Here’s the thing about email marketing: Nobody cares what you have to say.
Case in point, check out this cold email I received today:
Did you care what was in that email? Did you fall asleep?
I fell asleep while not caring at the same time because it’s absolutely awful.
Brainpower is a Fixed Resource
Our brain processes something like 34 gigabytes of information per day. Attention is our scarcest resource, so we reserve it for only the most interesting or important slices of data.
Anything that doesn’t immediately register as interesting or important is automatically screened out by your subconscious and immediately discarded.
Like that email.
Simply understanding what you’re up against, that you’re likely just creating more noise destined for the trash bin, is the first step to creating better email copy.
You now know your foe: A militant attention span that’s actively playing chess against you.
Let’s talk about some of the techniques you can use to conquer your foe.
Problem #1: Talking About Yourself
Have you ever received a marketing email that starts with a paragraph-long introduction to the person and company that sent it?
They talk about their company’s history, offerings, values, astrological sign, favorite Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, and every other self-important biographical tidbit they can think of.
They talk about everything except what matters to me: How can you fix my problem?
Sure, it seems intuitive to introduce oneself and one’s company. It’s certainly what strangers do at a party, isn’t it? But that doesn’t work with email because it completely disregards the value of someone’s time.
The recipient never agreed to socialize with you, so in essence, you’re forcing yourself into their sphere of attention, loudly proclaiming, “You should care about my needs and my company’s needs.”
Guess what, I don’t and I don’t.
Solution: Forget About Yourself and Get to The Point
Being aware that nobody cares about you or your business, you’re now free to write about things that actually matter to me, the recipient.
Here is an example of something that is important to me: Something is broken and you can fix it.
For example, you could write:
“Jeff, your homepage is ranking on Page 2 for your target keyword “content marketing agency.”
You’re missing just a couple of things that I’m positive can get you on Page 1 that I can explain in five minutes, tops. Attached a screenshot showing part of the problem. You up for a five minute chat?”
This works for a lot of different reasons. First, and most importantly, my time wasn’t wasted. The sender understood that I don’t care about them or the virtuous plight of their company.
Second, they found a problem that matters to me.
Third, they promised a quick solution to my problem, with proof that they could fix it.
Some other things that might get my attention:
- Information about the benefits of the product I was just looking at on your website.
- Visual examples of what you’re pitching.
- Proof that what you’re selling works.
Final takeaways: Your messaging needs to respect the recipient’s time, and it needs to address their needs.
The Content Marketer
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Problem #2: Adhering to “Best Practices”
“Best practices” are things that everyone does, and as a result, everyone is sending crappy emails.
You ignore marketing emails because they are all following the same “safe” best practices that put everyone to sleep.
Here are some examples of things people assume they need to do:
1. Using a first name token: Most email marketing software is capable of pulling in the recipient’s first name to make the message seem more customized.
The problem is that everyone knows this is a mass-send email. This wasn’t customized to me and I know it.
I don’t care if you address me by name or not. As a matter of fact, I’m fine if you just dive right into your pitch without addressing me at all!
2. Complimenting the recipient: In other words, don’t kiss my ass. You’re not fooling me when you tell me that you’re impressed by my work at Brafton. You don’t know me, or my work at Brafton, and I know that.
Taking an example from earlier, take a look at the opening line:
“I had the privilege to come across your website and I was really moved by the way…”
You were “moved” by our content marketing tips? This isn’t Steinbeck, give me a break. You’re not getting anywhere with flattery.
3. Asking for a meeting: People are CONSTANTLY asking for a meeting in their marketing emails. I don’t have time for my own internal meetings, how could I possibly make time for a strange salesperson?
You’re much better off asking for the lowest commitment you can bear. Ask the recipient to respond back with one sentence if interested. Ask them for five minutes on the phone, max. Your assumption that I have 30 minutes of free time to talk about your integrated cloud tech stack makes me want to puke.
Solution: Throw Away Those “Best Practices” and Break the Rules
If we’ve established anything so far, it’s that the norm, AKA “best practices” are completely ignored by recipients.
If playing by the rules doesn’t work, then break them.
Assume your recipient doesn’t want to read your email, then write something that they will read. The worst case scenario is that they just don’t open it, just like the email you were originally going to send.
Subject: This email is worth 16 seconds of your attention
I see you’re hosting your podcast on somesite.com. They got bought out recently and their free plan is getting replaced by a super expensive one.
We have a nearly identical hosting site and can offer a free migration and free lifetime membership. It’ll be like nothing changed. Interested?
This email works because it promises to be fast in the subject line, identifies a specific problem that I’m going to be encountering, and offers a quick solution.
It doesn’t waste time with introductions, ask for a meeting, or blow smoke up my butt. I would respond to this email.
Final takeaways: Look at what everyone else is doing and do the complete opposite. Our brains are hardwired for efficiency, so do something that will cut through the hardwiring.
Problem #3: Being Disingenuous
When you send me any type of marketing email I know exactly what you’re doing: Trying to sell me something.
Any false gestures of “creating mutual synergies,” “collaborating on projects,” or any other transparent jargon is insulting and disingenuous.
However, being honest in marketing requires breaking a bunch of hardwired rules in our brain. When we write marketing copy, we oftentimes don’t even realize that we are lying about our true intentions. We’re unintentionally manipulative.
Here are some examples of how you’re being unintentionally manipulative:
1. Disguising with jargon: Saying “I think there are ways our organizations can benefit from one another” is intended to lower your guard so that you don’t think you’re being sold to. But you are.
All this jargon does is set the conversation up for failure. I got pulled into a trap like this recently.
A prospect emailed me saying that they would like to co-brand a webinar together. On paper, the idea looked great. I hopped on a call with the representative of the company who walked us through some topic ideas, the typical size of their webinar audience, and how we would go about sharing leads.
Then, after the call was done they emailed us their price.
Turns out I was talking to a salesperson the whole time. They disguised their intentions, leading me to believe they were offering something that they actually weren’t.
Be crystal clear about the reason you’re emailing so that you don’t confuse and greatly upset the recipient.
2. Trying to scare me: Fear-based marketing is an old, tired trick. It’s quasi-extortion, in my opinion.
Fear-based marketing is used to convince someone that their current actions, if not changed, are going to result in abject failure.
Jeff, we see that you are using Hubspot as your CMS. You may not know this, but organizations are transitioning from Hubspot in droves due to recent security issues. If you don’t do the same, you could be risking the security of your site, and users. Let’s set up a 30 minute meeting to talk about how we can help you avoid this disaster.
Everything about this is just slimy. It’s the baseball equivalent of a spitball, in which the pitcher rubs illegal substances on the ball to make it move in an unusual manner.
Solution: Be Authentic
The opposite of cheating is being authentic. But what does “authentic” mean?
It means being honest about your intentions. It means using plain language that explains exactly how you intend to address the recipient’s issue(s). It means clearly stating the point of the email and delivering on it.
Here’s an example of an email that has worked well for us:
Subject: Let me show you something we’re working on
But first, let’s get something out of the way…
I’m pitching you something.
The least I can do is be honest about why I’m emailing you.
I’m pitching a new product that will take 30 seconds of your time to review.
You’ll either be interested or you won’t. Either way, you know exactly what to expect and how much time it will take you.
So here’s the 30-second pitch:
My marketing team tested a new technique on our website and it has increased our organic traffic by 443% since implementing.
So we freaked out, celebrated and then turned it into a product.
So how did we do it?
We created a topic selection and writing technique that is based on data.
We have over a dozen metric indicators that tell us which keywords to target prior to writing.
But the real game-changer was how we create content now:
- We look through all competitors that rank for the selected keyword we are trying to target.
- We note all the major topics the ranking sites discuss, then create a brief that outlines the most comprehensive topic coverage on the web for that topic.
- We create the most comprehensive content and we rank best for it.If you have more than 30 seconds, here are some more details on the results we have seen from this technique.
This email works very, very well for us for a number of reasons.
- First, it clearly states that the recipient is being pitched to.
- It also tells them how much of their time I intend to take.
- It provides proof that what I’m offering works.
- Lastly, it leaves the recipient open to engaging as much or little as they want (we aren’t asking for 30 minutes of their time).
But the main reason this email works well is that we are dead-honest about everything.
A lot of what I’ve talked about in this article comes down to a very simple premise: Respect. Respect the recipient’s time and intelligence. Be honest with them and treat them like a person, rather than a target.
The key is having a symbiotic blend of clever writing and a healthy dose of respect for the recipient. If they catch a whiff of best practices, off you go to the trash bin. If they catch a whiff of false pretenses, off you go.
Now get out there and break some rules.