E-mail Copy Tip From a Great E-mail Copywriter

Ten tips from award-winning copywriter Pat Friesen.

Pat Friesen is an award-winning, results-oriented on- and offline copywriter, as well as a friend. Her client list includes AT&T, Century 21, Hallmark, Hasbro, Hershey’s, IBM, Motorola, and many other household name brands.

Friesen is my go-to copywriter for client projects. Driving response, not just writing copy, is one of her strengths. She was kind enough to share her keys to successful e-mail copy with me for this column. I encourage you to check out her regular column in Target Marketing. Her most recent column is an interview with yours truly, discussing the similarities and differences between offline direct mail and e-mail marketing.

Be Clear on Objectives

“It’s important to clearly define the e-mail’s objective,” said Friesen. “Do you want people to buy, fill out a lead-qualification form, or just raise their hand [click through]? The copy needs to motivate the reader to the action needed to meet the objective. The more you’re asking from them, the more information you will probably need to provide.”

Prepare Before You Write

I know Friesen immerses herself in projects before putting fingers to keyboard. What I didn’t fully comprehend was the amount of preparation. “Although I don’t charge by the hour, I do keep track of my time.” Friesen told me. “On average, only 20 percent is spent writing; the other 80 percent is research. I go deep into the product or service I’m writing about, as well as the audience I’m writing to. I look at current e-mails that are working for the client, as well as competitive information.

“The more information I get from a client, the better. Performance of past e-mails, including clickstream information from the open to the conversion, helps me identify opportunities and gives me a goal to beat,” she continued. “Reviewing past e-mails, especially controls, is critical. Often there’s a small detail that was under emphasized or just missed. By making this detail the hero of the new piece, putting it front and center with the same offer, you can often get a lift in response.”

Understand the Sender

“Who is the e-mail coming from? What type of relationship does the sender have with the audience? These are critical questions to answer before you start writing.” said Friesen. “E-mails come from people, not companies, so I try to work that into the copy. In some cases, the e-mail may be from a person (the director of marketing, product manager, or CEO); in other cases, it may be from a community (the company’s customer service team, your friends at that company, etc.).”

Something Friesen and I agree on: there are pros and cons to using a real person’s name in the sender address. If you take this route, be sure to include your company or brand name along with the person’s name so you familiarize recipients with the company as well as the person sending the message.

Visualize Your Audience

Friesen says she “always has an image of who I’m writing to in my head. If the e-mail is going to mothers of little girls, I picture a woman I know and her little girl. If it’s to a businessperson, I picture someone I know who’s in that audience.

“I think about where they’re reading the copy — at their desk, in their home — as well as how they are seeing it — holding a piece of paper in their hand, viewing it on a computer screen, or scanning it on their mobile device. Also important are the distractions they may face while reading it; the copy needs to be interesting enough to gain and hold their attention.”

Focus on What’s in it for Readers

“The more specifics the client provides about what would motivate the audience to take the action desired, the better,” said Freisen. “It’s all about putting myself in the shoes of the reader. What’s in it for them? Why should they open, read, click, and follow through to meet the objective?” is what Friesen focuses on. I think this is what makes her copy so highly relevant to the target audience, which is the secret of all great e-mail marketing.

Know the Features, But Talk About the Benefits

Friesen stresses the importance of knowing the different between the features of your product or service and its benefits. “A pocket is a feature; the benefit is that it can hold business cards or other things that the reader needs to keep with them,” she said. “The benefit is what’s in it for the reader, what’s important to them, not the feature alone.”

Use Violators to Highlight Key Messages

Many traditional direct marketing tactics translate beautifully to e-mail. Friesen has had success with “Johnson boxes, bursts, slashes, sidebars. These are all ‘violators’ which pull the key message out of the copy and give it more emphasis, so it won’t be missed by the reader. Most people scan copy, rather than read it, so these techniques help you highlight the key takeaway and get your point across, even if the reader only skims.”

Develop a Unique Voice and Use It Consistently

Friesen can’t emphasize enough the importance of voice. “No matter what the medium, you should have a voice that you use to speak to your audience and keep it consistent throughout the relationship. E-mail tends to be more conversational, looser than copy used elsewhere. Even if you’re targeting a business audience, you wouldn’t want to use the type of language you find in an annual report.

“The voice you choose needs to be an accurate reflection of your brand personality. For an entertaining consumer product, it should be a fun voice; this is reflected in the vocabulary you use as well as the way the dialogue is structured. For business e-mails, you’ll want to be more business-like but still conversational.

“Reading copy out loud is a great way to make sure your tone is appropriate to the audience and suitably conversational. Often I’ll rewrite sentences which initially seemed good on paper but which don’t work as well when I read them out loud.”

Be Your Own Best Editor

“Don’t say or tell too much,” advised Friesen. “Hone in on the two or three things the reader needs to know to take the action you’re looking for. If something in the copy isn’t moving the audience toward the objective, get rid of it. If possible, step away from the copy and come back to it a few hours or a day later. Keep cutting until the message comes through loud and clear, without clutter.”

Test, Test, Test

Friesen is as big a fan of testing as I am. “That’s what makes it direct marketing!” is how she puts it. This is another reason she’s one of my favorite copywriters to work with. It’s not just about copy that reads well, it’s about beating the control, lifting response rates, and creating an e-mail that’s more effective than anything the client has used before. Once we get a winning e-mail, it’s about tweaking it to make it even better or going back to the drawing board to create a new e-mail that will beat it.

Use Friesen’s tips to write your own copy and let me know how it goes!

Until next time,


Want more e-mail marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Reference is an archive of all our e-mail columns, organized by topic.

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