An Objective-Focused Guide to Writing Copy for Marketing Emails

 

Despite the fact your emails to customers, clients and contacts will perform a diverse array of functions, they will all arrive in the recipient’s inbox in roughly the same package: just a subject line and a sender name. The relative uniformity of emails elevates the importance of clear and targeted copywriting in email marketing – it’s the key to communicating your purpose and achieving your objectives.

Newsletters

Email newsletters are all about retaining and developing your existing audience. As such, you’re not going for the hard sell here – rather, it’s all about sharing news to strengthen your brand, encourage engagement and evolve the customer-brand relationship.

News!

We feel that it’s important to start by emphasising the NEWS in “newsletter”. Be it a product launch, a business milestone or a competition announcement, every newsletter you send should contain a hard core of interesting news about your organisation.

We recommend you tailor the types of newsletter content you use to your audience; and to that end, using an iterative approach based around A/B testing is a great way to gain data-led insight into the formats your subscribers respond to best. Common approaches to try include:

  • Article teaser – a stub news article or preamble with a CTA button linking to more comprehensive content on your website. Article teasers are a great catch-all solution for relaying news by email: they quickly communicate the core news message to everyone who opens the email, and they can also attract clicks through to your website.

A good article teaser will strike a balance between directly giving the reader valuable/interesting information, and letting them know that more good content awaits in the full version of the article. You don’t have to be particularly sophisticated in the way you do this – just lead with the headline news and then briefly describe (but don’t reveal) the “rest of the best” of the article. For example, we might write:

Target Internet CEO Launches New Book

We’re pleased to announce that our CEO Daniel Rowles’ new book, “Building Digital Culture” is out now. Join us as Daniel talks us through a writing process that involved interviewing dozens of the UK’s leading digital executives.

[CTA: Read More]

Alternatively, teasers can simply use an excerpt from the start of the article, tailing off in an ellipsis.

  • Formal press release/news entry – some audiences still respond well to old-fashioned, press release-style articles, used to convey similar news items to a brand update.

The trick to writing a great press release is structuring the copy in such a way that it could be cut off at the end of any sentence without losing its ability to convey the essential facts of the news item. This technique stems from a bygone age of print journalism where editors would physically snip off the ends of paper press releases and paste the surviving copy into place, but it can still help keep your brand news writing focused, and may come in handy for writing article teasers.

Press releases should be written as objective statement, so use citable facts and stats in place of adjectives (e.g. “we’re launching a new car, recognised by Euro NCAP as our safest yet”, instead of “we’re launching a new safer-than-ever car”).

  • Brand update – a blog-style update in the brand’s Tone of Voice.

A brand update might cover developments such as a product or service launch, an award win or a major anniversary – similar topics to an article teaser or press release style article, but covered in less of a formal manner.

Excepting unusual circumstances like a crisis management situation, every brand update should radiate positivity. Don’t make the mistake of expressing the brand’s enthusiasm by presenting un-supported claims like “we just released our tastiest biscuit yet”; instead, qualify this sort of language by presenting it as opinion, e.g. “we think this is our tastiest biscuit yet”.

Every brand update should leave the customer with an impression of how the customer-brand relationship has developed – a message along the lines of “[Brand] just improved its customer support”, “[Brand] is moving towards more ethical production methods”, or “[Brand] is working on a new product that I need to keep an eye out for”.

Brand updates don’t necessarily stop at demonstrating the brand’s added value – they can also emphasise the customer’s value to the brand. This is an especially popular tactic amongst charitable organisations like Cancer Research UK, who regularly send their supporters emails to tell them how their donations are being spent.

How newsletters can develop your brand

Newsletters aren’t just a way to communicate your brand’s news and voice; they can also entirely reframe the brand’s relationship with the customer.
One way to do this is by signalling exclusivity, for example by highlighting special offers and events which are available exclusively to members of the brand’s mailing list. This technique has the potential to make subscribers feel valued, and it also incentivises people to stay subscribed and keep opening your emails. Use language like ‘VIP’, ‘Members-Only”, “Mailing List Exclusive”.

Newsletters can also develop your brand-customer relationship by virtue of offering compelling quality content that keeps people coming back. The best newsletters give readers a dependable dose of value (whether in the form of enriching content, actionable news or offers) on a regular basis.
There’s no way to achieve this without good content, but it is possible to cultivate the idea of your newsletter as a weekly/fortnightly/monthly fixture through your use of language, e.g. by making passing references back to previous newsletters and interactions with subscribers; by evoking community with phrases like “Our subscribers”, or by referring to your subscribers collectively in the second person (“you guys”).

If you can build up a newsletter that your subscribers look forward to receiving every week, you’ve cracked it.

Sales funnel emails

Would it surprise you to hear that many of the best paid copywriters are those who specialise in writing sales funnel sequence email copy?
The challenge in writing sales funnel copy is to express the brand’s strategic positioning in a manner that chimes with the customer’s position in the sales funnel.

Let’s use a simple but effective sales funnel model to work out a basic strategy for how to approach this tricky task. Our sales funnel stages are as follows:

  1. Loyalty
  2. Point of purchase
  3. Active interest
  4. Browsing/vague notion of buying

Your regular newsletters have got the “Loyalty” stage covered, so we’ll concentrate now on how to write copy for steps 1, 2 and 3.

Browsing

When all that we can safely say is that the customer is browsing or has a vague notion of making a purchase, a good strategy is to use broadly interesting email content that implies what your organisation can do for the customer in the most basic terms. Here are a few examples for brands in different industries:

  • Marketing training brand: “25 Things Every Marketer Should Know” (brand can teach customer about marketing)
  • Supermarket brand: “20 Summer Activities for Families” (brand caters for families)
  • Music streaming brand: “Listen to 50 New Releases on our April Playlist” (customer can listen to new music via brand)

When writing email copy to support browsing-stage content, bear in mind that it’s probably too soon to sell to the customer. Do add links that progress the reader further down the funnel; don’t refer very much to your products or services in the email copy.

The copy in your emails to customers who are browsing should all be designed to gently pique the reader’s interest. Lead in with rhetorical questions: Have you thought about X? What will you be doing for X? Talk about ideas, inspirations, facts and conversations.

Active interest

At the active interest phase we can infer that the customer is considering (or has considered) purchasing a certain product or type of product from your brand. We can now email them content tailor-made for their area of interest. To return to our previous examples:

  • Marketing training brand: “How to choose the right e-learning course” (brand has inferred customer interest in e-learning courses)
  • Supermarket brand: “Our Top 10 Luxury Hampers” (brand has inferred customer interest in picnic hampers)
  • Music streaming brand: “Take it Easy Tonight with our Chillout Playlist” (brand has inferred that customer likes listening to chillout music at night)

Now is the time to start actively selling to the customer, and this should be reflected in your copy. Talk about savings, deals, value, product specifics, and bring transactional language like ‘buy’, ‘collect’ and ‘purchase’ into play.

As you start to introduce products and services, it’s also important to establish your brand’s points of difference – good reasons to buy from you, rather than your competitors. You can achieve this by building these points of difference into generic copy such as CTAs, e.g. “Order with Next Day Delivery”.

Point of purchase

We can consider the customer to be at the point of purchase (PoP) when they are one step away from making a purchase – for instance, they may have added an item to Cart before navigating away from the brand’s site. There are a few different tactics we can use at this point to encourage the customer to convert, including:

  • Sending a reminder, e.g. “You Have 3 Items in Your Cart. Just Two Clicks to Checkout”
  • Reinforce product/service offering with a more detailed message
  • Offer a limited discount to encourage the sale (you can do this quite explicitly – “We noticed that you’re interested in the Scrabble Deluxe Edition board game from our Toys & Games category. As a special gift, we’re going to give you 20% off if you order today.”
  • Reinforce strategic position – use content that reinforces the brand’s strategic position. Building a little extra trust can go a long way towards convincing wavering leads.

These tips have all been couched in terms of programmatic marketing, but there’s a transferrable lesson underlying them all that can apply to every customer communication you write: whenever you sit down to write something, always consider the sales funnel position of the people who are going to read it.

Transactional emails

Transactional emails such as order confirmations and receipts differ greatly from newsletters and sales funnel messages, insofar as they are not focused on conversion goals and are not necessarily related to the sales funnel.

A transactional email needs to convey pertinent facts in clear language and with a bare minimum of embellishment. Transactional emails are basically the printed till receipts of today, so their copy can simply comprise telegraphic statements about the transaction, e.g. “We’ve received your order”, “Your order has been dispatched”, “Thanks for your custom”.

If your transactional emails end up reading as if they were written by a robot, you’re in the right ballpark. Customers generally expect transaction emails to be flat in tone, so don’t worry too much about offending people.

 

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