphs is the simple way to do that.
#9: Minimalist design is better for most target markets.
Ok I threw this one in there even though it isn’t a copywriting tip per se.
Building on the theme of simplicy and design when it comes to email copy, here’s another best practice for your campaigns; minimalist design is often times better for conversions.
Think about it; how many times have you opened an email and actually been moved to make a purchase based on the pictures or design?
Sure, if you’re selling vacation packages and want to include a picture of a tropical beach setting, that makes sense, but in most cases text and minimal design is the way to go within your emails.
Leave the fancy graphic design to your landing pages.
#10: Communicate your value by sharing benefits (let your customers know how it will help them).
This is a copywriting best practice that is often overlooked.
I can’t tell you how many emails I get that highlight the features of a product or service, and don’t even make an attempt to communicate the benefits or value that I will receive for requesting more information, or purchasing that product or service.
If you want to move people through your sales funnel effectively, you must provide value at each stage of the buying cycle. With email being the primary communication tool to engage potential leads and win new customers (and upsell your current customers) focusing on features alone is an email copywriting death trap.
I get it, it’s more difficult to communicate benefits, because features are what you are exposed to as a product or service provider. You know the features of a product, so when crafting email copy it’s easy to just vomit a list of features.
Let me show you a great example of selling using features vs. benefits:
See the difference? It won’t hurt you to take a page our of Apple’s book, that’s for sure.
It’s important to note that features still matter, and I’m not saying not to include them. What I’m saying is that people use features to justify their purchases logically, but it’s not what actually makes the sale.
Features tell. Benefits sell.
- People don’t reall buy beds, they buy a good night’s sleep.
- People don’t really buy gigs of data, they buy 1,000 songs in their pocket.
- People don’t really buy a new set of dental veneers, they buy a confident, new smile.
What’s the outcome your customer really wants that your product or service can give them? Remember to focus on benefits next time your writing an email to your leads and/or customers. Your sales director, CMO, CEO, or whoever you report to will thank you for it.
#11: Keep “self talk” about your company to a minimum.
People care much more about what you can do for them. Whether that’s a particular product, or services you offer to clients, the main reason someone will do business with you is because you can solve a problem they are having.
Whether we like it or not, most of us have a “what’s in it for me” mindset, especially when we are about to spend money.
Unfortunately, most companies fail miserably at taking advantage of this “flaw” that their potential customers possess, and instead put them to sleep with boring email copy that really just talks about how great the company is, how our product has these 5 new features, etc.
It’s boring copy that doesn’t appeal to your customers. Sure it appeals to you, but you are not your target market.
If you’re willing to step back, and take an honest assessment of the marketing materials your company is producing (specifically the copywriting within your email campaigns), you may just realize you’re missing the boat.
Here’s how to do a complete 180 and get your email copywriting on the right track:
Step 1: Delve deep into the challenges and frustrations that your target market experiences. What keeps them up at night? What challenges or obstacles are they desperately trying to solve?
Step 2: Don’t be a product or service; be a solution. Focus your email copy on helping your audience overcome the challenges that keep them up at night. You don’t provide products or services, you provide solutions to problems.
Step 3: Remember that people buy with emotion and justify with logic. There’s a myth that emotion isn’t professional or appropriate in the business world. This “we must be professional” attitude is likely costing your business big time. You can use emotion in your email copy to grab the reader’s attention and sell while still being professional.
#12: Use specific numbers if presenting data or case studies.
Over 30,000 users and growing
31,277 Customers Now Use our CRM…Are You Next?
Whether it’s within an email subject line, or within the copy itself, people love reading specific numbers. They are more authentic.
Subconsciously, it shows a potential client or customer that you care about each and every customer that you already have; and if they do business with you, you’ll care about them too.
When presenting numbers, facts, or case studies via email don’t be lazy, use specific, odd numbers that get people’s attention (why do you think this blog post is “17 best practices” and not 10 or 20? Because being specific gets more attention!).
#13: Create a sense of urgency (just not false urgency).
As humans, we don’t like to miss out on things. Our fear of losing or missing out on something is much more powerful than our desire to gain something (most of the time).
As an email marketer, you can use this psychological triggers to hack into the way your buyers think, and take advantage of it by using urgency and the fear of missing out to help you see your products or services via email.
Here’s how to do it:
Let’s say that your company wants to create a value added offer (which is usually much better than offering a discount).
You sell a SaaS product, and your value added offer is that you’re going to allow leads to purchase your highest level subscription or membership, for the price of the the lower level membership.
The best way to do it? Create a series of emails promoting the value added offer.
Make the offer via email; but create a sense of urgency with a timeline. Ideally, you’ll notify your leads about your offer a week or so in advance of the “deadline,” so that you can create emails that show them the benefits of the highest level of membership.
Over that 7 day period, your email sequence needs to focus on the core problems the highest level membership will solve, answer customer objections ahead of time, and of course make a compelling offer toward the end of the sequence.
With great email copy and targeted leads, this strategy will work everytime…just make sure that you actually follow-through. If you say the offer is closing at 11:59 PM EST on Friday, make sure you close the offer at that time. If someone tries to purchase at 12:01, they should be directed to a page saying the offer is closed.
Nothing is worse than using false urgency to sell; if you make a habit of it, your customers will see right through it. You’ll be just like The Boy Who Cried Wolf.
#14: Tell the customer or lead EXACTLY what the next step is.
It is your job to make it obvious. So much so that a 2nd grader could figure it out. If you want someone to click on a link, tell them to click on a link. If you are opening a two-way line of communication (which we’ll talk about below) ask your leads/customers a specific question, and ask them to reply.
Your prospects lives are complicated enough; don’t make your emails complicated too. Simple, straight-forward, specific, and easy to understand is the way to go.
#15: Open a two-way line of communication (very important).
It’s very important that you invite customers and prospects to interact with your brand. Obviously this is prevalent with social media, but much less so via email.
One of the best tips I can give you for building relationships with your targeted leads and customers via email is to open a two-way line of communication. It shows that you care about them. It shows that you care about their struggles, and want to help them solve their problems.
When you opt-in to their respective email lists, you get an autresponder email that is personalized, and lets you know immediately that they are different. They are willing to help. They ask you to respond to them email so that they know how to better serve you.
It’s actually quite simple, and its what people want. Unfortunately, a lot of companies are too busy trying to look “professional” and their marketing loses the human touch.
When was the last time you asked a new lead or customer what they were strugglign with, and actually asked them to respond? It works a lot better than shoving the product or service you are trying to sell down their throat right out of the gate.
#16: Use P.S. (Sometimes).
Did you know that the 2nd most read part of an email after the subject line is the P.S.? Why is that?
We touched on it earlier, but one of the biggest fears we have is missing out on something valueable or important; especially in the business world. Human psychology is fascinating. It really makes for interesting study when applied to the business world.
Most email readers tend to “scan” their emails, reading bits and pieces of them. It’s always important that you take advantage of the way the human brain works and use it to your advantage.
Your target audience will always read the subject line, first sentence, the middle of your email, and the P.S.
While the entire email is important, those are the most critical elements your email copy must focus on in order to improve your campaigns. So don’t be afraid to throw in a P.S. on some of your emails, it just might work wonders for your campaigns.
#17: Don’t be afraid to try something different
I can’t stress enough that every company and every target audience are different. Just because a certain style and format works well for one company, doesn’t necessarily mean it will work well for you.
Don’t be afraid to change things up. Run some split tests. Experiment with different subject lines, formats, designs, etc. to see what your prospects and customers like.
The main rules of email copywriting are to write great email subject lines, tell engaging stories, and remember that it isn’t about you as much as it is about your customers. I’ve said it several times and I’ll say it again; show them how you can solve their problems with your USP.
Putting it all together…
By using these best practices, you could literally make your company thousands, hundreds of thousands, or even millions of dollars based on the size of your email lists and the amount of customers and new leads you generate.
So what are you going to do now?
Are you going to think to yourself “nice article,” but not do anything to improve your email campaigns? Are you thinking to yourself “this sounds great, but I don’t have the time or expertise to get these things done?”
The success of your email marketing campaign will be largely contingent upon how great the content is you share with your customers and leads. Design, deliverablity, etc…none of it matters unless your copy nails it and helps you to nurture leads, increase sales, and reduce customer turnover.
If you want to work with a copywriting professional who specializes in email, I’d love to chat. Even if you’re a DIYer, don’t let these best practices go to waste; use them and improve your email campaigns and make more money!