I’m going to let you in on a little secret about us copywriters:
Writing is only a small part of our job.
The world sees our quippy marketing copy and immediately thinks we’re geniuses with quick wits and clever imaginations. At least that’s what I like to think 😉
In reality, as an ecommerce email marketing copywriter, my process begins long before I can even start to think about copywriting.
Let me take you along for the ride as I craft a campaign for my new, hypothetical business. It’s a toothbrush brand called Smolars™ – that’s a portmanteau of “smile” and “molars.”
And, yes, that name is final.
Far before copywriting, it’s imperative to establish who the customer is, what the brand voice should sound like, and how to communicate strategically.
Meet the shopper
Since I’m selling toothbrushes, just about anyone might be in the market to buy my product. Unless they’re an infant who has yet to cut a tooth or an elderly person who ditched their dentures, they’re a potential customer.
However, a broad audience typically breeds bland branding. So, rather than try to appeal to people of all ages, identities, and backgrounds, I’m going to narrow my focus to a specific type of customer. That way, I can better understand them and, in turn, communicate with them more effectively.
To do this, it’s imperative to outline your target customer in a creative brief and invent a user persona.
Rather than saying Smolars™ customers are women ages 18-25 who live in urban areas, I could say my customer is Olivia.
Olivia is 23 years old, fresh out of college with a bachelor’s degree in business, and just snagged an entry-level position at a startup in NYC. In her spare time, she loves watching movies with her roommates and wandering around the city while listening to her custom curated playlists.
Olivia may be a fictional person, but she’s a very real representation of my audience.
Speak their language
Now that I know who I’m talking to, I can determine how to talk to them.
To do that, I need to get to know “Olivia.”
What keeps her engaged? What’s her sense of humor like? What makes her want to buy a product?
Younger customers are generally savvy to overt sales tactics and over commercialization. Therefore, it’s important to use an authentic voice and be as transparent as possible to build trust.
Olivia scrolls TikTok and Instagram for hours everyday, meaning she’s well aware of current internet trends. This offers a fun opportunity to connect with the customer, but can easily backfire if poorly executed.
For example, she cringes when she sees a brand use “yas queen” or “adulting” in 2023. 😬
Also, because she’s part of Generation Z, it’s key to make a good impression immediately with concise copy and clear language. After all, Gen Z has an attention span of just eight seconds.
Make a game plan
With those guidelines in place, the next step is strategy.
The old adage goes, “it’s not what you say, but how you say it.” I’ve covered the importance of the “how,” but the “what” shouldn’t be understated either.
In practice, discovering what matters to your customer requires studying their behavior, surveying their opinions, and good-old-fashioned trial and error.
But, for the sake of this article, I’m going to assume that Olivia finds the following value propositions most appealing:
- Affordability: She has a small income and lives in an expensive city, so a lower price point and free shipping go a long way.
- Philanthropy: She’s socially aware and more likely to shop with brands who actively contribute to causes she aligns with (think social justice and environmentalism).
- Storytelling: She won’t be sold on the product by itself. Sure, she likes how it looks, but knowing why it exists and how it’ll improve her life is more important.
Collecting all of this information about your customers may seem merely preliminary, but don’t minimize it for a moment. Knowing your customer is the key to creating a strong relationship with them.
Before I dive further into the granular aspects of copywriting, let’s take a big step back and conceptualize what to write. 💡
Set an objective
While creative writing can certainly inspire broader ideas, the process typically begins with the latter.
When dreaming up an email, be it an independent campaign or part of an automated email flow, it’s crucial to communicate what you want the recipient to do by giving them a call to action (or CTA).
Let’s say I decided to run a promotion for Smolars™: $5 off all orders. In a campaign promoting the sale, the CTA should direct the customer to the store so they can take advantage of this limited-time – and, may I say, generous – offer.
When there’s no discount on the table, the CTA of an email could prompt the user to engage in a myriad of ways. For example, encourage them to explore new arrivals, follow on social media, or learn more about the brand.
Klaviyo reports that the average ecommerce email click rate is 3.62% (or just 1.42% for campaigns). So, no matter the call to action, it must be clear and enticing to make an impact on that small percentage of readers.
But how do you do that?
Invent an angle
With some imagination (and sometimes a little bit of nerve), you can always find an excuse to pop into your customer’s inbox.
For instance, that $5 off? That’s not just a random offer. This promotion will run for one day only, on Tooth Fairy Day (a real holiday, apparently), which is on February 28.
Not only is this angle relevant to the brand, it’s on brand. Lighthearted, fun, and unexpected!
The ultimate objective of an email is most effective when it’s communicated in a way that connects with the customer.
However, doing so in a streamlined way can be tricky.
With a plan in mind for the Tooth Fairy Day promotion, there’s just one last step before arriving at the actual copywriting.
Select the exact elements that will supplement the call to action.
There are plenty of possibilities. A product feed featuring best-sellers, enticing lifestyle photography, a highlight of the brand’s values, and user-generated content—just to name a few.
One of the most impactful additions to any email is social proof in the form of product reviews. Five-star testimonials provide a personal account of a positive experience with the product, which is likely to persuade readers.
Just in case Olivia isn’t exactly sure if she’s ready to buy a Smolars™ toothbrush, including reviews along with a coupon code for $5 off might just give her the push she needs.
We’re finally here! 🎉
Now that I know who I’m talking to, how I’m going to talk to them, what I’m talking to them about, and why I’m talking to them, I can kick off a copywriting session.
And, remember, there are no bad ideas.
Sure, some ideas aren’t fully formed, on brand, or relevant for the task at hand, but they’re a start. I always give myself permission to get creative without worrying about quality—yet.
After all, according to University of Bristol professor John Kirwan, “we are not wasting our time in exploring ideas that turn out not to work—we are helping to generate good ideas.”
I run through plenty of questionable concepts before settling on something solid. Seriously, here’s a peek at my stream of consciousness as the wheels start to turn in my brain:
The Tooth Fairy leaves money, so maybe this email is a representation of that. Definitely want to mention “under pillow” in there to make that clear. So many tooth pun possibilities. Party enamel? Like “party animal”? No. That’s so bad. I have a filling you’ll like this? Possible. It would also be nice to sneak in a little snark in the form of, “yes, this is a real holiday.” Maybe I’ll question the existence of the Tooth Fairy? Or pretend the Tooth Fairy is real? Maybe make a joke about what the Tooth Fairy does with all those teeth she collects? Hmm…
And so on.
Rewrite until it’s right
Here’s what I landed on for my first draft of the hero.
This copy accomplishes several important things:
- Addresses the holiday in a humorous way
- Features the main discount details and coupon code
- Uses email marketing best practices, like a CTA above the fold
But there are a few pieces that are not as strong:
- The first line of copy is kind of long and more complex than it needs to be
- It’s missing an expiration date for the sale, which is a missed opportunity for urgency
- I like “I believe” for the CTA, but it may be too vague to convince recipients to click
I’ll spare you the many rounds of rewrites that follow these thoughts and skip to the good part.
Polish it up
After brainstorming further, tweaking word choice, and perfecting each detail, I’ve arrived at hero copy that I’m happy with:
Here’s what I changed and why:
- Shortened the silly copy just enough to still get the point across. I’m also going to ask the designer to use imagery that illustrates money under a pillow
- Punched up the discount details, coupon code, and missing expiration date. I’ll be sure to hit on the discount in the subject line and below the fold to be extra clear it’s $5 off
- Extended the CTA in an effort to remind the customer of this offer’s value in a funny way
After completing all of the copy for this email, I proofread for potential typos, create a wireframe, and pass this email off to the next stage of the process: graphic design.
If I’ve shattered the illusion that copywriters are word savants who effortlessly pour perfect prose onto the page, good.
While we can certainly deliver effective, engaging content, getting there requires much more than just writing.
No matter which process works before for you, I recommend every copywriter keep these tips in mind:
- Prioritize research: Having a strong understanding of your brand’s identity and core customer is key for creating content that translates to conversions.
- Know your purpose: Sticking to a singular objective keeps your copy focused, concise, and more likely to garner clicks.
- Don’t discount iffy ideas: Give yourself the freedom to try weird, unique, or flat-out bad concepts. With your writing chops, you can morph them into something good and finesse it into a fantastic final product.
Chat with me about our email copywriting services
Now that you know what email copywriters actually do, you can see there’s a lot of work that goes into even a single brand strategy.
Want to offload your email work? Our team has designed and written emails for BK Beauty, Natural Dog Company, American Tall, and more. You can learn more about our email services here.