• Email Copywriting
  • The nicest story email you ever did see

    tiny house

    Emails from retailers are almost always a snooze. All they do is announce sales.

    So I almost fell out of my chair when I recently received this one from L.L. Bean. It tells the story of one of L.L. Bean’s employees (a copywriter, of course) who has a tiny house in Maine.

    It is chock full of photos, too.

    And there is no catch. No sales announcement within it or at the end.

    I hope they will send more emails like these and that it isn’t just a one-off.

    I also hope it goes without saying that whether you are a large retailer or solo entrepreneur, you should send emails like these too.

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  • Books
  • “You can’t tell people anything, you’ve go to show ’em.” Plus other storytelling lessons from Bruce Springsteen

    If you want to improve your storytelling, or simply enjoy good stories and like Bruce Springsteen, then I highly recommend Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run.

    This isn’t ghostwritten and the stories often have a lyrical feel.

    He says his album “The Ghost of Tom Joad” marked the beginning of the second half of his career. It wrestled with the question what is the work for us to do in our short time here.
    This is the storytelling lesson:
    The precision of the storytelling in these types of songs is very important. The correct detail can speak volumes about who your character is, while the wrong one can shred the credibility of your story. When you get the music and lyrics right, your voice disappears into the voices you’ve chosen to write about. Basically, with these songs, I find the characters and listen to them. That always leads to a series of questions about their behavior. What would they do? What would they never do? You need to locate the rhythm of their speech and the nature of their expressions. But all the telling detail in the world doesn’t matter if the song lacks an emotional center. There’s something you have to pull out of yourself from the com you feel with the man or woman you’re writing about. By pulling these elements together as well as you can, you shed light on their lives and honor their experiences.
    In 1995 he gave solo acoustic concerts in support of this album, which gave him new storytelling insights:
    The nakedness and tightrope drama of solo performance is a nervous revelation. It’s one man, one guitar, and “you,” the audience. What’s drawn forth is the emotional nucleus of your song. What’s revealed is the naked bones of your relationship to one another and the music. If your song was written well, it will stand in its skeleton form…I found new subtleties in my vocals, developed a high falsetto and learned to use my guitar for everything from a drum to a feedback-screeching canvas of sound. By the end of that first night, I felt I’d discovered something not as physical but as powerful as what I did the with E Street Band that spoke to my audience in a new tongue.
    And this:
    Most of my writing is emotionally autobiographical. I’ve learned you’ve got to pull up the things that mean something to you in order for them to mean anything to your audience. That’s where the proof is. That’s how they know you’re not kidding. (p. 267)
    What is the equivalent of a solo performance in your business or career? How can you speak to your audience in a new tongue? As Bruce says, “c
  • Books
  • Why boredom is the cure for boring email copy


    historyofboredom-42-34955923 (1)- FLASH.jpg

    It sounds counter-intuitive, but if your email copy and stories are boring, and you have a lack of ideas, it means it’s time for you to seek out boredom.

    To come up with ideas I always have to step away from the computer and disengage my mind by going for a walk, running an errand, taking a shower, sweeping the floor, or some other task that doesn’t require much in the way of thought. In doing so I come home full of things to write about.

    I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this Albert Einstein quote:

    Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.

    Of course I’d love to think that if Einstein was alive today he would instead say social media diverts the mind too much, not reading. I love books and often feel restless if I go too long without reading. I have made a decision, however, to read fewer books and reread my favorite books. To ensure that I read fewer books I am trying an experiment where I don’t read any library books and instead buy the books I want to read. Then I will either resell them or put them in a local Free Little Library if I don’t want to keep the book. This forces me to be more deliberate in what I read and retain more of what I read. It also makes it easier for me to seek out boredom if I don’t have a huge stack of books by my bed.

    Cal Newport advocates taking a break from focus rather than from distraction. This means you have scheduled blocks of offline and online time.He also is an advocate of batching (doing deep work in scheduled blocks of time). I highly recommend you read the chapter called Embrace Boredom in his book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World.

    Remember, when all else fails, get bored.




    Image Source/Corbis

  • Email Copywriting
  • The Stephen King approach to writing email stories



    The dumbest reading decision I ever made was the time I read Stephen King’s Cujo novel.

    I was living in a rental house with four other ladies during my junior year of college. One weekend all of them were away, which normally never happened.

    For some reason that’s the time I chose to read my first Stephen King novel.

    I scared myself half to death reading about that crazy dog Cujo. All these years later I still remember that dog attacking people trapped inside a locked car.

    I couldn’t sleep because reading Cujo made me afraid of my own normally safe surroundings.

    Every little noise was a potential thief – or Cujo – trying to get into my house.

    Yet I couldn’t stop reading and finished the whole thing that weekend. I did have to pull the damsel in reading distress routine and sheepishly ask my future husband to come over and sleep on our ugly flower print couch so that I could get some sleep.

    Such is the power of a great story. It pulls you in even even if you don’t want it to. This is why stories are an important part of email copywriting.

    In Stephen King’s book On Writing he talks about how stories create themselves and it’s a writer’s job to let them grow. He doesn’t believe in plotting.

    He describes a one sentence question you should ponder before writing a story.

    If you don’t have this one sentence then you won’t have a story at all.

    This applies perfectly to copywriting, because I couldn’t help but notice this is the same formula used for a certain type of copy headline. In uncovering this nugget about your product or service’s story, it will expand into headlines, bullets, and email stories. These three elements all feed off each other.

    I go into detail about this in week 11 of my A Year of Email Copywriting course.

    When you sign up I can get the first 11 weeks to you right away if you ask, so you won’t have to wait. Just let me know.


  • Email Copywriting
  • How to use the Star Wars approach to storytelling in your email copy


    Star Wars. Yawn.

    Way back when the first movie was in theaters our class took a field trip to see the movie, but I was underwhelmed.

    In college I sat through marathon viewings of however many Star Wars movies were available at that time (I was probably trying to impress the guys), but I still wasn’t impressed

    I haven’t attempted to watch a Star Wars movie since and lately have happily been binge-watching House M.D. on Netflix instead while others are going off to the theaters to watch the latest movie.

    Star Wars has one big thing going for it, however. As soon as I learned it I saw instantly how it applies to developing the storytelling skills necessary for writing email copy.

    George Lucas was a friend and student of  writer and mythologist Joseph Campbell.

    Lucas followed Campbell’s stages of the Hero’s Journey when writing Star Wars, which is why that story endures and endures.

    In thinking back over the clients I’ve had over the years, the most successful are those that have had these types of stories and used them in their marketing.

    It was never difficult to write email copy for them, because I could always use elements of their story in the emails when necessary.

    Some entrepreneurs don’t have a story they want to share even if you try and browbeat it out of them and have no interest in stories. These are clients to run away from.

    The worst are entrepreneurs who insist they want stories in their emails, but it quickly becomes clear they request this only because they think it’s the latest fad. Oddly, these folks won’t pony up any details you can use for a story, so you either have to write fiction, or run away. I recommend the latter.

    Fortunately there are many sane entrepreneurs out there who recognize they need a copywriter’s help to draw out their story. In week three of A Year of Email Copywriting I give you the template to use to create a story for a business based on Campbell’s Hero’s Journey.

    It’s a 17 steps process that gives you a story from which you will be able to write many emails that build rapport with customers and get more sales.

    Photo: JD Hancock

  • Stories/Storytelling
  • “Feel the Bern” in your marketing


    Yep, it’s campaign season again.

    I know. Nothing but hot air so much of the time. It’s always interesting, though, when a marketing insight manages to float to the top of all the hot air.

    Regardless of what you may think of the man, you gotta admit that the way Bernie Sanders is drawing crowds these days is intriguing.

    After all, he’s 73-years-old, doesn’t seem to care about his appearance, and isn’t all hope and change-y in his message.

    Yet Millennials love the guy.

    And while Trump is busy hogging all the hot air, and Hillary is having to yap about her email scandal, Bernie is drawing bigger crowds than both of them.

    So what’s up?

    And, more importantly, what impact can it have on your business?

    Here’s a clue:

    He seems to go through the motions of reaching for the emotional connection that other candidates try to seize…

    But the people don’t come to hear Mr. Sanders’s story. They come for his analysis of what’s gone wrong.

    Mr. Sanders is clearly a different sort of political animal. If the tradition is to campaign in poetry and govern in prose, Mr. Sanders does both with a long list of bullet points written on a yellow legal pad he looks at when he speaks.

    This reminds me of that marketing truism: “Don’t tell me about your weedkiller. Tell me about my crabgrass!”

    Yes, it’s important to use stories in your marketing. But the story should be about your customer’s problems and not all about you.

    Now, go forth and “Feel the Bern” in your marketing.


    Quote source: NYT

  • Stories/Storytelling
  • Breaking Bad in your marketing

    I have yet to watch an episode of Breaking Bad, largely because I heard it was violent, so I was too squeamish about it.

    I changed my tune after reading a profile of the actor Bryan Cranston in the New Yorker. For the first several years he didn’t have any significant roles. Then he started to shift his approach to auditions:

    It incrementally came to me that when I audition I’m not trying to get a job, but to give them something, my acting. The victory is not ”Did I beat that other guy out?’ but ‘Did I present that character as believable as I could?’ That was the turning point.

    This is applicable to marketing, of course. And I have an anecdote from my own experience to illustrate this.

    A day or two after I read the Bryan Cranston profile a prospective client contacted me. He was referred to me by a client of mine. What helped convince him to hire me was a comment I left on John Carlton’s blog more than three years ago that he had recently stumbled across.

    My comment is #73 out of more than 100. It’s a story about when I took three of my daughters in for a blood draw and, let’s face it, it’s out of place on a blog that is mostly testosterone-laden. I knew that but didn’t care and posted the story anyway, never once thinking it would promote my copywriting services or anything. Yet three plus years later a prospective client read it and said it was by far the most interesting story in the thread, and he hired me.

    Go figure. But that’s what happens when you focus on giving instead of getting.

  • Email Copywriting
  • 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.

  • Email Copywriting
  • The most important ingredient of email copywriting

    “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.

  • Email Copywriting
  • How a rescued cockatiel can rescue your sales

    So I recently found myself standing at a busy intersection, whistling like a mad woman.

    I drew WTF looks from drivers but I didn’t care.

    There was a cockatiel in a tree and I was determined to rescue it.

    I knew I had my work cut out for me, however, because I was a stranger to the bird and didn’t know his name.

    Cockatiels are friendly birds but won’t fly to the shoulder of just anyone.

    He was cheeping the way cockatiels cheep when they are anxious or calling out to a cockatiel buddy.

    I imitated that cheep as best as I could and made eye contact with him. He calmed down.

    He wasn’t budging, though, so I walked to the other side of the tree and started whistling songs cockatiels usually know: the wolf whistle, the Adams Family and Andy Griffith theme songs.

    He kept staring at me and gradually felt safe enough to fly to a lower branch.

    I wanted to close the deal, however, especially when the waiter at a nearby Mexican restaurant… the guy who made me aware of the cockatiel’s presence in the first place… said sadly, “If you don’t rescue him, he’ll die, won’t he.”



    Plus, cockatiels are nomadic creatures when in the wild, so I knew I had to close the deal now or never.

    This anxiety was making it hard for me to continue to whistle, so I switched tactics and started saying words a cockatiel might know:

    “Food.” “Water.” “Step up.” “Pretty bird.”

    I used a sing song-y voice in a higher register than my normal speaking voice because cockatiels like higher pitches.

    Those words really got his attention and he kept dropping down to lower branches one at a time until he was on the lowest branch.

    Suddenly there was a flurry of feathers but I remained still.

    He landed on my head.

    I ever so carefully walked to my car and slid into the front seat.

    He insisted on remaining on my shoulder so I let him stay there during the drive home so as to maintain my bond of trust with him.

    Sometimes he hopped onto my head, which probably drew more WTF looks from drivers, but I didn’t care.

    The moment I put him into the bird cage at home (we have a small aviary of parakeets and cockatiels at home) he wagged his tail from side to side vigorously, the way cockatiels do when they are happy.

    Then he ate and drank for 30 minutes straight.

    Which brings us to the “La-Di-Frickin’-Da, what does this have to do with my business” part of the post.

    First, there isn’t any one thing that closes the deal when selling to a customer.

    Sure, I could conclude that my using words like “food” were what closed the deal, and that I should just launch straight into that if I ever happen upon a cockatiel in the wild again.

    Just like some marketers think their fancy-pants sales page is what closes the deal and they fixate on that and neglect their email list.

    But it was a large sales funnel, so to speak, beginning with his previous owner, who, based on what I now know of his temperament, clearly had a loving bond with this bird, enabling him to give me the time of day in the first place.

    She probably cried and kicked herself for days afterwards when he escaped during a half second of inattention, but her care for him the years beforehand played a huge role in my being able to save him.

    The other parts of the funnel:

    I spoke/whistled in his language.

    I very clearly communicated I had something he desperately needed – food.

    I focused completely on him and drew upon the very specific knowledge I have about cockatiels so I could build trust. I didn’t focus on myself at all.

    I didn’t rush or push for the sale.


    Marketing really is for the birds. 😉

    Talk soon.

    P. S.  Bottom line: send out a variety of emails to your list. Use a combination of stories and how-to info to gradually build trust.

    Eventually one of those emails will finally hit the right hot button and snag the sale, thanks to the funnel that came before it.

    It’s a tough thing to do on your own, however, so have a copywriter do it for you.