The Secret to Writing Emails People
Will Open and Read

My mailbox is at the curb, and it takes me about 15 seconds or so to walk from the mailbox to the house with the day’s mail. During that 15-second walk, I sort through the mail and drop most of the promotional pieces into the recycling bin on my way in.

That’s right … most of the promotional mail doesn’t even make it into my house.

But some does.

Some — from Levenger, Jackson & Perkins, or Gardeners Supply, for example — I’m even eager to open and read.

The same is true for email.

Most promotional email doesn’t even get opened. In fact, according to Hubspot, the overall average email open rate across all industries is just 32%.

That means 68% doesn’t get opened.

And, if it doesn’t get opened, it doesn’t get read.

So, what is it about the 32% that get opened? What makes them different? Why do people open them?

Simply, this:

People will open an email when they believe there’s something they want inside.

It’s a simple answer. But, it’s not so easy to write these emails that deliver what people want. If it were, the average open rate would be much higher than 32%.

People generally want one — or more — of four things from an email:

  • They want to be entertained.
  • They want to learn something.
  • They want to be inspired.
  • They want what’s being offered.

Above all else, they want to feel important. They want to feel like the sender knows them and respects their time and attention.

So, the secret to writing emails that people will open and read is to give them what they want. Doing that requires three things …

1. Know Your Audience

As copywriters, we have to get as much information about our client’s audience as possible. This goes beyond the standard demographics of age, marital status, and income. We need to know what they care about.

For example, I write emails for an independent insurance agency. They sell auto insurance, homeowners insurance, renters insurance, and life insurance … to name a few of their products. They came to me once for an email campaign to promote life insurance to “all the clients who didn’t yet have it.”

They wanted the hook to be that people need enough life insurance to pay off a home mortgage, so the surviving spouse could remain in the home after the death of their spouse.

Sounds like a valid reason to get life insurance, right?

Except, what if there was no home mortgage that needed to be paid off? Like in the case of a client with renters insurance. A renter doesn’t have much reason to open an email about paying off a mortgage.

Or, what if there was no spouse to be taken care of? A single person probably won’t open an email about taking care of a spouse after your death.

Once I explained this, instead of a single email campaign for all their clients who didn’t have life insurance, I wrote four. One was for married couples who had homeowners insurance. One was for the single homeowners. One went to the clients who had renters insurance. Another was for clients who only had an auto insurance policy with the agency.

By segmenting the agency’s client list, I was able to write specifically about how these different types of clients would benefit from having life insurance.

The goal was to make each client feel like the email was written specifically for them, not a generic email blasted out to the agency’s entire client list.

2. Make It Personal

Think about the last time you pulled an envelope out of the mailbox that was addressed to you in familiar handwriting. For me, those envelopes go to the top of the stack, and I open them first.

Emails that feel that personal also get opened and read.

So, how do you write an email that feels like a handwritten card or letter?

Use the recipient’s name and make the subject line conversational … like a greeting between friends. (There’s an example of this coming up. Keep reading.)

Drop “Dear clients” or “Hello friends” as your greeting. You’re writing to the ONE person reading the email at any given time.

Change the frame of reference from “I” to “you.” Instead of “I want to tell you xyz,” write … “knowing xyz will affect your life by ___.”

3. Give Them What They Want

The trick here is in turning what your client wants to give the reader into something the reader wants to receive.

Going back to my insurance agent client … they wanted to give the reader information that would create a sense of urgency to buy a life insurance policy.

The reader, in the midst of living their life, isn’t thinking about life insurance. They don’t want to think about dying.

They DO want to protect their loved ones and provide a good life for them.

They DO want to feel smart and in control.

They DO want to leave a legacy and make a difference.

So, I wrote the emails about life insurance in those terms.

One of the more successful subject lines was this:

Hey [first name], you’re smart, so you’re gonna want to see this …

It worked, because it’s conversational. It sounds like a greeting from a friend. It affirmed the reader as being smart and offered an opportunity to learn something smart people would want to know.

The Special Sauce …

The truth is there’s no magic formula for writing emails people will open and read. There’s no blueprint to follow. There’s no “guaranteed-to-work” subject line.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t study best practices and learn about the craft from experts. I did. And you should, too. It will shorten your learning curve and build your own expertise faster.

The special sauce, however … the secret … simply lies in giving the reader what they want. That’s it.

Simple, but not always easy.

When your email writing bridges the gap between what your client wants to tell the reader and what the reader wants to hear or see … that’s when you’ve done your job and done it well.

That’s when people will open your emails. And read them.

That’s when you’ll have a happy client who’ll continue to hire you to write even more emails for them.

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

At last, a professional organization that caters to the needs of direct-response industry writers. Find out how membership can change the course of your career. Learn More »

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Published: May 27, 2020

2 Responses to “The Secret to Writing Emails People Will Open and Read”

  1. Well, Michele, you've certainly demonstrated how to "bridge the gap" in this article

    Thank you for your invaluable insight

    Scotty W

  2. Related to your story of your trip between the mailbox and your front door, dumping junk mail unopened.
    Me too (though I use the post office) -- especially enjoy tossing the ones loaded with hype enticing me to take a peek. Sometimes people hear me exclaim, "Nope!" I'll try to write emails that make them exclaim, "Yep!"

    Richard Lacey

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