• Email Copywriting
  • How to write email copy if you aren’t creative

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    A reader asks:

    Amid all of you experts in email marketing, how do you think I can differentiate myself as I’m not really that creative as a writer ūüôā …my experience is more in finance/accounting and enjoy using software such as Excel…any thoughts would be appreciated thanks

    It’s a trap all of us who write copy fall into from time to time: “But I’m not creative!”

    If you like using Excel, that is actually an advantage. I like to use Excel too and enjoy the challenge of using well-designed charts to tell a story in as few words as possible. Excel is also a way to keep track of email topic ideas and map out a series of emails.

    You can use those analytic skills to set you apart from other email marketers. Here are my recommendations:

    Use the computer as little as possible to write your copy. It’s when you are in front of a screen that “I’m not creative!” kicks in all too often.

    Instead, go for walks. Record your thoughts with the voice memo on your smartphone as you get ideas.

    Indulge in people-watching and people-listening as much as possible. Sit in a coffee shop or on a park bench and simply watch and listen. What are people talking about? What are they doing? Write down these observations. These are seeds that you will turn into emails.

    Then, when you are at your computer to write emails, you are basically just taking dictation as you go through your notes and write down the words from your voice memos. By all means, use Excel to organize these thoughts and topics. Go ahead and even write the email drafts in Excel if you want to.

    It boils down to this: do the brainstorming and coming up with ideas when you are away from the computer and the left-brained organizing and structuring of the emails when in front of the computer.

    Writing email copy is a craft and as an analytic person you already have the skills to approach it as a craft, so you are more ahead of the game than you think.

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  • Books
  • The comic strip approach to email copywriting

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    Creating comic strips resembles email copywriting in certain ways. If you write email copy you can learn a lot from your favorite cartoonists.

    For starters, like a cartoonist, you must create on a daily basis and work under deadline pressure if you write for clients.

    Sometimes a comic strip is a single gag and other times there is a running story line for several strips. With email copy it’s best to mix it up in this way too (although usually without gags, alas).

    Therefore I’m always drawn to interviews with and articles about cartoonists.

    I recently discovered a 37 page interview with Bill Watterson, creator of Calvin & Hobbes, in the book Exploring Calvin and Hobbes: An Exhibition Catalogue. You can probably find it at your local library.

    It’s one of the only interviews with Watterson, who is something of a recluse. He ended the strip 20 years ago yet it endures in popularity even though he doesn’t do a thing to promote it. I read it in one sitting and savored every word.

    Here is something he said in the interview that resonates:

    Richard Thompson…said he likes to work with small things he notices¬†and his example was “gravel in the street.” That might be a little¬†too¬†small, but I agree with him. Daily minutiae are not actually trivial. It’s a wonderful thing to draw your attention to tiny little moments and small episodes. There can be something simple, grounded, and true when you observe those generally unnoticed small things. I tend to like that scale. Whenever I go to a computer-animated movie, I think, “Oh, please, not another quest.” You know, must we always journey to discover ourselves, find home, and save Christmas?

    I love the unpretentiousness of cartoons. If you sat down and wrote a two hundred page book called¬†My Big Thoughts on Life, no one would read it. But if you stick those same thoughts in a comic strip and wrap them in a little joke that takes five seconds to read, now you’re talking to millions. Any writer would kill for that kind of audience. What a gift.

    Indeed. Those daily details and small episodes are critical components of email copy. The “journey story,” not so much, that is for the about page or sales page. The “gravel in the street” components of the journey story are appropriate for the email copy, however.

    My current favorite comic strip is Bloom County, which Berkeley Breathed resurrected on Facebook in 2015. Without the deadline pressure of a newspaper his creativity is free to flourish once again. He publishes 3-4 strips per week and it’s well worth following his Facebook page for these gems.

    Scott Adams of Dilbert is my other favorite. I’ve listened to his podcast interview with Tim Ferriss a couple of times and it’s one I know I’ll continue to revisit. He gives writing tips and explains his philosophy of humor, among many other things.

    I also like Frazz and Pearls Before Swine. Even Garfield can get a smile out of me sometimes even though that strip isn’t as good as it was back in the 1980s. Garfield Minus Garfield is more fun.

    If you read comics, what are your favorites?
    _____
    If you don’t like Calvin & Hobbes, then you won’t care for lesson #18 in my A Year of Email Copywriting Course. And lesson 12 will be especially soporific because I analyze the storytelling structure of comics and apply it to copywriting. Oh well. Can’t please everybody.

    If you like books, please check out my book reviews.

  • Email Copywriting
  • Is there a “we” in your email copy?

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    Last Sunday, even if you don’t like golf, you probably heard about Jordan Spieth’s collapse during the final round of the Masters.

    He was leading by five shots halfway through the final round. He had a spectacular front nine. Then after two bogeys he got a quadruple bogey on the 12th hole. “Buddy, it seems like we’re collapsing,” he said to his caddie.

    And that’s the thing with Jordan. He always uses the pronoun “we” when talking about his golf game.

    “Of course we’re going to fight back. There’s no give up in us. We tried but it was just one bad swing.”

    “I’m confident in the way we play golf. When we’re on I believe we’re the best in the world.”

    Sure, you could dismiss it as false humility, but I think it’s the case that golf at this level is now a team sport these days, and he fully recognizes and appreciates that.

    Copywriting is similar to golf in that it appears like it’s an individual sport but in reality you need to view it as a team sport.

    Do you ever say, “We wrote a great email series?”

    It can be hard to do if you’re a freelancer, or if you have your own business and write your own copy, but it’s a perspective shift that makes it possible to write better copy.

    It’s important to develop a team, and by team I mean more than Facebook groups, a mentor, and masterminds.

    I devote a lesson to this in A Year of Email Copywriting.

    The more voices your team has, the stronger your own voice will be.

  • Books
  • “You need to ask smaller questions”

    With every turn of the page of Humans of New York: Stories¬†I was reminded of that saying “Be kind; everyone is fighting a great battle.” The micro stories that accompany each photo are fascinating. And must reading for anyone who is a writer.

    My favorite photos are the “microfashion” ones of toddlers in adorable attire.

    My favorite story might be the one on page 326:

    “I’m a neuroscience researcher.”
    “If you could give one piece of advice to a large group of people, what would it be?”

    “Listen to your inner voice.”

    “You’re a scientist. Isn’t ‘inner voice’ a spiritual term?”

    “Bullshit! You’ll hear scientists talking about following their inner voice as much as you’d hear a musician or priest.”

    “So how do you know which of your thoughts are your true inner voice?”

    “All of them are! The question is – how much weight do you give them? How much authority do you give your own thoughts? Are you taking them seriously? Or are you sitting in front of the damn tube letting other people tell you what to think?”

    “Studying the brain is like working in a toy store. Nothing could be more fucking fun.”

    “What do you think is the greatest weakness of the brain?”

    “That’s a lousy question! I’m not answering it.”

    “Why is it a lousy question?”

    “What do you want me to say? Road rage? That we get pissed and shoot people? That the newest parts of our brain should have been in the oven a little longer? How’s that going to help you? If you ask a crappy question, you’ll never get a decent answer. You need to ask smaller questions – questions that give you a pathway to finding some pertinent information. The major advances in brain science don’t come from asking crappy questions like, “What is consciousness?” They come from microanalysis. They come from discovering pertinent information at the cellular level.”