How to write a really powerful email

What makes an email powerful?  Well firstly, it has to be opened.

Email marketing
Image courtesy of

A lot of people spend all their time and energy on the message itself and then slap a few words in the Subject box before hitting “send”.  They’ve got the horse before the cart.

If your subject isn’t enticing, your email won’t get opened and all your time and hard graft are wasted like perfume on the desert air.  Which is a shame.



Talk to direct marketing copyriters and they’ll tell you they spend about 40% of their time on the headline of a promotion.  40%.  Just on the headline – or, in this case, the email subject.  A waste of time?  Absolutely not.  How many emails do you delete every day without even opening them?


OK, that’s 40% of the writing time accounted for.  What about the other 60%?

The opening is the next most important thing.  Again, it has to snare the reader’s attention.  Depending who you listen to, you have somewhere between 3 and 7 seconds to persuade the reader you’re worth their energy.  So your first sentence has to grab them by the short and curlies.  Your next sentence has to make sure they stay grabbed. The best way to do that is to appeal to one of the basic emotions – doubt, fear, greed, sex – that, deep down, motivate practically all human transactions.  The WIIFM emotions: what’s in it for me?

Now I’m not saying that the nicer emotions, like compassion, won’t work.  They certainly do if you’re in the charity line.  But compassion still has a pay-back for the givers: it makes them feel good.

As I’ve said before, all spending decisions are based on our old friend the 80/20 rule: 80% emotion, 20% logic.  If you can’t stand the person doing the selling, you won’t buy.  If you don’t like the colour, you won’t buy.  If you do, you will.  Then you use the logical 20% to persuade yourself that, really, you had an absolutely rock-solid reason for spending that money.

Back to the email.  So, the opening provides the emotional reason to buy.  The rest of the text gives them the logical 20%.  It’s important, but it’s only worth about 5% of your time.

The final, vital piece of the puzzle is the call to action, or CTA.  So many people forget all about it – but without a good CTA how are your readers supposed to know what you want them to do  or, more importantly, how to do it?  “Order today”, “phone me now to arrange a meeting”, “email John before 5pm Friday”, “visit the shop today to get the best discount”: be clear, urgent and specific to get results.  And remember to provide the necessary contact details.

That’s it really: subject line 40% of your time/effort, opening (emotion) + CTA 55%, and 5% for the logic to make people feel better.  Can you do that?

As one of my copywriting mentors, Peter Thomson, would say: Go on then …

Or, if you’d rather hand the whole 100% to someone else, you know where to come!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *