Email Marketing: Does your copywriting accomplish these 6 key objectives?


When writing an email message, it’s easy to break the goal down to one thing – just trying to write compelling enough copy to get a click.

But how do you actually earn that click?

If you really want to optimize your email marketing, you have to think like the customer and walk through the cognitive process that potential customers subconsciously go through when interacting with your email.

To achieve that click, your email copy must accomplish these six key objectives.



Objective #1. Arrest attention

Once you’ve captured an email subscriber, and gotten them to open the email, the next thing you have to do is stop them.

Basically, you need to stop them from quickly deleting. Stop them in their tracks to an extent.

By stopping them and grabbing their attention, you’re buying a few moments of their time to make a case for your conversion goal.

You can arrest their attention with a striking visual (although, with image blocking technology in many email readers, this can be reduced to a big blank space with a little red X) or a compelling headline.

Our testing suggests two effective strategies for writing a compelling headline.


The first is making a promise. For example, this headline was one element of an email that increased conversion 181% (the headline has been anonymized). 


The second is identifying a problem. For example, this headline was one of the elements that generated a 75% higher clickthrough rate.



Objective #2. Build a connection

At this point, you’ve basically shouted, “Hey!” and stopped the prospect in their tracks.

Now you must build a connection with that prospect. You can start by bridging the gap between the headline or visual that caught their attention, and something that is meaningful to their lives.

This is why it is so important not to overpromise or mislead with a headline. If you’ve caught their attention but failed to connect with the prospect, you have only alienated him.


Objective #3. Build the problem

The hero of the movie does not embark on the journey to battle the bad guys because he wants to. There is the Call to Adventure – his family gets kidnapped, droids let him know that the princess needs saving, two dudes can’t find their car. (If you’re really interested in storytelling, see Joseph Campbell’s monomyth.)

The analog for email copywriting is building the problem. What pain points does the customer have? What is that situation of the world before your product, service or nonprofit comes into their lives?

Their interaction with your service or product will ultimately solve this problem – the “resolution” and “denouement” of the narrative arc, to use another storytelling analogy – but first, you must tell them why they should care.

It is not always an obvious pain point in their lives. Like a good story writer, you must help your ideal customer feel this pain viscerally. This is what Flint McGlaughlin, Managing Director, MECLABS (parent company of MarketingExperiments), refers to as “raising the stakes.”

“In certain situations, where the perceived problem is not painful enough, we must intensify that factor. We do this by raising the stakes. It is a matter of showing the broader or deeper ramifications of the problem,” Flint said.


Objective #4. Build interest

Much like in storytelling there can be a Refusal of that Call by our hero (the hero doesn’t want to be bothered or doesn’t think he’s up to the task). Just because you build a problem doesn’t mean your hero wants to solve it, or even thinks he can.

You must build interest in solving that problem, and show how it can be solved by your company.

For example, you may build a problem that customers should install antivirus software on their computers so their bank account information does not get stolen.

However, you must then build the interest in actually solving that problem – mentioning how easy it is to install your product or how effective your product is at keeping important information safe.


Objective #5. Build suspense

The hero never moves through a story or movie flawlessly, or you wouldn’t wonder what comes next and have no incentive to stick around and keep watching. “The Empire Strikes Back” even ends with the bad guys winning.

Now, of course, the good guys (your customers) will win in the end – but you need to keep them on the hook to get them to the landing page since, after all, the conversion is not going to happen in the email. You just need to get the click to ultimately convert them on the landing page. That’s where the actual sale should happen.

So on the landing page, they will “run a quick, free check of your computer’s hard drive to see if you have any viruses” or in some other way help get the information and meet the conversion goal that helps them ultimately resolve the conflict that was created by building the problem.


Objective #6. Transfer momentum

Make sure wherever you send them to resolve the conflict created in your email copy – likely a landing page – continues the dialogue initiated by your email. You want a natural flow from one channel to the next, not a disjunctive change in the conversation.

So if the suspense you built was to run that quick check of a computer’s hard drive, the headline of the landing page should be “3 steps to scan your computer” or something similar, and not “Buy our antivirus software for only $49.99.”


You might also like

MECLABS Email Messaging Online Course

MarketingSherpa Email Summit 2015

Email Copywriting: How one company generated a 400% increase in CTR [From the MarketingSherpa Video Archive]

Email Marketing: Copy test increases clickthrough 37% [More from the blogs]

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  1. Krisztina Heréb says

    This was a cool and thorough article, thanks for sharing!!

  2. Viktor Nagornyy says

    Hey Daniel, am I right to assume that this approach is based on AIDA which is used a lot in copywriting?

    Also, one thing I didn’t see you talk about that’s important in this process is value proposition of your email. Just like with PPC and landing pages, you must maintain it throughout the journey to prevent them from dropping out of your conversion path… I like to think of it as taking a lead on a bridge with VP being the supporting columns and when you fail to communicate your VP along the path the bridge is broken and the lead falls off.

    Thanks for sharing this

    1. Daniel Burstein says

      Thanks for your comment. This methodology isn’t based on AIDA (attention, interest, desire, action) per se, it is based on our behavioral research. However, when there is one truth, many people searching for that truth will find similar answers. And to your point, there are overlaps with AIDA, however there is more granularity.

      For example, while AIDA informs marketers to speak to the advantages and benefits after attracting attention, our methodology adds in the necessity of building the problem first. After all, connecting with the problem that needs to be solved for the customer, and advantages and benefits have less weight.

      Also, excellent point about the value proposition of your email. The challenge I always face in writing a blog post is how much to include versus how focused they make them, or the blog post becomes more of a white paper or book than a simple blog post.

      The email itself should have its own value proposition (process-level value proposition) for taking action, while many of the elements discussed in the methodology (building interest, for example) will come from the product-level value proposition. For more on the levels of value proposition, you can read Customer Value: The 4 essential levels of value propositions.

  3. Amara Cyrus says

    Great article!!
    I will remember these points you mentioned in my next emails.
    Your post will be helpful for me.
    Thanks for sharing .

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