Field Notes from My $6 Million Year

Email Marketing Field Notes

Over the past 12 months, I’ve written copy that’s generated over $6 million in sales (that I know of) for my clients. The weapon of choice has been email marketing.

That number is not meant to impress you, but to reassure you that what I’m about to share with you has been proven to work in the real world

I’m not sharing what I’ve heard about, but what I’ve experienced firsthand.

This could probably be a book, but I’ll keep it brief for now and we can dive into some details in the Email Copywriting Corner Facebook group if you’re interested. (You’ll have to request access if you’re not already a member.)

Here are a few of the most important lessons I learned, relearned or doubled down on this year:

1) Don’t assume you know your audience

Ask questions, do surveys, but most importantly, pay attention to the actions they take when interacting with your content.

  • What kind of subject lines do they open?
  • Where do they click?
  • What length seems to work best?
  • What kind of offers do they respond to?
  • What totally bombs?

2) Test a lot of (wildly different) things

This ties to the previous idea. You can’t measure the relative effectiveness of one proposition against another unless they’re different enough to be unmistakable from each other. That’s especially true when you don’t have tens of thousands of people seeing and reacting to the message.

The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas. You can still test a red button vs. a blue one, but that’s not where breakthroughs are going to happen.

One example from early this year was a ~300 word email pointing to a long sales page vs. a 1500 word email going to an order form. In this particular instance, the long email outperformed the short one by 5X. This one baffled the heck out of me!

On the other hand, some of the highest converting landing pages I’ve seen only have one sentence on them. Different ideas work on different offerings, even with the same audience. That’s why you have to keep testing!

Customers vote with their money - Richard Armstrong
Customers tell you the truth by what they BUY. I stole this slide from Richard Armstrong’s AWAI keynote

3) Quality is better than quantity

Not every company agrees. Even some of the clients I’ve worked with don’t agree. You can treat list building as a pure “numbers game” and bring in the maximum number of people with vague or misleading squeeze pages and hope some of them will eventually become good customers or clients. I believe and have generally found that being “for” a specific audience, with specific promises and a distinct voice will bring in far smaller numbers of far superior readers/prospects.

4) The most important thing is the offer, or more specifically, your Audience-Offer Alignment

Strong copy can only do so much for you. Selling something people want is much more important — and easier than convince them to buy something that doesn’t obviously fit into their plans/priorities.

5) Your reader responds how you train him to respond — starting with how you acquired him

If you bring in subscribers with a fear-based offer or lead magnet, that sets the stage for what they’ll expect in the future. It may be difficult to pivot later. If you offer discounts at the end of every month, they won’t respond to offers early in the month. If you always extend your deadline, they won’t take them (or you) seriously.

Brian Kurtz wrote a great article exploring this point, with a Gary Bencivenga/Boardroom case study.

Clarity and consistency are necessary for building trust and setting appropriate expectations. Variety is critical for maintaining interest and curiosity.

6) People are getting smarter, so response is harder than ever to get

Many marketers are resorting to gimmicks to overcome our instant delete reflexes: bait and switch subject lines and body copy. Using “re:” and one-word subject lines to catch you off guard and get the click.

Those tactics do work — but they’re getting less effective every day because you can only fool someone so many times. Use such techniques sparingly. Rather, strive to be truly valuable, interesting and trustworthy to your readers.

In other words, don’t try to be slick. It’s a bad long-term plan — and it’s not great in the near-term, either.

 7) Stories sell

You’ve heard it a thousand times, and it’s no less true now than it was the first time. Personal stories, historical anecdotes, even fun little facts get people reading, keep them interested and neutralize their resistance, at least temporarily.

I’ve seen the addition of a narrative element double clickthrough rates and triple conversion rates vs. straight product description or marketing talk.

8) Sequences, not single shots

Give yourself more shots by communicating in sequences rather than single blasts. And if you connect one email to the next, you can increase readership and compound the persuasive power of the campaign as a whole.

Just remember to test this. One of the most recent tests I did pitted a single email vs. two email, one-day offer — and the single email outpeformed by about 20%.

9) Urgency works like nothing else

Most people procrastinate as if their sanity depends on it. Deadlines move people to action. Open invitations are often ignored.

10) Customer Lifetime Value is the ultimate metric — not open rates or CTR

As Clayton Makepeace told me, if you’re making money on the front end, you’re doing it wrong!

David Deutsch Parris Lampropoulos Clayton Makepeace copywriting
Sitting on stage with direct response titans Clayton Makepeace, David Deutsch and Parris Lampropoulos at an AWAI event

This isn’t necessarily a set-in-cement rule. The point is to abstain from worrying so much about what it costs to acquire customers. Focus on getting as many of the right people on your files as possible. With the right back end, the cost per acquisition is a relatively small matter.

Many entrepreneurs and marketers are too focused on the front end costs. Clayton’s advice is an attempt to rearrange that thinking.

As I mentioned near the beginning, there’s a conversation about these ideas in the Email Copywriting Corner group. If you’re interested in digging in a little more or sharing your experiences, you can do that in the Facebook group or here in the comments.

You can also get exclusive email training at Emails That Make Sales.


Business Growth Lessons from the Delivery Room

I honestly hope my wife doesn’t read this article. She will not be happy. Let me explain…

My 4th child was born yesterday afternoon. He’s as handsome as can be, by the way.

I’m just getting home from a hospital stay that lasted nearly 30 hours. It’s a long story; I’ll spare you the details. Everything worked out well. Mama and baby boy are both in fantastic condition

Here’s the problem. If my wife finds out I spent even one second thinking about work rather than being focused on what was going on in that hospital room, I’ll probably be needing a doctor myself.

After I got home (because I seriously was not thinking about marketing until after I left the hospital), I thought about 6 dynamics that had big impacts on me throughout the experience. If you apply them to your business, I promise you’ll be impacted, too.

Let’s get into it:

1) Use of technical language/jargon

Have you ever been to visit the doctor, and experienced the confusion that comes from trying to understand what in the world they are talking about? If they aren’t careful, they start using acronyms you can’t decipher and terminology you’ve never heard of? This is especially bad when they answer questions in that manner. Unless the patient is also in the medical profession, he or she is probably going to get lost in all those big words.

This occurs in just about every field. Professionals can often use technical terms and industry-specific language that is completely unintelligible to regular folks. Confused people do not make the best customers. Communicate in ways that the people who want to hand you their money can understand. It takes conscious effort to form the habit, but you will not regret it. And your clients/customers/patients will thank you.

2) One overriding purpose

At least in the case of my son’s delivery, we were at the hospital for only one reason: to bring him safely into the outside world. Everything that the doctors and nurses did worked toward achieving this goal. Nothing else mattered.

In business, the same principle is true. You have to determine what your purpose is. What is it that you have to offer? Get that one thing right and focus your energy on killing it in that area, and you will be surprised at the results.

P.T. Barnum said, “A constant hammering on one nail will generally drive it home at last, so that it can be clinched. When a man’s undivided attention is centered on one object, his mind will constantly be suggesting improvements of value, which would escape him if his brain was occupied by a dozen different subjects at once.”

Let me clear one thing up: this doesn’t mean only offer one product or service. It means get down to the singular purpose of your business’ existence, and build your efforts on that foundation.You should probably be able to find your business’ purpose in your business plan, if you have one.

3) Exclusivity

This is an extension of the 2nd point. It’s pretty simple. Once you determine exactly what your business’ purpose is, you will have to begin cutting things off. Exclude anything that takes away from your strides to reach your specific, clearly-defined goals.

4) Doing great work really matters

This can’t be overstated. I’ll just make the point about my hospital visit. All 4 of my children have been born at this particular medical facility( sure, I’ll name names: I’m talking about the University of Chicago Hospital). As a matter of fact, my wife and all of her siblings were born there, too. My wife would never dream of giving birth anywhere else.

That’s what happens when a business exceeds expectations. Fierce loyalty, even across generations, and enthusiastic referrals.

5) Specialized knowledge makes a HUGE difference

How many kinds of doctors are there? More than I can count. And every one of the people who came to check my wife and baby had a specialty in some area.I take that to mean that each of these individuals is an expert in his or her field. Obstetricians, anesthesiologists, you name it. Their knowledge in their realms gives them credibility, which gives me confidence. I will listen to them, trust them, and do what they advise me to do.Specialized knowledge and expertise make a major difference in how you deal with your customers/patients. It also impacts the way you bill for your services. Never forget that.

6) Test/measure everything

Heart rates, blood pressure, ad nauseum. Hospitals go to great lengths to measure every possible metric. They also know what every measurement means.

For your business, think about it this way: find out what is working and what’s not working. In the same way you pay attention to the performance of your employees, make sure that your business practices are producing the results you desire. Constantly measure and test to ensure you’re getting the best of the best in every endeavor.

Putting these concepts to into action will bring new life to your business. No one will argue that the medical industry is good at extracting money from American citizens. If you’re interested in exchanging a valuable product or service to people, you would do well by applying the lessons hospitals teach.