Email Copywriting Archives

I am NOT a San Francisco 49ers fan (I’m a Packers fan, even though they are losing big to the Giants as I type this) but I couldn’t help reading about this past week’s brouhaha over their back up quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Their starter, Alex Smith, has played almost perfectly this year yet Kaepernick started for the second week in a row and the 49ers won both games.

Since last Sunday he’s been given a nickname (“Kap”), generated a lot of chatter on sports talk radio and social media, and his jerseys are flying off shelves.

But why, considering Smith was having the best season of his career?

Apparently one big reason is because Kap played with swagger and excitement, which got the fans fired up in ways Smith’s workmanlike style fails to do.

I guess it’s not enough to play well and look almost perfect on paper. The intangibles are important as well.

Plus, Kap has an interesting story: he was 6’5″ and 170 pounds in high school and more suited for baseball. He was a star pitcher with a ton of offers to play professional baseball yet chose to pursue football even though he was only offered one football scholarship.

49ers Coach Jim Harbaugh caught a lot of heat for deciding to start Kap again this week, yet there are two lessons here:

Just because you’re doing well doesn’t mean your customers (i.e. fans) are going to stick with you no matter what.  Insecurity is your best security.

And as a business owner (i.e. coach), are you always going to stick with what’s working no matter what, because you put so much time in developing it and because most people think you should?  Or do you take the risk and try something new that could be even better?

P. S.  Because of Black Friday and Cyber Monday and whatnot, I’ll go ahead and add a deal of my own:

Order one series of 7 emails and I’ll include a second series at no charge.  I can only offer this to one client before the holidays – MAYBE two, if you’re flexible about the time frame.  Email me at anitaashland@gmail.com. The offer expires after Christmas. It’s good for both repeat and new clients.
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Bring on the information overload

Do you ever hold back on sending out email for fear of information overload?

Then I recommend this article in The Atlantic, (which reminded me I need to reread the book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen).

If you are feeling overwhelmed, or don’t want to give your customers information overload, then consider this:

Information overload is not the issue. If it were, you’d walk into the library and die. As soon as you connected to the Web, you’d just explode.

In fact, the most information-rich place in the world is the most relaxing: it’s called nature. It has more varied horizons, more detail, more input of all sorts. As a matter of fact, if you want to go crazy, get rid of all your information: it’s called sensory depravation.

The thing about nature is, it’s information rich, but the meaningful things in nature are relatively few—berries, bears and snakes, thunderstorms, maybe poison oak. There are only a few things in nature that force me to change behavior or make a decision. The problem with e-mail is that it’s not just information; it’s the need for potential action. It’s the berries and snakes and bears, but they’re embedded, and you don’t know what’s in each one.

Not only that, but e-mail has a trait that fits the core of addictive behavior, which is random positive reinforcement.

What’s that?

So you get an e-mail from your mom, or you get an e-mail from your boss—they contain snakes or berries or bears, but they’re not self-evident until you look. Now, some part of you, subliminally, is constantly going, That could be meaningful, that could be meaningful, that could change what I’m doing, that might be something I don’t want to decide about … You multiply that by the hundreds, if not thousands, of items sitting there.

All those things you’re not deciding about wear you down, and decision-making functions just like a muscle. If you’ve had half a day of a lot of decisions to make, you don’t have much willpower left the rest of the day. So then we walk around with what I call the GSA of life—the Gnawing Sense of Anxiety that something out there might be more important than what you’re currently doing.

They key with email marketing and copywriting is to make your berries, bears and snakes, thunderstorms, and poison oak self-evident and decisive so that your customers don’t have to wonder if your email is important or relevant.  Either they delete it or click on the link in it. That way you aren’t adding to their Gnawing Sense of Anxiety.

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The E. F. Hutton approach to marketing

Remember the E.F. Hutton commercials in the 1970s and 80s?

If you’re a young whippersnapper and don’t know what I’m talking about, here’s a video of one of the commercials.

The tagline of each commercial was, “When E. F. Hutton talks, people listen.”

I thought of this when I read online somewhere a description of billionaire Mark Cuban as the E. F. Hutton of the business world.

I’ve subscribed to his blog for some time and he rarely posts.  But when he does I am sure to read it because he always has something interesting and substantive to say.

Sure, one could say he doesn’t have to post a lot because he’s successful. But a lot of entrepreneurs who have made it big often just end up using guest bloggers or let their blog die completely. They aren’t E. F. Huttons.

Anyway, a lot of people think it’s important to be active on social media and hammer their lists constantly and all that.  But how many people actually listen?

I’ve been a copywriter for five years now and more and more I’ve come to realize that the E. F. Hutton approach to marketing is the way to go.

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I like words

One of the things I love about studying the work of copywriters from 75-100 years ago is that they tended to love words and writing.

In 1934 copywriter Robert Pirosh decided he wanted to become a screenwriter instead.

Here’s the letter he sent to all the directors, producers, etc., he could think of:

Dear Sir:

I like words. I like fat buttery words, such as ooze, turpitude, glutinous, toady. I like solemn, angular, creaky words, such as straitlaced, cantankerous, pecunious, valedictory. I like spurious, black-is-white words, such as mortician, liquidate, tonsorial, demi-monde. I like suave “V” words, such as Svengali, svelte, bravura, verve. I like crunchy, brittle, crackly words, such as splinter, grapple, jostle, crusty. I like sullen, crabbed, scowling words, such as skulk, glower, scabby, churl. I like Oh-Heavens, my-gracious, land’s-sake words, such as tricksy, tucker, genteel, horrid. I like elegant, flowery words, such as estivate, peregrinate, elysium, halcyon. I like wormy, squirmy, mealy words, such as crawl, blubber, squeal, drip. I like sniggly, chuckling words, such as cowlick, gurgle, bubble and burp.

I like the word screenwriter better than copywriter, so I decided to quit my job in a New York advertising agency and try my luck in Hollywood, but before taking the plunge I went to Europe for a year of study, contemplation and horsing around.

I have just returned and I still like words.

May I have a few with you?

Robert Pirosh
385 Madison Avenue
Room 610
New York
Eldorado 5-6024

Thanks to that letter he landed a job as a writer with MGM and went on to become a writer for the Marx Brothers and wrote a script that won an Academy Award.

I love words too.

Click here if you’d like me to write some for you.

(H/T Letters of Note)

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Charles Kirkland posted a video today of a 17 word email he wrote for a list in the woodworking niche that made $300 in 24 hours.

You get to look over his shoulder as he writes the email and chooses the subject line. Then he takes you inside his Clickbank account 24 hours later to see the results.

At the 3:39 mark he mentions the #1 thing that causes emails to bomb and talks openly about an email he recently sent to a list of 5000 that resulted in no sales because he made this mistake.

It’s very rare to come across a free in depth video like this with pure content about email marketing, as well as honest discussion about recent successes and failures with email. Take a look. Nothing is being sold, it’s just helpful information.

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Getting customers the Big Red way

It’s college football season, which I normally couldn’t care less about.

But there was a game here in Madison, WI last Saturday that was so big, with so much hype surrounding it, that even I started paying attention.

I even found myself reading articles about the Nebraska Cornhuskers. What?

So I figured if even I was noticing the game, then there must be a marketing lesson or two in it.

Sure enough there is.

The Nebraska Cornhuskers had been in the Big 12 conference for 100 years and then joined the Big 10 (Wisconsin’s conference) this year.

This was Nebraska’s first game against Wisconsin since 1974 and their first game with Nebraska as part of the Big 10.

Both teams wear red and white so it was Big Red vs. Big Red. It was billed as the biggest Wisconsin game ever and 81,000 fans crammed into the stadium.

Wisconsin has been to the Rose Bowl and has had its share of important games, so why was this such a big fat hairy deal?

Well, Nebraska doesn’t have a pro football team, so the Cornhuskers are the main attraction for football fans in Nebraska.

Also, even though the college football season is fairly short, there’s at least one article in the Nebraska newspapers every day of the year about the Cornhuskers. (Hint: that’s marketing lesson #1: consistency in telling your story).

Madison was overrun with Nebraska fans last Friday and Saturday and the energy of that was fun. I’ve never seen so many fans from the opposing team strolling the streets and stores of Madison. Apparently not even a recession can stop Cornhusker fans from spending lots of money on tickets and travel.

All of this piqued my curiosity and made me tune into the game and watch almost three full quarters of it (I shut it off after Wisconsin’s lead became insurmountable).

Which brings us to marketing lesson #2: In marketing and sales, curiosity draws people in even more than desire does.

Here we had a “product “that was more than 100 years old, predictable as can be, and yet a new story gave a freshness to it and made even non-fans who have no desire for college football curious and interested in it.

By the way, just so you know, curiosity… stories… freshness… these are all things that email copy can deliver day after day.

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A marketing lesson from the bad part of town

I quickly drove out of a parking lot thinking there was a driveway there but, oops, there wasn’t. Clunk went the front tires. I hate it when that happens.

To make matters more fun, the street I proceeded to drive on had broken glass all over it.

I was already in a nervous state because I was lost in the bad part of town, as they say, and the scenery was, um, not very inviting. I hoped my front tires weren’t damaged, as I didn’t want to get stranded there.

Well, I was in a big city, actually, not a town. One I had never driven around in much before all by myself so I was relying on my Blackberry’s GPS.

Of course the GPS sent me to the bad part of town instead of my actual destination.

I should have trusted my instincts and taken the exit that I was actually familiar with, and figured out my way from there, instead of trusting stupid GPS, but I thought GPS would be more efficient. Ha!

I picked up my Blackberry and tried to find a different address to plug into the GPS, but I didn’t have my reading glasses with me and I was feeling too panicked anyway to have the patience to type on a tiny keyboard, so I tried calling my daughter so she could Google a different address for me from her computer.

Of course she didn’t answer, so I threw my phone on the floor and decided to use my wits to get out of the bad part of town.

Well, what do you know. Using my wits actually worked! Funny how that happens.

Sometimes when running a business we end up in the “bad part of town” too.

You know, those panicky moments that happen when, say, a marketing campaign didn’t have the results you wanted.

Or a piece of software that was critical to a particular task didn’t work the way it was supposed to.

Or a member of your team wasn’t there when you needed them.

It can be scary in the bad part of town, but your fears must be your agenda every day, even in business, so those trips to the bad part of town are a good thing.

As Tim Ferriss says, “What we fear doing is usually what we most need to do…Resolve to do one thing each day that you fear.”

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“Believability is far and away the most important requirement of advertising,” said the late great copywriter Bernice Fitz-Gibbon.

Here are four ways to write believable copy (quotes below are from Bernice):

1. Love people.

2. “Sharpen your powers of observation. Learn to look at a thing as if you’ve never really seen it before in your life.”

3. Be inquisitive and acquisitive. Good copywriters are “curious about people, curious about new products, curious about everything.”

4. Write what you hear. This means writing the way people in your market talk.

It’s been said Hemingway looked at everything around him as if it was his last day of being alive. A copywriter – especially an email copywriter who has to come up with multiple stories for email copy on a regular basis – should do the same.

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An email copywriting lesson from Netflix

Copywriters put a lot of effort into subject lines, but there’s a field that’s even more important… the from field.

Get that wrong and your subject line and email won’t get read at all.

Let’s take this email I got from the Netflix CEO today as an example:

Like most people, I quickly glance at the from column in my inbox first.

I noticed “Reed Hastings, Co-Founder” and didn’t know who the heck that was. I almost trashed it but gave it a second chance because of the subject line.

It turns out Reed Hastings is the CEO of Netflix. Who knew? I didn’t, even though I’ve been a customer for several years. I probably don’t know the names of the CEOs of any of the companies I pay bills to every month.

The from field should have read, “Reed Hastings, Netflix CEO & Co-Founder.” Then “Reed Hastings, Netflix” would have appeared in the from field of my inbox and I would have opened it without almost accidentally deleting it.

If you’re a copywriter, always ask a client what they intend to put in the from field and advise them accordingly. It might seem like a trivial detail but it’s not.

By the way, I like the rest of the Netflix email. I always admire it when someone has the courage to open an email with “I messed up. I owe everyone an explanation.” Plus, I’m a happy instant streaming customer, and hate messing with DVDs, so I’m not in a snit over their new biz model.

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Do you absolutely loathe this?

Last night I emailed a friend this video of Madonna dissing some flowers a fan gave her:

Madonna says, “I absolutely loathe hydrangeas.” She didn’t realize she was being overheard.

At first my friend was all, “How can anyone loathe a flower?”

But then after thinking about it for a minute she realized there are certain flowers she absolutely loathes and spent the rest of the email describing them.

It made me realize there are flowers I absolutely loathe too (hostas being at the top of the list).

I had never thought of flowers from the “absolutely loathe” perspective before.

Normally when flowers are a topic of discussion most of us talk about the flowers we love and how we can’t wait to see spring flowers again and so forth.

Also, I like how Madonna says “absolutely loathe” instead of “hate.” I’m sure I’ll be using that phrase in copy soon. ;-)

Anyway, it’s a reminder of how it’s so easy to get in a rut and only view a flower, a product, a customer, a relationship, from the same perspective all the time.

P. S. Here’s the apology video Madonna made called “love letter to hydrangeas.” Haha:

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