Go With What Works

When you sit down to write e-mail copy for a new assignment, you don’t have to start from scratch and drive yourself crazy writing new copy.

A better way is to work from what has performed well in the past. For example, I have files of e-mail marketing campaigns that have produced stellar results for my clients.

When I’m faced with writing a new assignment, I often follow these proven approaches. While the copy looks new to the client — because it’s specific to their unique product, service, or marketing challenge — it’s actually a tested approach. But instead of risking failure with something totally new, the client has the reassurance that this proven copy is likely to work for them.

Now, what do you do if you don’t have a sample file — or performance numbers?

For starters, sign up for competitors’ e-newsletters and offers — and those of other similar products/services. If you repeatedly see the same type of approaches, that’s usually a clear sign that something is working.

You can also usually find out performance numbers by reading e-mail marketing case studies. Then be sure to make a PDF of the e-mail approach you want to try — and add a comment to it citing any statistics you’ve gleaned from your reading.

Also, sign up for industry events and make friends. As you get to know more people in your field, you can ask them, “I saw that e-mail the other day from XYZ Company and liked it. Do you have any idea how it performed?” Colleagues will usually give you the real bottom line — and say, “Oh, that e-mail looked great, but it bombed.” Or they’ll say, “That’s their control e-mail letter — they’ve been using it for years because it always works.”

The interesting thing about taking a tested approach is that it doesn’t limit creativity. Instead it gives you “guardrails” to drive within to arrive at a high-performing new campaign quickly and confidently. You can still brainstorm to come up with exciting new lead sentences to that e-mail letter — or a blazing new graphic approach to your e-mail banner treatment — but your creativity won’t send you veering wildly all over the place and over a cliff into an abyss of failure.

As copywriters, our e-mail inboxes are our laboratories — where we can conduct experiments to find out that creative approaches work and where we can capture “specimens” of high-performing samples.

So study your inbox intently and file away promising samples and case studies for future reference. You’ll be thankful to have that trusty “swipe file” on hand when you hit writer’s block or you’re under a tight deadline.

What are your best-performing e-mail campaigns? Share them with Karen for a future column.

Join us for a one-day Online Marketing Summit in a city near you through July 1, 2009. Choose from one of 16 events designed to help interactive marketers do their jobs more effectively. All sessions are new this year and cover such topics as social media, e-mail marketing, search, and integrated marketing.

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