Persuasive email campaigns are a long studied art and science, of particular interest to copywriters.
If you’ve ever watched HBO’s hit series, Game of Thrones, you’ve seen key political figures try to outflank one another in bloody campaigns to win the highest office of the land, the Iron Throne.
In the show, based on the bestselling fantasy novels by George R. R. Martin, ravens are used as messengers between heads of military camps who all live in a land sadly devoid of the Internet.
In real life, however, ravens have never been used as messengers because they lack a strong directional sense (they’re great at cleaning up road-kill though).
It was homing pigeons that were used in real military campaigns as far back as the 6th century BC, and even as recently as World War II, to carry important information back and forth over enemy lines.
What on earth do pigeons have to do with email marketing?
Believe it or not, they are strangely tied to campaigns of influence that have been waged for the hearts and minds of the public for ages. Check it out …
Campaign [kam-peyn] noun
A concerted effort to accomplish a goal.
One early definition of the word campaign — as used by military generals — was a simple command to “take the field.”
Only later did it take on the more familiar political meaning of a set of organizing efforts of swaying public opinion.
Is it a coincidence that marketers use the word campaign so often, as in “ad campaign” or “email campaign?”
Absolutely not, since what we do as writers of “campaigns” is use our concentrated powers of the English language to persuade with words.
Nations have been won and lost with words, and great writers throughout history have paid close attention to this indestructible truth.
Philosophers, kings, and copywriters all use these methods
As attention spans shrink, we — the writers, the makers of the Internet — constantly seek more effective ways of connecting with our respective audiences.
But we often overlook the simplest and most effective means of communication we possess as online publishers: a direct, personal and valuable message.
I’m not arguing for a shift to a pigeon-fueled marketing campaign (too messy), but I am lobbying for the simplicity and grace of email for communicating effectively and efficiently with your clients and customers.
Fact: Campaigns of influence have been waged since the beginning of the written word.
Aristotle (circa 300 B.C.) was a pretty influential guy who wrote a little treatise called Rhetoric that pretty much changed the world forever.
Loosely defined, rhetoric is the art of one person trying to persuade another
And Aristotle classified the three most important things that all effective persuasive arguments should possess:
Ethos, pathos, and logos make up the backbone of any persuasive argument, and turn the wheels of the human mind, the language of desire.
Esteemed ad-man Eugene Schwartz wrote:
Advertising is the literature of desire. It is society’s encyclopedia of dreams … advertising gives form and content to desire.
We are all so wrapped up in the inner workings of our minds, our desires and problems, that we often lose sight of the basic building blocks of our civilization.
On each of the many screens laid out before us — desktop, notebook, or smartphone — stories are told with every click of the mouse, the very language of online persuasion.
Alexander the Great was a student of persuasion
What would one of the greatest rulers of all time have taken on his campaigns to win the hearts and minds of his vast empire?
Rhetoric, as taught to him by his famed teacher Aristotle.
Not only would the armies of Alexander the Great use war pigeons to communicate, but Alexander learned the basic building blocks of persuasion taught to all great leaders in perpetuity.
Is it strange that he went on to become one of the most-studied conquerors in history with an empire that stretched from the Mediterranean to Tibet?
No, because Aristotle prepped him well for battle with three secret weapons that all influential email campaigns should be equipped with:
- Ethos — Selling yourself: This is the first step of establishing your credibility as an online publisher. Someone who is an expert in their field or simply exhibits a vast amount of knowledge on a subject is considered trustworthy (you have perceived intelligence, reliability and authority). As a content marketer, job one is becoming the likable expert in your field in order create valued content that people click and share. Killer content builds your credibility over time.
- Pathos — Swaying emotions: Often achieved with metaphors, storytelling, or evoking strong emotions from your audience. Seen as the earliest breakdown of human psychology. When your readers are swayed by your powers of storytelling they are more likely to opt-in to your email list to deepen the conversation. This gives content marketers permission to offer even more valuable content, make offers, tell more stories, and share products and services with them to improve their lives. Just beware — Pathos without its companions Ethos and Logos can quickly degenerate into cheap hype.
- Logos — Advancing your argument through solid reasoning: Includes use of statistics, logic or specificity. Examples are often drawn from history (sound familiar?), mythology or hypothetical situations to create conclusions. Also deductive reasoning lets the audience solve the puzzle themselves by simply providing all the pieces for them. Cookie content that establishes a relationship of trust with your audience is built on the value of your expertise. Often this is in the form of social proof, testimonials, and lots of good ol’ bullets that nail down the benefits of your offer.
Was Aristotle the father of modern marketing? Perhaps. But he was also the progenitor of the modern political argument that has shaped much of the world as we know it.
A modern student of rhetoric takes the stage
Fast forward to the present, where a controversial president — well-versed in the school of rhetoric — hires a well-regarded copywriter to help retain his throne.
Did Obama use war pigeons? In a sense, he did.
He built his re-election around one of the most technologically savvy email campaigns in history.
And he hired a kick-ass copywriter to help it all come together, Jim Messina.
Messina in turn found another trusted ad-man, Joe Rospars, to spearhead an email marketing and social media campaign that would go into the record books by raising almost $700 million.
The team heavily A/B tested everything from subject lines to content strategies to hone their results to perfection.
Test, analyze, change, resend.
That was their email strategy, in a nutshell.
Rigorous experimentation and analysis revealed some pretty surprising things:
- Their assumptions about what they thought would be successful was usually wrong.
- A casual tone always worked best.
- The simpler the emails were, the better the result.
The results were unprecedented. One email alone raised $3 million.
Here’s an example of one of the Obama campaign emails:
You’re in for 2012: Welcome, and thanks.
Now forget everything you know about politics.
Because I can tell you that the coming months will be like nothing you’ve seen from a campaign. If we’re going to win, we have to be tougher, smarter, and more innovative than ever before.
The President has a job to do, so he’s asking each of us to take the lead in shaping this effort.
That work begins now in your community.
Sign up to volunteer today.
Your leadership today will help build this campaign over the next few months and right up to November 6th.
You may be asked to recruit other volunteers, register voters, or talk to your friends and neighbors about what they hope to see from this campaign. You may sign up to volunteer today and end up leading a canvass this summer.
I got my start empowering residents in mobile home communities in Missoula, Montana — a long way from Washington, D.C. As an organizer, I know it all starts in our own backyards. Committing to a campaign is a huge first step, but it’s the decisions we make from that point on that determine success.
Whether you’re a first-time supporter or a veteran volunteer, this campaign belongs to you. You own it, and you power it.
This is an exciting time to get involved — sign up to be a volunteer today:
Obama for America
Can you see why this would work?
Granted, that email was written for a specific audience regarding a specific political campaign, and probably vastly different than what would work in the context of your audience and topic.
But, Lisa Nirell broke down very well — in an article for Fast Company — how Obama’s email marketing pushed all the right buttons.
- He speaks directly to his ideal reader: Keep in mind, that email wasn’t written for Copyblogger subscribers. It was written for their list, an audience that knows, likes and trusts the candidate. Simplistically copying an approach that’s been crafted for another list will never get you the results you want.
- He gets to the point quickly: A good email marketer knows how to grab attention fast in order to capitalize on the short attention span of a reader. Copywriting 101 is in full effect here, and it’s pretty easy to spot.
- He tells a story that his audience can relate to: If you are making yourself a valuable and relatable friend in the inbox that readers want to connect with, you’re conveying authority and friendliness that builds that trust so that you can make an offer they can’t refuse.
- His message is succinct and to the point: Easy reading is really hard writing (said every copywriter ever). This was probably vetted and edited at least a dozen times before it was sent. You must edit and re-edit so that your message is crystal clear.
Joe Rospars was called the “Karl Rove of the internet,” and he was surely inspired by that Republican consultant’s own successful direct mail campaigns for President George W. Bush.
Together, the Obama re-election team constructed some incredibly advanced methods of persuasion, all built on a rock-solid technological platform that will probably change how campaigns are run in the future.
Their workhorse was the simplicity and effectiveness of the persuasive email campaign.
The thread from Alexander the Great to President Obama to you …
They both had access to cost-effective means of communication with their constituencies, and they both employed the foundational tenets of rhetoric.
The backbone of any great email (or content marketing) campaign is built on the framework of persuasion, a la Aristotle, and developed over thousands of years.
Brian Clark expanded on the 10 Timeless Persuasive Writing Techniques that can absolutely be applied to persuasive email campaigns today …
- Repetition: Repeat but don’t be repetitive. Make your point in several ways (a well-known strategy of rhetoric).
- State reasons why: The psychology of because primes your audience for action.
- Consistency: Right in line with the ethos of establishing your integrity online. Show up and be useful!
- Social Proof: The driving nature of acceptance and belonging.
- Comparisons: Metaphors, similes, and analogies that relate to things generally accepted as true.
- Agitate and solve: Describe the problem, then offer a solution. Classic Marketing 101.
- Prognosticate: Give a glimpse of the future based on solid evidence.
- Go tribal: Seth Godin’s school of giving someone an exclusive opportunity to be a part of something great.
- Address objections: Rhetoric 101: Do your research so you know your audience’s objections before they do.
- Storytelling: Sound like a broken record yet?
In Sam Leith’s short piece for the NYTimes on rhetoric he outlines the classic art of persuasion.
The persuasive technique of rhetoric that stands out to me the most?
Sprezzatura: The naturalness of a well-crafted argument
In other words, the more sentences relate to one another as a whole, the less likely your reader will notice the writing and be absorbed by the story.
Leith expands on his study of rhetoric in his book Words Like Loaded Pistols (a must for all word-geeks), and reminds us:
We exchange information because it is either useful or delightful, because it does something for us … language happens because humans are desire machines, and what knots desire and language is rhetoric.
As copywriters we strive for a naturalness that doesn’t distract, writing that is a clear pane of glass containing no smudges.
Good emails need to be seamless to work well
At a time when email is as prevalent as ever, its power is hard to ignore. According to recent marketing surveys:
- 80% of us claim to receive marketing messages alongside our personal emails on a daily basis.
- 70% of us make use of a coupon or discount we learned about from email.
- 60% of us say that receiving special offers is the top reason for subscribing to an email list from a business.
Your influence is built on trust
At Copyblogger we harp on the first step in any effective email marketing campaign: establish your authority by becoming the likable expert for your audience.
With a commitment to building a relevant and targeted email list, you can deliver the authority and trust to your expectant fans, and develop a long-term conversation that eventually grows your business.
A new year always presents the opportunity to start fresh with more effective content marketing strategies.
With a solid platform to work on, and your own website that isn’t built on someone else’s soil, email is easily the most effective means by which to connect with your audience and grow your brand.
In my previous post for Email Marketing that Works I hit on just a few of the extremely successful email marketers who have sky-rocketed their businesses online.
In retrospect, the strategies for successful email marketing aren’t secrets at all, and the ROI is pretty irresistible.
Long story, quick takeaway …
- Build your audience with the proven methods of Content Marketing 101
- Capture your opt-ins with a prevalent and strategic email sign-up on your website
- Automate your email newsletters with a well-written autoresponder
- Write irresistible subject lines that can’t be ignored
- Use the language of persuasion, but keep it simple
- Be conversational and relatable (see: rhetoric)
- Tell a great story
- Track data and adapt to changes: Email Marketing 201
We have a wealth of resources here on the site to help whenever you need it, starting with Email Marketing 101.
Effective email marketing campaigns begin with a kick-ass strategy and one other very important thing … your first email.
And if you spotted some examples of rhetoric in my arguments above, drop them into the comments.
Cheers to 2013, a great year ahead for online writers!