How to Write Emails Like a Marketer
In my 20-plus-year marketing career, my emails have been read by thousands of people.
And deleted by tens of thousands more.
Email marketing is a dog-eat-dog world where small victories matter. As I am sure your own inbox(es!) will attest, we are drowning in an endless flood of messages that arrive day and night, on holidays, and when we are on vacation. For email marketers like me, if 20 out of every 100 recipients of your email open it, you’re patting yourself on the back. If five of those 100 people act on what you say, you’re flying high.
Sending email isn’t bad per se. In healthcare philanthropy, the emails we send are one way we can encourage more good to be done for the health of our communities. And email still reigns as the primary communication method in business settings—for better or worse. But given the reality of crowded inboxes and constant distractions, figuring out how to stand out is critical to getting your message across to the people you want to see it. And this is where my tips come in.
Pay Attention to Your Subject Line
Subject lines are so underrated. Here’s the thing: you can craft the most amazing email in the world, but if the subject line doesn’t get your recipient’s attention, and your email goes unopened you may as well have never written it.
Subject lines should hint at the content of the email and, if possible, why the recipient should open it. (I.e., the “what’s in it for me?” or WIIFM. See below.) The subject line “Committee Call” (a real email in my inbox) doesn’t give me a lot of information. Has the call happened? Which committee? Do I need to do anything for this call? A better subject might be “Need input: agenda for 5/1 standards committee call.”
Start with the WIIFM (What’s in It for Me?”)
Remember those five-paragraph essays you learned how to write in school? You started with an Introductory Paragraph and your Main Idea, and then, after struggling through three paragraphs of evidence, you finally wowed your reader with your insightful conclusion about the symbolism of stars in Romeo and Juliet?
My apologies to English teachers everywhere but you need to throw out that style of writing immediately (for email at least).
Email readers skim before deciding whether to commit, with their finger hovering over the delete button. If nothing grabs them in the first five seconds, your email is going straight to the recycle bin. They are certainly not going to wade through paragraphs of text while you build up to your point.
Tell your reader why they should spend some of their precious time on you—what’s in it for them—right up front.
That’s not a typo. You need to keep it simple, yes. Simple...and short.
If you’ve gotten your reader to open your email with a compelling subject line and to make beyond your opening sentence (which is, I hope, the WIIFM), congratulations! You may have a career in marketing ahead of you yet. But you still need them to act on whatever it is you are emailing them about.
Since people skim email, the way you write should make that process easy, so that readers can get your point with as little effort as possible. Use small words, short sentences, and short paragraphs—even one sentence can be its own paragraph in an email.
If you really, truly can’t part ways with your long paragraphs of English-class-worthy sentences (and I do hope you’ll get there eventually), consider breaking your text up into sections and adding headings that tell readers what they’ll find in each paragraph.
Speak Like Your Audience
One of the primary purposes of any communication is to be understood, and to be understood you need to use the language that your audience uses to describe things. This almost always means avoiding jargon, particularly the internal jargon you and your colleagues unwittingly throw around.
One test I like to use is to reread my email pretending that I am my mother, who is an intelligent woman but doesn’t know the first thing about healthcare marketing. If I feel like she could understand what I said, then I know I’ve used plain enough language for my audience to understand.
Always Include a “Call to Action”
Before I violate the rule I just set out in the last section, “call to action” is marketing-speak for “what you want your reader to do next.” Do you want them to donate? Schedule a time to talk to you? Whatever it is, make it stand out from the rest of the text.
In true marketing emails, making your “call to action” stand out is usually done with a hyperlink or a button (or both), but putting a clickable button in the middle of an email, say, to your child’s teacher asking for a parent-teacher conference is probably a little over the top. However, putting your request on its own line or in bold font helps draw attention to it more subtly and can be used in almost any situation.
Even with all these tips in your back pocket, I can’t ensure that you’ll get what you want in the end, but you’ll certainly increase your chances. And in the numbers game of email, that is all you can hope for.