Better email marketing tips from someone who hates emails

Anthony Kingsley

The Travelling Copywriter


By the end of today, some 306 billion business and consumer emails will have been sent.

But only 20% of those will have been opened.

So is email marketing dead?

It is a question that is asked every year, and every year people (usually email marketers) say “No, it has the greatest ROI of any form of marketing,” and “Your email list is your most valuable asset.”

Which is true enough.

It costs little or nothing to send out a load of emails, and it can all be automated to save time, so it is quite true that it can be an effective way to communicate with your prospects.

Save that it is not free. Even if you are not paying money, you are certainly spending time in preparing the content to send out to your list.

Better email marketing

So if we are going to enter into a little email marketing, how can we be sure that our emails are going to be in the 20% of those that are opened, and will also drive some sort of response from our readers?

If you look at any guide to generating business via digital means, you’ll get a response along the lines of:

  • identify your target audience
  • choose your channels
  • create  a sales funnel through a lead magnet
  • use email to build a relationship
  • leverage social media to connect and engage.

I am just going to look at 2 aspects in this post on email marketing, the lead magnet to invite the reader to give up their email address and of course the follow up to build the relationship

The lead magnet

How often have you been invited to download something that you think will be of use to you only to find out that having filled in your email address,  verified the address, then downloaded the content… that it’s completely useless?

Probably more times than you have downloaded something that is really useful.

By way of example, if you download something on marketing, there is a good chance that you will get something along the lines of “Marketing is like dating: you don’t propose on the first date.”

Sound advice, but everyone gives it. We now know that we are just going to get recycled content that we have read many times before.

And if the first point of contact is rubbish, what happens to the reader’s interest?

Poor quality lead magnets are immensely disappointing. All that time wasted, and now I have to spend more time trying to unsubscribe from that list.

Perhaps I don’t bother, but I also don’t bother opening the subsequent emails because I now have disappointment built into them.

As in all marketing metrics, we should be concerned with quality over quantity. Lots of likes doesn’t pay the bills. Would you prefer an email list of 10,000 people who don’t respond, or a list of 10 who actually buy?

The key to an effective lead magnet is to consider what would be of value, real value, to the reader? What do they need to read rather than what would you like to write?

Having considered what, then ask yourself why. Why does my reader want to consume this?

You’ve written your lead magnet, given some new, original stuff which the reader really wants to read. What’s next?

You could start your email sequence to your reader, but that is not something that requires any action on the part of your reader.

Why not test out their interest in what you have written by asking them to do something, perhaps read a connected blog post on your website or social media. And why more reading? Why not a video or photo montage?

Copywriting is the art of persuading someone to do something. So I always try to ask the reader to do something, even a small action, in my writing to get the reader accustomed to taking an action.

The email sequence

The purpose of an email sequence or campaign usually is to develop that business relationship and to move the reader along the customer journey until ultimately they buy from you.

But a relationship is a two-way thing. How do we develop a relationship when it is us doing all the talking, or in this case, the emailing?

There is no easy answer here. You have probably been to a networking event (another way of building relationships) where one person has talked incessantly about themselves.

How did you feel? Keen to get away, I expect.

You will not want the same reaction from your email subscribers. So how do we avoid this?

I believe that the starting point is to ensure that your emails meet 3 tests

Are they :

  • valuable to the reader?
  • relevant?
  • reader-friendly?

If they fail any one of those tests, stop and don’t send. There is no need to send an email every day. If you are, perhaps you have too much time on your hands. Consistency, yes, bombardment, no!

We can do a practical exercise here. Go to your email inbox and open up an unopened email.

Why did you not open it?

It may be that the headline is not appealing enough.  How to create an attractive headline is a vast topic, and I will cover it in another post.

The sender’s credibility may have been damaged in your eyes, and we have covered that earlier in the post.

Now let’s look at the content. Is the content useful to you, or has it been written simply for the sake of writing an email to you?

Is it relevant to your needs? Why? What is asking you to do, if anything?

Now follow the same exercise with an email that you have opened and have found useful. We perhaps learn more from the unsuccessful emails than we do from the successful emails.

You’ll have guessed that this post is heavily influenced by the things that irritate me as a reader of emails. Let your own experience as a reader influence how you write yours.

The final point, being reader-friendly, might sound obvious, but it is a trait not followed by many email marketers. It is not just about making sure that your email is optimised for mobile devices. It means keeping your reader interested, making your points quickly and clearly.

Keeping your reader interested can mean getting your reader to do something other than reading your email,  as in following a link to a video, perhaps a link to an interesting post on another website.

Just as in that networking meeting, if we drone on in the same tone of voice, we soon lose the interest of our readers.


If we want our emails to be valuable to us, the writer, we must make them valuable, relevant and interesting to our reader. As with all copywriting, the reader must come first.

Emails are an intrusion into the life of the reader. That reader is not speaking to us, so we must speak for them in preparing the content for our emails.

By anticipating what the reader is going to need from us, answering the sorts of questions that they are likely to have, we are creating a dialogue of sorts, and thus building our business relationship with them.

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