Here are a few reasons to love email marketing:
That last stat really jumps out at you, doesn’t it!
But all of that depends on one thing: people must read your stuff!
In the following, I show you 10 steps to crafting emails that people will actually open, read and act on. So without further ado, let’s get to work.
1. Find Your Audience
If you’re sending out to your own list, then in a sense you’ve already found your audience. That’s not what we’re talking about here, though.
What I want you to do is to identify where the people on your list are coming from.
A quick trip to any analytics tool will help you figure this out.
Once you know where your audience is coming from, pay them a visit. Go where they are and pay attention to the conversations they have.
Not only will this exercise spark ideas for relevant content, it'll also help you target the specific language which resonates the most with your list.
2. Develop a Pain Profile
Every single one of us is experiencing pain somewhere—not literally, but in the sense that there are aspects of our lives that we’d gladly pay money to improve.
That’s true on both the personal and the corporate level. Just like you, your targets understand their businesses inside and out—they know exactly where they’re healthy and where they’re hurting.
So, when an email lands in their inbox promising to address a real source of pain, they’ll be eager to find new space in their otherwise tight budgets.
As marketers, we know this intuitively. After all, we make our money by selling people solutions to their problems. In other words, we’re in the business of alleviating pain.
The trouble is, most of us write about our clients' pain as if we were detached third-party observers. We produce lame marketing copy which sounds nothing like the actual words our audience uses to explain their problems.
With just a bit of thought and research, however, we can get inside our targets’ heads to identify the words and phrases which truly capture their pain.
Try this. Use the 5-why method to tease out the pain which drives your customers’ buying decisions. Like a good five-year-old, use the question why to drill down to the base motivation for your customer’s percieved needs.
Example: Let’s say you’re a forum hosting platform and your ideal clients are mid- to top-level video game developmers.
Q1. Why are you interested in developing an online forum?
A1. Pretty much everyone on the internet says we need to invest in digital community.
Q2. Why do you think digital community would help you?
A2. We want to give our customers more spaces to interact with one another.
Q3. Why would that be helpful?
A3. Our customers enjoy our games, but they don’t generate enough buzz amongst themselves.
Q4. Why’s that important? Why do you need more buzz?
A4. We feel that increased communication between our users will spill out and lead to more advocacy.
Q5. Why’s advocacy so important to you?
A5. Because we’re getting beat up on acquisition costs and my CMO has charged me with finding a cheaper, more effective way of building our customer base.
Now this example is a bit contrived, but you get the point.
When you run this kind of exercise, you realize that there's something more fundamental to your work than creating spaces for your customer’s end-users to talk to one another.
You’re creating a platform that promises to reduce acquisition costs, enhance that business’s bottom line, and make your individual contact’s life at work that much easier.
This is the kind of pain I’m talking about that will work wonders for your copywriting.
Want a teaser example?
Consider this headline:
“How Online Forums Promote Advocacy”
Not bad. Now consider this one:
“How to Drive Advocacy, Slash Acquisition Costs, and Become Your Boss’s Hero”
Now that’s a headline. You not only touch a nerve, but you create enough curiosity to at least merit an open.
Just focus on getting started with your pain profile for now. In step #4, we’ll drag this document back out and fill it out with some scientific research.
3. Uncover Your Readers' Pain
Why should your reader open your email? How will their life change as a consequence of the three minutes you’re asking them to spend reading it?
If you can’t answer that question clearly before you put digital pen to paper, don’t expect your subscribers to do you the favor of reading whatever 200-word waste of time you’re about to inflict upon them.
If you want to pick a topic, the simplest and most obvious way to do so is to focus on a real-world pain your customers face every day.
So how do you choose a problem that will grab your prospect’s attention immediately?
Easy! Take a note out of Lisa Copeland’s playbook and uncover issues discussed at customer forums. If your customers are complaining about issues that are not being solved, you can use those discussions as an opportunity for further research.
Also, look at your most popular blog content. The posts that get the most attention are the ones readers find most valuable. Start with those and flesh out further content from there.
Of course, that suggestion only works if you’ve already got popular blog content from which you can pull. If you don’t, then no sweat. Drawing on your own experience with the product and research, pick a common hangup that causes real trouble for your potential customers.
Don’t worry about nailing the exact topic at this point. In the next step, you’ll gain deeper insight into your readers’ pain.
4.Study Other People's Thoughts
With your topic (or potential topic) in mind, scour the internet for what other people have said on it. Yes, you can use this research to help you develop your own content—without plagiarizing, of course!
Don’t just stick to blogs and articles written by professionals. Dig down deeper into what your potential customers are actually saying.
The three best places to do that:
Forums – When it comes to readily available online sources, there’s no better place to find your customers’ voice than in a forum. Spend time in the forums where your customers to collaborate and learn. There, you’ll uncover their true motivation, pain points, and the specific language they use to describe their experience.
Reviews – Reviews lake the conversational element of online forums, but are incredibly valuable nonetheless. By looking up your competitors and reading their reviews, you’ll learn precisely what customers are looking for, what it sounds like when they don’t find it, and how to speak directly to their lingering needs. A few sites to try: G2 Crowd, Capterra, Trust Pilot.
Quora – Hop on Quora and search for questions related to your industry. See what real people are asking and then craft your content as a response to their questions.
Go wherever you can find real people talking about your topic. The more conversation you can pick up about your topic, the better you’ll be able to speak your readers’ language.
As you look at each of these sources, glean choice phrases to add to your pain profile document.
As we’re about to see, these juicy bits of customer lingo will make up the ‘secret sauce’ that elevates your email writing from boring to brilliant.
5. Nothing Else but Subject Lines
Easily, the most important part of your email is the subject line:
So, how do you write a subject line that compels people to open your email?
Blog posts like this one from HubSpot break it down well with key elements like these:
These are great, but here’s a simpler solution.
Remember your pain profile research? Pluck a phrase out of there.
Need an example?
Consider this excerpt from 1-star review I found for an expense management app:
The review is a bit trollish, to be sure, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a tiny little goldmine of valuable customer data and a potential subject line or two.
A few things we can infer about this customer:
So, how do those insights translate to subject lines?
6. Get Organized
What do you want your email to do? What action do you want to inspire?
Whether you’re driving leads to a new product launch or trying to get eyeballs on a post you just wrote, you need to keep your goals front and center as you plan your content.
Email marketing is about efficiency: get in, make your point and get out. There’s nothing worse than a rambling, incoherent jumble of words passed off as an email. Worse, you’ve only got a minute of your reader’s attention at the most.
That’s why taking the time to plan what you’re going to write is so incredibly important. In fact, you should spend as much time planning out your content as you do writing your first draft—or maybe even more.
Start with a tight, logical outline that follows a coherent path from open to close:
Opening: Begin with your topic in the form of a provocative question or a gripping story. In the first opening lines, plan to focus on highlighting your audience’s pain points as quickly and clearly as possible.
Body: Then, move quickly to the body of your text, whether that's an important lesson, a set of tips or an impassioned plea.
Close: Finally, wrap up your email with a clear and compelling call to action which drives them towards your primary goal.
As you write and rewrite your outline, keep the reader’s desired action in mind. Craft every step in the process to drive them toward that action. If an item on your outline doesn’t serve that end, leave it on the cutting room floor.
Once you’ve put your material together, it’s time to start writing.
Here are some things to keep in mind as you write:
Speak your audience’s language as much as possible. Unless you’re writing to a technical audience, stay away from jargon as much as possible. Write the way you’d talk. Focus on having a conversation with your reader, weaving in language from your pain profile wherever you can.
All this is another way of saying you should keep your readers and their needs as central as possible as you’re writing. Think less about what you want to say and more about what they need to hear.
Make it personally engaging. You can’t expect readers to take action when they’ve been bored to death by your dull, lifeless email. Inject a little personality into it. Challenge a norm. Tell a joke. Include a ridiculous picture of yourself. Get creative with your dynamic tags.
Brevity is key. Respect your readers’ time and attention by keeping your email as short and sweet as possible. Say what you need to say in order to establish rapport, highlight their pain points, and point to a potential solution—nothing more.
Follow your outline and always stay focused. This is precisely where the value of planning will really begin to manifest itself.
Tell people what they need to do. As I mentioned in the previous step, you should end each email with a clear call to action. Don’t leave people guessing what they should do next. Use strong, dramatic language to drive them forward.
Adding a call to action to his email campaigns, says Justin McGill, the founder of LeadFuze, was the key to growing his company’s revenue to $30k/month in only a year.
8. Let it Sit, Then Revisit
Ernest Hemingway said, “The only kind of writing is rewriting.”
Professional writer types compare drafting to filling a sandbox. On day 1, you just want to get the sand in there, so that when it’s time to edit, all you have to do is push stuff around until you’ve got yourself a beautiful sand castle high-converting email campaign.
You don’t have to be a “writer” to benefit from this bit of sound wisdom.
Letting a piece sit overnight gives your mind time to work in the background as you do other things like eat dinner, spend time with your family and sleep.
You’ll be amazed just how much your perspective on an email draft might change over a short absence.
So write your draft, then let it sit for a day or two.
Then, come back in and tear it apart. Tweak everything until you’ve got a piece you can be proud to send out into the world.
As you do, ask yourself the following questions:
And please, for the love of all things grammarly, proofread your final text before you send it. Even better, get a second pair of eyeballs to look it over.
The last thing you need is for you're meticulously crafted piece to get derailed because of a silly grammatical mistake.
9. Send it.
At this point, all that’s left to do is hit send.
Wait! … not so fast.
Timing is everything.
Time your campaign wrong, and you may catch your list at a sub-optimal time for open rates.
All that to say, there are better times to send than others.
In the previously-linked blog post, CoSchedule breaks down the data a little further to show that 10 A.M. on Tuesdays is likely the best time to send out a campaign.
There is one caveat, though.
Each list is different. And every audience has its own quirks.
Start with the best practice (Tuesday @ 10), but closely analyze your response rates and read times to see when people are actually engaging with your content.
Test, test and then test some more. Break down your email list by geography and stagger your campaign to hit each one at an optimal time of day.
10. Pro Tip: Send It Again
SendPulse did a case study last year in which they sent an email to 56,636 recipients. When only about 7,400 people opened the email, they reworded their subject line slightly and resent it out to the 50,000 who hadn’t opened the original.
3,500 people opened the second email, effectively increasing their open rate by nearly 47%.
That’s a whole lot more eyeballs with barely any effort at all.
There you have it. A 10-step process to writing killer emails that subscribers will actually read. The more you follow it, you’ll find that the lengthy research steps (the pain profile, specifically) will take less time, as you get to know your audience better and better after each subsequent email.