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5 Lessons in Effective Copywriting for Nurturing Emails from Ogilvy & Bird

  |  December 12, 2013   |  Comments

David Ogilvy and Drayton Bird's most popular works came out in print long before digital marketing became a thing, yet they hold valuable lessons for today's marketers, especially in email copywriting.

girl-on-typewriterI often wonder when I get an email, "Did this person know what they were doing when they sent this?"

I get so many emails that are poorly written, have no tact, or lacking in general good sense. I cringe because I know someone had to like that email before they hit the "send" button. Sure, that might sound harsh, but there are others who share this same opinion. David Ogilvy was a harsh critic of other marketers, and so is his protégé Drayton Bird. They're arguably some of the greatest marketers that we've had the fortune to learn from - and such prolific writers that it's hard to believe there are marketers who don't know their names, their teachings, and surely don't employ their techniques when writing their emails.

I'm routinely baffled when I ask crowds of people if they've ever read Ogilvy or Bird's books. It's a good showing if I see three hands in three hundred, and here's why: Ogilvy's Confessions of an Advertising Man was first published in 1963, and Bird's work Commonsense Direct Marketing was published in 1982. These two books were written before the Internet craze, and therefore are not considered books for digital marketers. But that couldn't be further from the truth. Here are some of their most poignant teachings, and how you can apply them to email nurturing:

"Most copywriters are like engines. They take a while to warm up to get to the point." -Drayton Bird

Don't give an introduction to your offer; get to the point and give your offer. This is one of the biggest mistakes that marketers make. Many copywriters fail to take into account the people reading their emails.

"The customer is not an idiot, she's your wife." - David Ogilvy

There is a modern term called "Grok," which comes from Robert A. Heinlein's 1961 novel, Stranger in a Strange Land. It means "to understand something so well you can become that which you are observing." The term has become a major buzzword in the world of user experience, and describes exactly what Ogilvy is trying to teach us. It is easy to understand a consumer; you are married to one, and are one yourself. Think about how you would react, and then build campaigns based on that - not based on what you think is pretty.

"Learn to edit down." - Drayton Bird

In a recent conversation with Bird, he mentioned the way he likes to edit. He writes his copy, then cuts everything down until it is as lean as possible. His goal is always to say the same thing, but with fewer words. This is a skill of all great copywriters, and one that you should employ as well.

"Always use black text on a white background." - David Ogilvy

If you want someone to read your emails, then make them as easy to read as possible. This isn't rocket science, and Ogilvy found this to be the best way to make ads legible. You might be scratching your head and saying, "but they didn't have HTML back then!" No, but they had color. It's the same in direct mail, email, billboards, and any other form of advertising. If you want it to be read, put black text on a white background.

"Understand the power of asking." - Drayton Bird

Bird tells the story of one a client who used surveys to create a lasting brand. The company was in the wine business, and they would send out surveys to every client, and prospect. The winery used this information to identify their best clients, who to visit in person, and it also kept them personally engaged with their audience. Bird goes on to say tell the true power in asking is in the power of a "soft close" - asking questions will lead you to the close eventually. Consider asking your prospects about their biggest pain points, or their top goals. The survey will get the ball rolling, and open the door for you to step in with a solution.

These are just a few of the great things I've learned from these two men. It would be a disservice to say that these are the best things they've said; instead, I'd say these few quotes are only the tip of the iceberg, and it would behoove you to read both of their books. I promise you that the ROI on those books will be the highest of any tool you ever buy, and your nurturing campaigns will be all the better for it.

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Mathew Sweezey

Mathew is the head of thought leadership for B2B marketing at Pardot, a Company. A consummate writer, he has been featured in numerous publications such as Marketing Automation Times, DemandGen Report, Marketing Sherpa, ZDNet, and is the author of Marketing Automation for Dummies (published by Wiley February 2014). As a speaker Mathew speaks around the world at events such as Conversion Conference, Dreamforce, SugarCon, and to companies including Microsoft, Investec, NetJets, and, to name a few.

Follow @msweezey.

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