Email marketing has gotten to the point where there is almost a cult of personality about it. And if it hasn't actually reached that point yet, there will soon be a time when the hype of email completely devours the marketing practice itself. Now, to be clear, email is a powerful and efficient medium for marketing and will remain so. Yet, email marketing has achieved a near-mythical status in the realm of marketing, worshiped to a degree that threatens to undermine the real substance and nature behind it.
There are a lot of bells and whistles in email now that attract not only the attention of customers, but also marketers, so much so that it comes to the detriment of the email itself: The copy, which is the lifeblood of the marketing message, suffers from the lack of attention and careful thought.
That said, it might be of some benefit to take a deep breath, sit back and make a quick diagnostic check of the quality of writing in your emails. There's always room to improve in writing, and what would help more than tips from the greats?
"Prose is architecture, not interior decoration." – Ernest Hemingway
Ernest Hemingway remains one of the most influential authors in American literature, and his words carry wisdom that is applicable to writing in all professions. What Hemingway means to say by this is that your writing is the foundation of your marketing; it is the rock upon which you build. What it is not is the patterned, contrasting-color wallpaper you hang to attract the eyes and not the sensibilities.
There may be times to write flowing copy that waxes poetically on the special offer you are making to customers, yet email marketing is not the time. Copy has to be well put together – you could say with a blueprint – and durable. It has to be efficient, and it has to be imposing. An email that has no concentration or focus, but has metaphor and overstatement to show in spades, will not succeed. Marketers need to create a clear pathway to the sale, and writing email with the dexterity and vision of an architect can certainly help.
"The writer who neglects punctuation, or mispunctuates, is liable to be misunderstood." – Edgar Allen Poe
A true giant in the annals of American literary history, Poe's words ring true even if it concerns email marketing writing and not a raven or a heart beneath the floorboards. For these purposes, it's best to interpret Poe as saying punctuation is far more important to email writing than one might expect it to be. Punctuation mistakes – like a loose comma outside quotation marks or a semicolon when it should be a colon – that make their way past editing will dent the marketer's credibility.
However, to understand Poe in the opposite context, proper use of punctuation can help marketers. Consider an ellipsis (…) in the subject line. A customer will be more intrigued and persuaded to act on a subject line that reads "Holiday sale: 30 percent off and then some…" than one that doesn't utilize punctuation so creatively.
“It is the writer's privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart.” – William Faulkner
Faulkner is best remembered as being one of the most influential writers in American South literature, not to mention his importance on nation's writing in general. He knew how to convey such strong emotion through his words that it often evoked a visceral reaction within the reader, shaking them, chilling them, uplifting them. Sounds familiar? That's the goal of every marketer: To illicit such a reaction from the customer after reading their email writing that the consumer is swayed and convinced to buy. Identifying the consumer's pain is a key function to marketing. And after recognizing that pain, it is upon the marketer to help the customer "endure by lifting his heart."
Hemingway did say writing is akin to architecture, not elaborate design, and that is true; but take one look at the Notre Dame Cathedral or a Frank Lloyd Wright house and dare to defy the creative element in it. Writing is still very much the foundation you must rely on in email, but there is room for expression like Faulkner calls for. A rousing call to action that rallies like a war cry comes to mind. So too does an emotional appeal that plucks the strings of the heart.
The writing tools that hold the key to email marketing success are at your disposal. Pairing marketing knowledge with that of the classical philosophy to authorship can make for a dynamic skill set that will set a marketer apart in his or her email copy writing prowess.
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