How To Write Killer E-Mails
by Sheri Waldrop
If you've been online for very long, and have clicked on any of the major marketing sites, you've probably seen headlines that promise, "Write Hypnotic Copy That Guarantees Sales!" or "The REAL Secrets of Writing That Will Make Customers Get Their Wallets Out!" These ads can be tempting, because as a person marketing your products online, you really do want to see results—and fast.
But is there really "one method that works for all" when writing to sell? And is it as quick and easy as the online ads (written by professional copywriters pretending to be "regular Joes") claim?
The answer, simply put, is "no".
Creating an irresistible e-mail takes work, research, and effort, unlike the promises you see. If it really worked and was as easy as ads proclaim, all of the major advertising agencies and copywriters would quickly go out of business, since we could all churn out our hypnotic copy and get rich in 30 days or less. But if you don't mind approaching writing your e-mails the way that professionals do (and putting in a lot of work), you will reach your clients, and see improved sales.
The first four steps of creating an irresistible e-mail are creating what is known as an advertising strategy. Your e-mails are ads that you are writing, and to create really effective ones, you must first do (ugh!) research. It's a bit of work, but the e-mails you create will be so much better than your competition's, that you will literally "blow them out of the water", competitively speaking. Combined with sending them to your targeted opt-in list (see lesson two for details on this), you will have an unbeatable online marketing campaign.
And that's what we all want, right?
Step One: Know Your Target Audience
The first rule of marketing, either online or offline, is to understand your customer. This is the person who will be buying your products, visiting your website, and giving you their hard-earned money. "Oh, that's easy, my customers are anyone who needs car accessories, and wants to buy them online," you might say. But it isn't usually that simple, and if you dig a little deeper, you will find out that your customers come in different sizes and shapes.
Some are older people, going online for the first time, who want a nice-looking car seat cover to protect their expensive leather upholstery. Others may be middle-aged auto enthusiasts who love to restore classic vehicles, and are looking for those hard-to-find parts that you just can't find in Country Springs, Arkansas, so they went online to order them.
And yet others may be SUV enthusiasts, who want really cool accessories for their weekend trips. And some may be very net-savvy young adults who are looking for affordable car stereo speakers. Your audience comes in segments many times, and you will want to create different e-mails to reach each of them.
Ask yourself, "Who comes to my store or website, and actually buys from me? What are they like? How old are they? What do they do for a living? What motivates them? Are they conservative, or easy-going? What controls their decision to buy? Price? Necessity? Availability?" This is called market research, and it should be the first thing you do. In fact, answering these questions will help you with your offline marketing as well.
Step two: Know Your Product, And Why People Use It
"Of course I know my product!" we exclaim, and you probably do. But do you know how your customers view it? Can you get into their heads, and see what they see? People don't buy your product because it's pretty, or a certain color (in most cases), or has the highest-tech software installed. They buy it because it solves a problem for them.
Your e-mails should address the problem, and offer your solution: this is known as your product benefits, and is the most compelling method of selling known. An example: on a hot day, when you go into a store to buy soda, you have a problem: you're thirsty. Which soda solves your problem, in the best possible manner? And gives you a good value doing it? This will probably be the one you choose. You may be choosing on the basis of taste, or price if you only have a few quarters in your pocket. You may even be choosing due to convenience, if there is small refrigerator with ice-cold soda right in front of you at the checkout line.
You may be marketing a service like job coaching to others, but the principle still applies: are you solving their problems? And giving them a good value while doing so, whether by your customer service, or the "extras" you offer?
Sit down, and ask yourself, "Why do customers buy my product or service? What problems am I solving for them?" Brainstorm for a bit, and write down all of the ideas that you come up with. It can help to create two columns, one labeled "problem", and the other, "solution". When you're done, you will have a list of customer benefits, and the foundation of what you will be highlighting in the e-mail you write.
Step Three: Position Yourself
If you are like most other businesses, you are competing with a ravenous pack of other, similar firms, who all want your customers (this is called "competition" and is part of our free-market economy). How can you compete with them, and convince your customers that your firm is the one they want to buy from?
This is where positioning becomes crucial. What makes your business unique? What do you offer that others don't? Is it better prices? More inventory (such as the auto accessories firm discussed earlier)? Outstanding, individualized customer service? Special expertise and training? Dig deep, and ask yourself why someone should come to you instead of your competitor. The answer is your unique value proposition.
This UVP is the pivotal point for all of your marketing (hopefully, you did this long before you ever went online), and is the basis for creating a killer marketing strategy. Convince your customers of why you are better, unique, and fill their needs, and your e-mails will make sales soar.
Okay, now at last, you're ready to write your e-mail. Make sure you've done the first three steps before starting...
Step Four: Create A Great Headline
Your headline is the first thing customers will see when they click open your e-mail (don't worry, I didn't forget subject lines; those are so important that I've devoted a whole lesson, number seven, to them). Headlines determine if a person reads further, interested, or closes up the e-mail. A strong one is vital to your marketing.
How to create one? Look over the information that you wrote in the first three steps. Now, step into the shoes of your customer for a moment. What is the most compelling reason that they buy from you? Use it in your headline. And appeal to their emotions: most people buy from greed, fear, status, hunger/thirst, or other basic needs.
Ask them a question that highlights this reason they want to come to you, or create discontent with other alternatives to buying from you. For instance, an auto accessories website might ask, "Having trouble finding that special part?" (and how, the man living in rural Arkansas might say). Or, pique their curiosity: "We have parts you won't find elsewhere..." (really, which ones?). For the SUV enthusiasts, who tend to view their vehicle as a macho display, you might want to highlight their need to be bigger and better: "Make it better, make it bigger, make it perform..." would draw in a nice segment of the male population who want auto parts that do all of those things.
Get into your audience's mind set, and try different avenues; brainstorm and write everything you come up with. Pretend you're a 22-two-year old who wants speakers that will blast and can be heard from ten blocks away, and see what you can come up with that would appeal to them. Then place this at the top of your e-mail, in nice, bold print.
Chances are, you'll hook them in, and they'll want to read more.
Step Five: Personalize Your E-Mail
We all like being addressed by name, and it's no different with e-mails. If you can address your recipients by name, please do (your web developer can create a script that puts names in automatically). If not, or you can't afford programming fees, then try addressing your audience in as personal a manner as possible. Instead of "Dear sir or ma'am" try "Dear fellow auto enthusiast..." for your car accessories. It helps them know that you identify with them, and begins to create a rapport.
Step Six: Create Lead Paragraphs That Pull People In
Okay, you've got a nice headline. Now, take the information you gathered in steps one, two, and three, and write a paragraph that highlights the main reason people will buy from you, or use your service. Use their language, too. If you are selling highly technical software to computer nerds who administrate servers, you will use a different tone and language than if addressing young adults who buy body piercings.
Know your audience, and write to why they want to come to you. Use a warm, friendly tone, as if you are talking directly to them. "Are you tired of not finding the car part that you want, at an affordable price? We understand, because at Auto Accessories Unlimited, we're car enthusiasts ourselves. We know what it's like to look for that special part for a classic Chevy, because you want your car to look great..."
Use the word "you" more than "we" or "I". People don't really care that much about how great you are; they care about how well you will meet their needs. By addressing them in the second person, you are unconsciously letting them know that they are the important ones, and in selling, that's vital psychology.
Which firm would you rather so business with? The one that says, "Our firm has highly credentialed marketing staff, with associate's degrees in marketing, finance, and commerce. We have completed courses in administration, and have a huge facility in Podunk, Nebraska," or the one that says, "From the moment you walk into our store, we concentrate on you. We will spend individual, quality time to discover your needs, and to help you create a marketing plan that will help your firm grow-and make you more money." Use this same approach in your e-mails, and you'll see increased response rates.
Step Seven: Say It Early
People going online are often busy and impatient, and will often scan just the first few sentences of e-mails. You may only have one paragraph to communicate the meat of your message, so do so; you can round out with more detail later in the main part of your e-mail. Try to create your first paragraph as a "mini-telegraph" or your message, with a link to your website, and you'll get the quick and restless readers to act as well.
Step Eight: Give Them Reasons To Buy
Your main body should round out the appeal to the emotions that you used in your headline. Now, you're using facts to convince them. This is the part where you discuss the high-tech software, the beautiful colors, the great price. You've already gotten them interested in your product; here, you get to give them your "sales pitch".
Not sure what to say? Ask your sales force, if you operate offline. If you're a one-man operation, imagine a scene in which a customer is sitting across the desk from you. What questions would they ask about your product or service? How would you answer them? Use this in your main copy, to let them know how great your business really is, and why it's better than others.
Step Nine: Create A Strong Call To Action
If a customer walked into a store to shop, a good salesperson would ask, "Would you like to look at today's special?" or "Would you like to pay with check or credit card?" We can learn from this behavior, and should use it in our e-mail marketing.
These questions are "calls to action", letting the customer know that you expect them to take a decided action. People don't know they are supposed to come visit your web page, or learn more about your great products, unless you tell them to. A call to action can be as simple as a link that opens up your e-mail address to find out more information, or as elaborate as a link to a .pdf brochure that explains your products and services in more detail.
And don't let them put off taking action. Remind them that this is a time-limited price, or value, and that they should "order today" to get this special. Otherwise, they will think, "I'll do it tomorrow" and forget, since "out of sight" is often literally "out of mind" for most of us.
Step Ten: Offer An Incentive
We all love to get something for free, and this could be the factor that pushes an undecided customer into actually ordering from you. Whether you provide a discount, a free e-book, or free software, you should give them a reason to order. One excellent incentive is a money-back guarantee, since most of us are naturally suspicious when we go online: we wonder if the product will really work, and if the company really stands behind their products.
Because after the headline, the "P.S." is the second most frequently read part of an e-mail, many companies like to place their incentives there. It's more likely that it will get read, and encourage the customer to act.
Step Eleven: Keep Them Short
Reading e-mails is hard on the eyes, and for this reason, most people only scan them. Do your customers a favor, a keep your e-mail messages short and sweet. They will appreciate it, and there's a greater chance that they will be read.
This was lesson four in our series, "E-Mail Marketing Techniques". Be sure to look for lesson five, in which we discuss "Avoiding SPAM Traps".
Has this lesson been helpful to you? If so, please feel free to forward it to your friends and acquaintances. We only ask that it be forwarded in its entirety.
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