Email Marketing for Newbies

I’ve been teaching about digital marketing strategy and practice since 2002. It’s funny to think that I’ve been espousing various approaches to specific practice, but one area that I had been teaching in was something I’d never done in anger – creating copy for an email marketing campaign.

So it was with some trepidation that I embarked on creating my first email campaign this week with our Training Manager Gareth. We’ve spent some time evaluating different campaign management systems, but finally settled for using Constant Contact as it had the right features we require for running our campaigns.

So yes – I know the theory, I have got rafts of good examples and best practice, I can talk my way through creating the perfect template. But I hadn’t done one before. So – to live by the sword – I got out the good practice textbooks, downloaded (for the nth time) Econsultancy’s Best Practice guide and we sat down to work.

Based on emails I’ve received from others, writing copy for emails is obviously not something that comes naturally. But I like to think that we did our email by the numbers. So here’s a few things that I relearned whilst creating ours.

I had to make the email pass the “5S Test”. That is – the email has to sell (the whole point is that sales are going to come from this email). The email has to serve the reader – so what is it that adds value for the customer? The email has to speak to the customer – I’m using it to ask questions and to learn about them (it becomes a conversation and I can get closer to them if it works properly). The email has to save me something – costs in transactions, admin and so on. And finally it has to sizzle (something I learned from former colleague and ex old school ad man Roger Delves) – it has to extend our Brand in the online world and reinforce the Brand values that we want people to believe about us.

I had to make sure we used a distinctive subject line (this took ages to come up with) so that we could hook the reader immediately. We also had to make sure we wrote in chunks of text rather than a massive narrative (Constant Contact’s template creator actually helps you do this). We had to make sure there was a call-to-action (CTA) at the start and the end of the mail and that we used  a variety of CTAs throughout the mail. We made effective use of bullet points at appropriate intervals rather than constant verbage. Using our psychology heads, we wrote the mail as a two column item which aids on-screen reading and increases the speed which information is consumed. And we wrote the copy in a conversational “You-We” idiom to engage the reader – this was probably the hardest bit because University writers can’t write like that naturally.

Finally – we did the 2-2 test: we looked at the email for 2 seconds and tried to remember what we saw. We look at it from 2 metres away to see what stood out.

All this kept us rewriting and rebuilding the copy and the design until it was finally ready. Yesterday we cleansed our contact lists and identified the 500 or so Human Resource Directors the University has had dealings with. Our mail went out at 11:45 this morning hoping to capture the lunchtime readers.

So it ‘s been an interesting experience. Now hoping to see whether all the effort in crafting that mail actually generates some business and I’ll report on the analytics capability later. I won’t be so quick to trash emails now: I’m going to check them all to see if they’ve been built by the book.


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