Should I really send this email?
Are people going to respond to it, let alone open it?
Does it say what I want it to say?
Email can be an unpredictable medium; no one really knows exactly what will happen once you press that send button. This can add a whole lot of stress to email writing.
Even if you’re one of the lucky ones who doesn’t struggle with what to say in your emails or hesitate before hitting “send” (in which case, hats off to you, my friend), chances are you still put effort into your emails and care about their results.
Most likely, you identify more closely with the email writer that finds the whole thing a bit tricky. So, let’s talk brass tacks about email copy. Whether you’re writing the emails yourself or checking over the work of a writer you hired, when you know the components of a well-written, effective email, you’ll have the best shot at knowing the answer to those three questions I listed above.
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First and foremost, think of every component of your email as a relationship builder. It’s all about establishing rapport so that your recipients trust you to help solve their problems.
Invite them in with subject lines
Your subject line is the first thing your recipient sees in the email, and plays a lead role in determining whether or not your recipient opens it. The subject line should reel them in, enticing them to explore the body of the email.
Tell a scintillating story
People respond to stories. Think about the best commercials you see on television or YouTube: they’re not just a voice talking about a product or company—those commercials have stories to tell. Stories help you stand out. Stories make you memorable, and you want your emails to be memorable.
How do you infuse story into your email messages? You can start with Terry Dean’s three E’s of email: entertain, educate and earn. So instead of just saying you’re giving a special discount or holding a promotion, tell your readers why you’re having that promotion. Dean also recommends origin stories, vision stories, and rapport-building stories as excellent frameworks for telling a story within the confines of an email.
Build the right body
The real meat of your email is, of course, the body. Whether it's mainly images or text-heavy, just like human body types, there is no one ideal. The heft of the email body depends on your audience. Some audiences want short and sweet, others want long and intellectual. You need to find out what your audience finds attractive.
Here are the components you’ll need to build the right body:
Even the most compelling-sounding email will flop unless it’s relevant to its recipients. This means you need to understand your recipients and deliver email that they want to get. If they subscribed to your emails, what led them to do that? That’s the first place to consider relevance.
A relevant email is also a personalized one; maybe they downloaded something and this is a follow-up email—Great! Say that in the body. Or maybe they signed up for a list, or you’re following up after a phone call or meeting. Your email should indicate that you know about those facts, whether it says so explicitly or not.
People get a lot of emails. Every now and again you can remind them why they’re receiving yours, which can keep them engaged. Remember: you’re building a relationship that helps solve their pain point(s); you’re not here just to make them do what you want them to do.
Make it about them
The email is about them, not you. Therefore, use the words “I” or “we” sparingly, if at all. So instead of “We’re offering 15 percent off X service,” orient it to them: “Get 15 percent off your next service.”
Remember, a healthy relationship isn’t one-sided. It’s about mutual trust and communication. If all your communication is about you, people will quickly lose interest in the relationship.
If you want people to do something as a result of reading your email, you have to say it. Subtlety doesn’t really work in email. You can’t imply your call-to-action (CTA); you’ve got to make it clear to the reader. In fact, your email should be verbing all over the place.
Think about what you want your recipient to do, then say that. You may have said it in your subject line, but that doesn’t mean you can leave it out of the body of your email. Your action words should be evocative and powerful. That doesn’t mean you need to visit the thesaurus—au contraire—in email, it turns out, words like “get,” “give,” or “take” can be more powerful than “receive” or “provide.”
Even if you’ve determined that your audience likes long, detailed emails, your writing should remain concise. Brief writing is more than good writing, it shows respect for your audience’s time.
There are so many resources online that identify common redundancies to eliminate from your writing that I’ll take my own advice and link to three rather than write them out:
You can do this too: Instead of using words explaining things in emails, link to it in the email. This will shorten your email while also encouraging recipients to engage with your site by directing them where you want them to go.
Highlight the benefits
There’s a lot out there about features versus benefits, but benefits are so, well, beneficial because they explain how something will help you instead of just that it will help you. Benefits touch on emotion while features are just facts, and the key to getting results from your emails is to hit on emotion. Be sure to make it obvious why the benefits are actually beneficial to them—once you grasp that emotion, make it clear what action your audience can take to get those benefits.
In this email, Lyft uses benefits, not features, to promote its ride service. The benefits come first, and features only serve to emphasize how the benefits work.
Like any good relationship, your relationship with your email list requires the ability to constantly reassess. What worked last month, last week, or even yesterday might not work today or tomorrow, so keep the relationship healthy by listening at least as much as you talk—if not more.