GETTING CREATIVE

PART 3: YOUR EMAIL “IDEA FACTORY”

Now we have the structure for effective emails in place, it’s time to hang your ideas “over the framework” and craft your copy. Here’s how we do this…


^^ “Writers’ block is REAL. It’s the same for books as it is for emails. Having a plan and a replicable process means you don’t let it win.

OPENING UP YOUR “IDEA FACTORY”

Writers’ block is a real thing. It’s the same for “writing an email” as it is for “writing a book”. If you have no starting point, no central idea for what you’re going to put down on paper… things get messy.

Luckily, writers’ block is an avoidable affliction.

“Ever wonder how some authors can crank out 6 (or more) novels a year, while you're sat staring at the BCOD (Blinking Cursor of Death)? They have a plan, an outline, a structure, and a scene list. That's how.”

— Nick Stephenson (That's Me!)

It’s no kind of Voodoo or black magic.

It’s the same for writing effective emails. If you sit down with “no idea what to write”, you’re going to struggle. Luckily, “coming up with ideas” – for email content, books, whatever it might be – is something you can learn with the skills you already have.

Of course, we’re talking emails here. And the process of “coming up with ideas” is the same as for anything else.

“Where do I get my ideas from? I make them up. Out of my head... And when you've an idea - which is, after all, merely something to hold on to as you begin - what then? Well, then you write. You put one word after another until it's finished - whatever it is.”

— Neil Gaiman

So, how do you come up with an idea that *works* – and how do you “put one word after the other until it’s finished”?

Remember our heroes / heroines?

“Blast ’em Bobbie” sends out emails whenever there’s something to sell. The process is: “Talk about my book and how awesome it is, then tell people they should buy it”. Bobbie usually stares at a blank screen for 20 minutes, before rattling off some hyperbolic copy and stuffing in 17 “buy” links throughout. Bobbie feels like taking a shower afterwards.

“Strategic Sam” has a different approach. Instead of “sitting down and hoping for the best”, Sam spends five minutes plotting out the key details, actions, and responses required to meet the business objective. Then Sam spends 10 – 15 minutes writing the content and “filling in the gaps” with content designed to evoke an emotional response and provide value.

(You can probably guess which strategy works best. Both in terms of “how easy it is to do” and “getting the results you want”).

To move from a “Bobbie” to a “Sam” outcome, I want to share the second part of the “content puzzle” with you.

In the previous section, I introduced you to a structure – or “framework” – for writing an effective email. Namely:

  1. Define your objective (getting sales, reviews, blog comments, free book downloads, whatever)
  2. Define which stage(s) of AIDA you need to cover
  3. Set your “tone” (Education, Information, Inspiration, Entertainment)

With that all in place, it’s time to “slot in” you central idea. Around which all your copy will revolve.

We’ve hinted at “coming up with ideas” already – even if you’re a fiction author – and the actual idea itself, or “topic”, is something that gets easier to do the more you practice. Your idea could literally be anything. Something from your personal life. An event that’s happening in the news. Something from your books. What you’re working on. Something somebody said to you the other day… anything.

But, for starters, you idea needs to follow a few simple principles:

  1. Be relevant to your genre or niche
  2. Be relevant to the objective you’re trying to achieve (sales, reviews, comments, whatever)
  3. Be interesting

Here’s an example of one email I sent out leading up to this Email Marketing Unplugged (EMU) series.

  1. My objective: get people to opt in for the EMU email series
  2. AIDA: Attention, Interest, and Desire (some Action, but minimal required)
  3. Tone: Inspirational
  4. Topic: The World Cup and “Stepping Up”

A note on the topic – you can get ideas literally from anywhere. For me, England had just won a penalty shoot-out for the first time in World Cup history and the whole country was going crazy over it… That was an easy topic to run with, but I had to make it relevant. Come see what I did (NB – I’ll give more examples in different genres / niches afterwards):

Opening “Hook” – using real-life events to grab attention:

Remember what I said earlier about “inviting people into your world”? That’s what I’m doing here. A little dash of humour, a cute family pic, and some “interesting news”.

Which is fine – it gets people’s attention. Makes them feel “included” in what’s going on (which is the point). But it’s not relevant to a lot of people – yet. So we have to transition into something that is.

THE TRANSITION

Here, I’m taking a general topic – eg “a soccer match” – and making it relevant to my audience. In particular, how business owners need to “step up” under pressure, just like the players in the game.

Okay, check. We got people’s attention with the opening section, and we’ve transitioned into “Interest”. People are thinking… “Okay, that makes sense. How is this going to affect me?”

We’ve transitioned into Interest – but now we need a dash of “desire” and “action”.

THE OFFER

In this section, I’m taking what we’ve covered already – the need for business owners to “step up” and help more people – and I’m not segueing into “specifically what am I going to do about this and how will it help you”.

Notice I’m getting a little more specific here. I want my readers to feel that desire to get involved. Not with any fake scarcity play, or gimmicks, but with good old-fashioned “I’m going to put some work into helping you personally with your email marketing”.

Now it’s super-relevant to anyone who needs help with email marketing. We’ve gone from the general “idea” (soccer) to a general business principle (stepping up and helping) to a super specific OFFER (I’ll help you with email marketing in these specific ways).

At this point, anyone who’s interested in learning about email marketing is going to have boat-loads of Desire.

I’ve also added a dash of “proof” too – specifically “We send 500,000 emails a month, so we know what works”. You can’t create desire for something if people don’t believe you can deliver (more on that later, too).

(NB: notice this email is quite long. I like long emails. So many “experts” will tell you to “keep it short”, but longer emails automatically filter out the “not that interested” people by putting your links at the end of 1,000 words. But the other side of the coin is you have to work harder to get through AIDA every time to get the right people to read that far – otherwise people skim or give up)

We’ve earned attention. We’ve developed interest and desire (from the *right* people – more on that later) so now it’s time to move to the call to action:

CALL TO ACTION

This is the easy part. Where before I was focusing on “Inspiration” as my tone, now I’ve shifted into “Information”. In other words, I’m getting super-specific about “what to do next”.

In this case, I want “people who are interested in learning about email marketing” to opt in to receive my EMU email series (which, of course, leads to this series of articles you’re reading now – meta, right?).

When readers click the link, my email system (Infusionsoft) tags them and automatically segments them into an “EMU sequence”. They then automatically get a welcome email with a few more details and will receive broadcasts about this EMU article series you’re reading now.

They are also invited to fill out a short survey to let me know more about their issues – so I can tailor the material to them (which is exactly what I’ve done – meta-tastic).

RESULTS – WHAT ABOUT OPEN RATES AND CLICK RATES?

I’m sharing this particular email with you (and I’ll show you some other fiction and non-fiction examples in a minute) because it’s not the most amazing email ever.

In other words, in my own perfectionist opinion, it’s not the greatest thing I’ve ever written.

Which is an important point. 

Your emails don’t have to be Pulitzer Prize winners every time. They just need to get results. And this one delivered in spades.

Between this email and the one I sent a couple of days before, we had 1,500 people opt in for our EMU series and received around 900 survey responses. By the end of the campaign we had 2,300 opted in and 1,300 responses – a 56% response rate.

(Those results might not mean anything to you in isolation, but they’re very good). 

And this is a key reason why “open rates” and “click rates” aren’t as important – in isolation – as you think they are. At least, they’re not the key metric you should be worrying about – most of the time.

Case in point – the emails we sent out inviting people to EMU might have only had an unexciting click rate, but they drove 1,300 extremely valuable actions. That’s the key driver for success, and that’s what we look at the define whether it “worked” or not.

(You can then look at what you might be able to do to improve the number of responses by increasing open and click rates in the future, but the numbers themselves don’t mean anything without an action attached to them).

Instead of fixating on open rates, worry instead about “how many people are performing the action I need to meet my objective”. And in our case, that was = lots.

So, even a relatively hum-drum email (in my opinion anyway) can get you great results. Which is entirely the point of my showing you this.

Once you’ve got your objective, AIDA, tone, and idea – you’re ready to get going with your structure.

The structure we use is:
  1. Hook (get Attention)
  2. Transition (make it relevant and generate Interest)
  3. Offer (a segue from the transition, and evokes desire)
  4. Call to Action (get people to “do” something)

With your framework, your idea, and your structure – you’re ready to rock.

Now, I’ve shown you an example from my business – but what about fiction?

HOW THIS WORKS FOR FICTION

Like any other effective email, you’ll follow that process:

  1. Define your objective (more sales, reviews, comments, whatever)
  2. Which stage(s) of AIDA need to be included?
  3. What’s your “tone” (education, inspiration, information, entertainment)
  4. What’s your “central idea” (remember, I used something from real life – a World Cup match)
  5. Map out your “idea” and expand it to cover the HTOC structure (Hook, Transition, Offer, Call to Action)

Let’s take a fiction example.

Bob writes thrillers, with a forensic science twist. He’s got a book coming out soon and wants to get some great ARC readers to read his book and give him a review on launch day. Here’s how Bob would approach that process:

Objective

Two objectives here – (1) get the “best” people to download an ARC copy of his book, and (2) ensure they’re primed to leave a review on launch day.

AIDA

Bob has a few options. He could send out a few emails and cover different elements of AIDA in each one. Or, he can write one or two emails and cover all the elements. For the sake of brevity, let’s say he decides to write an email covering all of them.

TONE

Bob writes fiction, with a forensic twist. That means his readers are interested in thrillers and forensic science (duh). Bob decides to use a mix of entertainment and education – a little science behind the story.

CENTRAL IDEA

Bob read in the newspaper that scientists have been studying one of the oldest complete human skeletons ever found – dubbed “Cheddar Man”. He learns that, using modern techniques, they’ve been able to identify that his skin was black and his eyes were blue.

Bob knows for anyone interested in forensic science, this is an interesting topic. And it’s something he can relate back to his books quite easily.

STRUCTURE
  • Hook – the “Cheddar Man” story (Interest)
  • Transition – the process of including “correct” science in Bob’s books, the research he does, the work he puts in. Letting his readers into his world (Attention).
  • Offer – Bob wants to offer a limited number of ARC copies of his latest forensic thriller, which contains elements explored in the “Cheddar Man” story (Desire).
  • Call to Action – Bob asks those who are interested to complete a short questionnaire. Bob will choose the best 10 responses and invite those people onto his “Launch Team” (Action).

The process is the same, whatever genre you write.

IT’s The same for non-fiction…

Jane runs a Facebook consulting service and has written several books on paid advertising on that platform. She is launching a new book all about “Facebook Advertising for Etsy Shop Owners” and wants to get as many sales as possible on launch day.

OBJECTIVE

Sell as many copies as possible in the first three days.

AIDA

Again, Jane can separate this out or write one email covering all the elements. I always recommend the former option (and I’ll lay that process out for you on a later page) but for the sake of the demonstration, let’s say Jane doesn’t listen to me and only sends out one email covering all the elements…

TONE

Jane wants to sell a book about Facebook advertising, so she’ll use a mix of Education (showing off her expertise) and Inspiration (showing what results people might get and how it will improve their businesses).

IDEA

Jane read that Facebook recently updated their algorithms and knows a lot of people are concerned about it. So Jane wants to dispel some myths and show how she can help.

STRUCTURE
  • Hook – Facebook’s changing algorithm and how it will affect your Etsy shop (Attention)
  • Transition – Jane “busts some myths” about the new algorithm and tells her readers what they really need to focus on (Interest)
  • Offer – Jane wants to take all the stress away from “guessing” how Facebook ads work, and has a book that covers everything readers need to know, with a link to a free consultation as a special launch bonus, where Jane might also sell coaching packages down the line (Desire).
  • Action – Jane tells her readers to buy the book within 72 hours to qualify for the free consultation. She includes links to everywhere the book is sold (Action).

See how this works? There’s a defined process for coming up with ideas, expanding those ideas, and crafting emails that take readers “on a journey” towards the action you want them to perform.

For more examples, check out this video – where I go through several authors’ emails and revise them to meet this process:

Update: Simone got in touch with a revised structure for her latest email – which is much tighter. Check out the difference here.

Whatever genre you write, whatever niche you serve, using this process takes all the “guesswork” out of writing effective emails.

To the point where ideas will come to you in droves – and you’ll never be stuck wondering “what to write”.

In fact, you can write an effective email in just 10 – 15 minutes if you spend 5 minutes working through this structure. Here’s an example (taken from one of the emails I sent to you):

^^ Note: having started writing out the email I planned in the above video, I actually ended up changing the “tone” and transition slightly, which will happen from time to time and is 100% fine. Shoot me an email if you can tell me what I changed…

We’ve covered the first “pillar” of the strategy – write great content. Now we need to look at the other two – how to drive the RIGHT action from your readers, and then how to automate and scale.

Let’s take a look next at “driving the right actions”. Or, more specifically:

How do we use this process to run a launch or promotion?

There are three specific stages you need to take your readers through – using this process to guide them down the path towards the sale. I’ll show you how to do that on the next page.

CLICK THE BUTTON BELOW TO CONTINUE.

 

SUMMARY:
  • Your “ideas” can literally come from anywhere. News events, personal experiences, something “funny” that happened, something “someone said”, something interesting you learned during book research, “behind the scenes” of your books, elements from your own stories… anything.
  • The goal is to take your idea and make it relevant to your audience, and to your offer. In my example, I took a relatively mundane idea (a sports game) and related it back to business principles. Then segued into a relevant offer that linked back to the topic of the idea (“stepping up”).
  • We’ll use the objective – AIDA – tone process from lesson 2 to help shape the “idea” and then use the HTOC structure to actually write the email. Hook, Transition (make the hook relevant and interesting), then the Offer (desire) and finally the Call to action (action).
  • With this process you can take a seemingly mundane idea (eg “What my kids said to me yesterday”) and turn it into something compelling, that drives the right action for your business
  • Open rates and click rates aren’t “good” or “bad” in isolation. The important metric is how many actions did you drive that will help your business? Once you know that, you can see if you can improve open rates and click rates in the future, and measure whether that improves the number or value of actions.
  • As we’ll see from upcoming EMU lessons you can then take these emails and automate them, meaning you don’t need to write “new stuff” for new subscribers.

 

Further Learning:
GOT QUESTIONS?

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Or, leave a comment below and tell me – have you ever run an email campaign only to see it fall flat? Let me know, I’ll reply personally.

 

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