Write better emails and engage your people.

The Secret to Writing Marketing Emails That Crush

Am I a Writer?

When I was growing up, I always wanted to be a writer. I used to imagine myself hunched over a keyboard typing furiously away at some epic story while my fans waited in agonizing anticipation for the next installment.

Well… at least I had the “descriptive adjective” part down.

But seriously, I tried my hand at a few stories in my pre-teens. I wrote some fantasy fiction, mostly inspired by, and stolen from, The Lord of the Rings. I quickly lost interest in writing and decided that I was far more interested in reading. I was happy to let someone else do all the hard work.

For the most part, I didn’t really think about writing much until I got out of college. At that point, I realized that I cared enough about business issues to begin expressing my opinion on them. As I wrote articles or blog posts, I would get very positive feedback—not just on the content itself but on my writing abilities. Writing abilities I had never considered myself to have.

I discovered that I did find genuine enjoyment in writing. I began learning more writing techniques and wrote more often. Over time, writing became a bigger and bigger part of my professional work until I was writing content for clients.

Writing For Marketing

Most people don’t consider themselves “writers.” The term “writer” usually feels more applicable to someone like Agatha Christie or James Patterson. Writing isn’t just for novelists or journalists, though. Even in the digital world, writing is still one of the most widespread forms of storytelling.

Every person is a storyteller, which means that somewhere inside of you, even if you don’t believe it, is a writer.

Marketing emails are not complicated, but most people struggle to write marketing emails because they can never decide where to begin. At the risk of sounding patronizing, the best place to begin is at the beginning.

Let’s get your email marketing started with 3 criteria for writing a fantastic marketing email.

Fantastic marketing emails:

  1. Tell a story that has meaning whether or not the reader cares about your company.
  2. Offer valuable information without requiring the reader to take additional action.
  3. Invite the reader into a deeper relationship with the company.

I like physically writing things down…

If you implement these 3 criteria when outlining your marketing emails, you will begin to see improvement! Improvement can look like a few things:

  1. Better open rates over time.
  2. Increased click-through rates.
  3. Higher reply rates.
  4. Improved conversions from your clicks.
  5. Increased audience sharing.

From now on, filter every marketing email you write through the 3 criteria. If the email doesn’t fit, adjust it until it does. Your writing will become much clearer, purposeful, and valuable!

How To Write Marketing Emails

One of the best ways to overcome fear and overwhelm when writing marketing emails is to understand the different sections of a marketing email. Once you understand these sections, you can break down all of your emails into smaller steps that are much less intimidating and easier to complete.

Let’s check out the different sections of a marketing email.

Section #1: The Subject Line

Subject lines can be a nightmare for folks who aren’t used to writing them. I know that in my own writing, I’ve spent far too much time agonizing over a subject line. Keep in mind: it is far better to send an email with a less-than-stellar subject line than it is to never send an email because you were waiting for the perfect subject line.

Ray Edwards’ advice in “How to Write Copy that Sells” is very helpful when it comes to writing subject lines. I highly recommend Ray’s book for anyone looking to grow their marketing and sales writing chops. You can buy it HERE.

Here’s the relevant page from Ray’s book. Page 53.

As Ray says, there are three elements you should include in every email subject line:

  1. Personal
  2. Anticipation
  3. Curiosity

How to Make a Subject Line Personal

Personalizing a subject line is simple. Use the word “you.” This is the easiest way to make the subject line personal. For any subject line, once you’ve written it, figure out how to make it a personal message directed at your reader specifically.

For example, if you’ve written a subject line that says, “10 Ways Business Owners Are Losing Money.” Simply change business owners to “you.”

Now it reads…

“10 Ways You Are Losing Money”

If at all possible, find ways to directly say something to your reader through your subject line. I’m going to use an email campaign I did for one of my clients as an example.

My client was selling an online course that taught business owners how to set appointments using LinkedIn. The basic premise of the course was that a business owner would grow their business by 2 new clients every month when using this system. In the course, my client calculated that those 2 clients would be worth, on average, $1,000 per month to the business owner.

When I first sat down to work on the subject lines for the emails, I was thinking of things like,

Discover how you can add 2 new clients every month.


Learn how I added 12 clients in 6 months.

While these subject lines are powerful and create interest, I knew that there were 1 or 2 of the 3 elements (personal, anticipation, curiosity) that I wasn’t quite hitting the mark on.

What I finally landed on was a very provocative subject line that resulted in a significantly higher conversion to webinar signups than any previous email.

The subject line I created was designed to personally challenge the reader and create an emotional reaction that would demand that they open the email in order to resolve their curiosity. The subject line was this…

This was the final subject line I came up with.

Funny story…my client was subscribed to receive all the marketing emails that I was sending out. He didn’t realize this email was from his own campaign and later told me that he opened it because he needed to know how he was losing $1,000 every month. Obviously, that was the idea.

This is how powerful personalization can be. You need to challenge your readers to think differently. Most importantly, you must try to distill your marketing message down to something very personal and emotionally evocative which demands the reader open the message. Raise the stakes!

Section #2: The Opening Paragraph

After the email subject line, the next portion of the email is the opening. Provided your subject line did its job, your goal now is to keep the audience’s attention. I’m going to use one of my favorite email marketers for this example.

I received this email from Mike Dillard. Now, first of all, I don’t agree with the fact that you have to click on a link to learn more. I think that there should be some sort of value for the reader whether they continue reading or not, but the introductory paragraph in this email is fantastic.

As you can see, the email starts with a personal story from Mike about some programs he launched. Then he transitions into a lesson that he learned and is going to share. The last sentence is the real kicker, it’s such a powerful way to draw in the reader.

Let’s just say that it worked incredibly well for a while, and then something happened that turned it into a train-wreck…

The power of the words in this sentence are undeniable. The personal nature of the story as well as the descriptive wording of “train-wreck” is enough to draw in the most disengaged readers.

Opening paragraphs are very important. They give the reader a reason to continue. If the subject line is killer, but the opening paragraph fails to engage, the email is D.O.A., as The Rembrandts said in the “Friends” theme song.

Section #3: The Story

Everything we’ve discussed and written so far was for the sole purpose of getting your reader to this exact spot. So far, you’ve grabbed their attention with your irresistible subject line and you’ve piqued their interest with your intriguing opening paragraph. Now it’s time to seal the deal with the succulent steak of a story you’ve got planned for dinner.

This is the most important part of the email because this is where you either reward your readers’ trust or show yourself to be just another charlatan.

Many readers will give a new content source the benefit of the doubt. Maybe the subject line wasn’t great or the opening paragraph wasn’t super interesting, but hey, you’re a new content source and I’ll see what you’ve got to offer.

Poor subject lines and drab openers can easily be forgiven if the meat of your content is really killer. If your readers know that you won’t disappoint, they will overlook all sorts of other failures because they like what you have to say and they get value from your content.

Deliver on your promises. Nothing else matters.

The worst thing you can do as an email marketer is build up expectations and then fail to deliver. Your word is your bond. The only reason people get mad about sales and marketing techniques is, more often than not, they turn out to be just that: techniques to get clicks and opens.

If your content is amazing, your readers will thank you for encouraging them to click and open and read. They will have no problem with “techniques” because those techniques get them to learn new and helpful ideas or ways to solve their problems. We all understand what this is about. We all know that everyone has something to sell.

The difference in good marketing is when you prove that you are genuinely invested in your readers’ success. If you can prove this, they will trust you. The best way to prove this is to give away as much as possible and ask for as little as possible in return.

What is “Amazing Content”?

The Content Mindset

So this brings us to the biggest question in the world of marketing… “what is amazing content?”

We’ve all heard that content is king. You’ve probably heard it so many times that it no longer means anything to you. That’s because most people have no idea how to create amazing content. Most content is not king because it looks nothing like great content.

If you want to deliver great content, there is one rule you need to start living by. From this moment on, your goal is to teach your audience how to solve their problems without you.

Your goal is to teach your audience to solve their problems without you.

This is where the rubber meets the road.

When I’m coaching business owners I challenge them to take this goal even further. I challenge my clients to answer the following question: “Are you willing to solve your prospects’ problems without making a dime?”

If you can honestly answer that question in the affirmative, then you’re ready to create great content. This is the “content mindset.” You have to agree to the premise that you are willing to solve your audience’s problem without getting paid for it. Until that point, all of your content will only be a thinly-veiled sales pitch.

How Does Content Apply to Email Marketing?

The purpose of all email marketing is to generate engagement of some sort. Whether that engagement means clicks, downloads, list-growth, or even direct sales, there must be some purpose driving your email marketing efforts.

Because of this, all email marketing should have as its goal the advancement of the conversation. If the reader opens the email, the end-goal is to get them to move beyond the email. We want them to take some sort of action.

At the same time, it’s important to keep in mind that our overarching goal is to earn and retain our audience’s trust. This is impossible if we sabotage ourselves by demanding too much in exchange for the value we’re offering.

For this reason, every email you write needs to contain enough value on its own to make it worth opening and reading. Going back to the Mike Dillard example, I disagree with the idea of sending an email that demands to be clicked. In my opinion, there should be enough information in every email sent to make it worth opening on its own, completely independent of any other action taken.

Let’s get practical for a second. In our email marketing efforts here at Skymouse, we employ a very simple formula. All of our emails are designed to drive our readers back to our blog because our main goal is to educate our readers on how to solve their marketing problems without us. The kind of blogs we write are far too long to read in an email and wouldn’t make any sense in that format.

Blog to email drawing

Our email marketing workflow.

Our solution is that we take a 300-500 word snippet from our blog post that has valuable, actionable information and send that out in our marketing emails. Each email then has an invitation to read more if the reader is interested in learning more about the topic. This accomplishes both of our goals at once. Our emails contain valuable information that makes them worth reading on their own. They also contain an invitation to read more on our actual blog where the reader can learn in-depth strategies and tactics to take their marketing to the next level.

We have designed our entire content strategy around helping our audience help themselves. By designing our content for each specific platform that we distribute it on, we reach our audience where they are and only engage with them on their own terms. This builds the understanding between us and our followers that we are only going to deliver quality content regardless of the medium.

To make this really clear, I’m going to demonstrate using this blog post you are reading right now!

I’ve written up an example email based on this blog post to illustrate how we use our blogs as the basis for our email content. This is the actual email as it appears coming from our Mailchimp servers.

Subject: Your subject lines suck… unless you already read this email 😜

I’m Eating My Own Cooking

As you can see, I’ve followed the exact formula that I’ve detailed in this post.

  1. The subject line is provocative and personalized.
  2. The opening paragraph tells a story and creates buy-in for the meat of the post.
  3. The main content of the post delivers a complete nugget of valuable information with the invitation to read more if the reader is interested.

Always remember, the main content of the email is the most important part. Here you earn your readers’ trust. Here you justify their faith in your goodwill. Here you prove that you are genuinely interested in teaching your readers how to solve their problems without you.

If you can become comfortable writing content that truly educates, you will grow a loyal following that will translate into customers.

Section #4: The Salutation

How you end your email matters. Your signature is a great way to leave a lasting impression. You can see on the email example above how we design our signatures here at Skymouse. Using a picture is a great way to build familiarity and showcase your personality. Our brand is light and fun and we don’t take ourselves too seriously, our picture is a way of communicating that in a simple and straightforward manner.

Regardless of how you choose to sign off, make sure you include your name, title, and any relevant contact info. I left off a portion of the normal information on my email signature because this is a public blog post, but for your prospects, I would include your email address, phone number, and any social media links that may be relevant. The picture is optional, but I highly recommend it.

Where To Go From Here

At this point, all I have to say is that you have your work cut out for you. Take these principles and apply them to your email marketing efforts. Test subject lines and see what works and what doesn’t. Try to find ways to incorporate stories into your emails and make sure to reward your readers with clear, valuable, actionable content that they can use to solve their problems without you.

I hope you found this post helpful! Good luck!

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Photo of John Welch

John Welch

Hi, I'm the fast-talking co-founder of Skymouse Studios. As an extrovert, I love helping people communicate better. I'm a Musician, Loving Husband and Father. At the moment, I'm cooking up my secret recipe for eggs benedict.

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