In Favor of Long, Image-light Ecommerce Emails

We’ve written about email on Copyhackers… a lot.

And for good reason.

In 2019, email still has the highest ROI of any marketing channel ($42 return on every $1 spent, according to Litmus). And McKinsey found that email is 40x more effective at acquiring customers than Facebook and Twitter – combined.

Email just plain works.

And here at Copyhackers, we take optimizing email… seriously. Very seriously.

In Favor of Long, Image-light Ecommerce Emails 1

We wrote about optimizing SaaS free trial emails, upgrading launch emails and sending B2B cold emails that actually work.

Yet… we’ve never tackled this beast: ecommerce emails.

But we’re not going to stay silent any longer.

There’s too much at stake…

In ecommerce, the average order value from email is 20% higher with 3x the conversion rate compared to other channels. Email is your best fuel for customer retention, and Harvard Business School found that just a 5% increase in retention can increase profits by 95%.

Ecommerce emails done right can be the lifeblood of an ecommerce business.

Yet, many ecommerce stores are deeply underinvested in email.

Even though 59% of marketers say email gives the greatest ROI of any marketing channel… 64% of ecommerce marketers expected their company’s email marketing budget to increase or significantly increase in the following year.

They’re realizing they need to be spending more on email marketing.

Not surprising, given that Pure360 found in a survey of 205 marketers that 9 out of 10 brands are behind the email marketing maturity standards they expected.

Beyond the numbers, it’s something that email consultants like myself see every day.

Austin Brawner, my friend and the CEO of Brand Growth Experts, has had a similar experience to mine.

I once heard him say, “I’ve been in hundreds of email marketing accounts and I have yet to see someone who’s sending too many emails.”

He’s right. Though many of us are worried about over-emailing, that’s rarely the problem. And big wins can come from small, strategic optimizations.

That’s why I almost always encourage clients to invest more in their email marketing. I know the impact it can have.

Like when I optimized the welcome sequence and abandoned cart sequence for my client, EcoVibe Style, I was able to increase their revenue from email to 38%… from a mere 8.7%.

That’s a 236% increase in revenue from email… from just two sequences.

But the difficulty isn’t in convincing store owners to care about email marketing. They know they should optimize their email marketing.

The struggle store owners are having… is in knowing how to go about optimizing their email marketing.

The (email marketing) struggle is real

The DMA’s email marketing survey asked marketers about their most significant challenges to investing more in their email marketing.

Their top answers were: “limited internal resources,” “lack of strategy” and “lack of content.”

So they want to send more emails… but they struggle to get the strategy and content expertise they need to do so.

Bottom line…

Ecommerce email marketing requires a great deal of expertise.

There’s a lot of know-how that goes into emails that convert.

There are sequences and newsletters, send times and from names, dozens of ESPs and email clients, subject lines and calls to action, exit intent pop-ups and floating bars…

When I started out as an email marketer, I was overwhelmed, too.

And when you finally decide on your strategy and get your technical pieces all set up, and it’s time to write an actual email… then you have to know what to put in that email. 

You need to figure out what will get the attention of your recipients, so all that time and money you’ve invested actually pays off.

When you finally sit down to write an email…

That’s the moment of truth.

Everything you’ve invested into your software and your content comes down to how well that email performs.

And… it’s only getting harder to win the inbox. 

The typical professional receives an average of 121 emails per day. Getting YOUR email to stand out is… tough.

Marketers know how hard it’s getting.

Which is why some resort to a strategy I don’t recommend:

Sending sale email… after sale email… after sale email… after sale email…

Every day, like clockwork, I get an email from Crate & Barrel.

Here, in my inbox, to announce a very exciting, ultra-exclusive, can-you-believe-it, hold-on-to-your-hat…. SALE SALE SALE!

In Favor of Long, Image-light Ecommerce Emails 2

And every day, their email goes… unopened.

But, I do understand why they send me these emails.

It’s an easy pattern to fall into: you send an email blast and it doesn’t get the conversions you’re after. So you send another email with a steep 40% discount and – BAM! – lots of people buy.

You try to go back to sending an email without a discount but it’s still not working. So now you send…

“FLASH SALE 70% OFF”

…and you get lots of conversions again.

Before you know it, every email you send out is a sale email.

Even if you’re not quite at Crate & Barrel’s level… it’s always tempting to send that sale email.

You want your email to pay off, after all. But… you also don’t want to get stuck sending emails that no one pays attention to.

And if you abuse the Sale Email, its magic starts to wear off.

The response from your subscribers changes from buckets of revenue to… deafening silence.

Unlike SaaS email marketing – where the bias tends to be toward nurturing subscribers, rather than selling to them – it seems that ecommerce has the opposite trend: selling without nurturing.

And Seth Godin would not approve.

The father of permission marketing, he revolutionized the way people think about marketing in the digital age:

“Permission marketing is the privilege (not the right) of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who actually want to get them. It recognizes the new power of the best consumers to ignore marketing.“ – Seth Godin

Marketing is easy to ignore. Especially in a crowded inbox.

So if you can send those relevant, anticipated messages your subscribers crave, you’ll be that unexpected gem people look forward to getting emails from.

And thinking of email as permission-based marketing sets us up well to answer the question…

Well, what do customers want
in their email marketing?

They want variety.

The problem with Crate & Barrel’s emails isn’t that they’re sales emails.

It’s that they’re ALL sales emails.

If you’re having a sale tomorrow (and every day until the end of time), why should I be excited about today’s sale?

If, however, every time you send me an email, I can’t be 100% sure what’s going to be in it (cool content? a funny story? new products? or maybe even a… SALE?!?), then I’m anticipating and wondering what’s in your email.

In Favor of Long, Image-light Ecommerce Emails 3

Novelty is the best tool email marketers have to keep subscribers engaged.

Neuroscience research supports the idea that novelty is almost as effective at grabbing our attention as physical need.

…Meaning something new is almost as exciting to my brain as something that will satisfy my hunger.

(And I get really excited when I see a box of donuts.)

You can also see proof of the power of novelty by looking at the counter-example…

What happens when you don’t switch it up?

I see this often with my clients: they’ll find a subject line that works well, so they reuse the same formula. But, pretty quickly… it stops working.

It happened with one client recently…

My client found great success with a subject line that followed the formula…

“[Product] is back!”

His email got an open rate 30% above their average open rate.

Not too shabby.

They used that same formula with a different product again, and this time they got another open rate 39.9% above average.

Great! This formula works like a charm.

But when they used it for a third time… their open rate unexpectedly dropped to 8.7% below their average open rate.

What happened?

The subject line wasn’t novel anymore, so people stopped paying attention.

Very quickly… after just three uses… this subject line formula was dead.

An attention-grabbing air horn can turn into snooze-inducing white noise pretty quickly in the world of email.

That’s why a combination of sales emails peppered in with other kinds of emails is your best chance to keep people interested.

Let’s see how top brands use novelty
in their email marketing

Top brands that do this well use three different kinds of emails:

  1. Sales emails
  2. Nurture emails
  3. Engagement emails

A sales email is going for the close – like a promotion or a product announcement.

A nurture email is nurturing subscribers and building their affinity for the brand and product line.

And an engagement email is going for a click, rather than a sale – linking to content like blog posts, surveys and social media.

Kettle & Fire, a brand selling bone broth to health-conscious customers, uses all three kinds of emails well.

Sales emails that provide discounts and make the case for their product:

Ecommerce sales email example
Sales email: welcome.
Ecommerce sales email example
Sales email: abandoned cart.

Both emails are driving toward the use of a coupon. The welcome email is selling people on the brand, and the abandoned cart email is selling them on the product.

Kettle & Fire is anticipating where the customer is at and, in turn, matching their message to what the customer needs to hear (i.e.: “You’re likely here because you heard bone broth promotes skin, nail, joint and digestive health.”)

They also use nurture emails that educate people on bone broth and its importance for gut health:

Ecommerce nurture email example
Nurture email.

This builds a loyal subscriber base that can point to reasons why Kettle & Fire’s products are desirable.

And they send engagement emails that get people clicking through to their website and their content and building their relationship with Kettle & Fire.

Ecommerce nurture email example
Engagement email.

This email does a great job of showing why their content is worthy of a click – and sends readers clicking through to an email course.

Kettle & Fire rotates between these three kinds of emails, always trying to anticipate where the customer is in their journey and giving them the message they need to hear at that moment.

Another brand that does this well is Moo, a company that sells business cards and stationery.

They rely on design to drive curiosity in some engagement emails:

Ecommerce engagement email example
Moo engagement email.
Ecommerce engagement email example
Moo engagement email.

And then go full plain-text in other engagement emails:

ecommerce welcome campaign
Moo engagement email.

And also send a mix of sale and nurture emails:

Ecommerce email example
Moo sale email.
Ecommerce email example
Moo nurture email.

A short sale email driving you to an exciting, unusual sale. And a welcome email nurturing you on the brand.

These brands do it all. They use a variety of email types and use short emails alongside longer emails to engage their subscribers.

Now, I want to stop here, just in case the thought in the back of your head is…

“Wait, but people don’t read long emails. They want images, not text.”

If at this point, this is all making sense to you…

But you’re worried about sending longer emails that people have time to read…

There’s a study you might want to see.

In 2014, Hubspot surveyed thousands of people asking them what kind of email they preferred to receive: HTML or plain-text.

And their answers support the idea that you should send design-focused emails.

HubSpot email survey

They said they preferred HTML over plain-text.

And when HubSpot asked if they wanted mostly text or images in their emails, they said images.

HubSpot email survey

So… all of this would indicate that we should send short emails, right? More images. Less text.

Well, here’s where things get interesting…

What people say they want in email vs. what emails they actually preferred to engage with… tell two completely different stories.

HubSpot email survey

Increasing the design of HTML in the email – with more design and more images – actually decreased open rates. If you’re like “email content doesn’t affect open rates” (which it does), the study continues…

HubSpot also found that emails with more images had lower click-through rates. Zero images in an email generated the highest click-through rates.

HubSpot email survey

So it makes sense why many marketers believe that more images and more design is better for email marketing.

After all, that’s what people say they want. But what creates actual conversions is text (ahem, copy!) and simple design.

But, there’s a place for both kinds of emails. Design-rich and text-rich emails nurture and engage subscribers in different ways. And you can use text-rich emails when you want to increase conversion rates. (I prefer the nice sound of a ka-ching to praise, personally.)

So there’s a place for emails with more design than copy, and emails with more copy than design.

Now, we just need to figure out when a text-rich email makes sense and when you should be more to the point.

“How do I know how long to make my email? Then figure out… what to write in it??”

Well, dear copyhacker…

Let’s get copyhacking.

And let me show you the formula and template that will…

Let you determine exactly how long to make every ecommerce email you send. And solve the problem of what copy to include.

We will do this by answering four questions:

  1. What’s my One Reader’s beginning stage of awareness?
  2. Where’s my One Reader in their customer lifecycle?
  3. How many emails are in this sequence?
  4. What’s the one goal of my email?

(If you’re not sure about all this “One Reader” and “stage of awareness” talk, check out 10x Landing Pages by Copyhackers. Yup, the foundational copywriting training in that course works for emails, too.)

Cool! There’s your answer. End of article.

I kid, I kid.

Let’s break down those four questions. And work through an example so it’s crystal clear.

We can use the email sequence from the sustainable apparel client I referenced earlier. I’ll show you how I built their welcome sequence to get them their 236% increase in revenue from email.We’re going to answer the four questions, then use them to fill in this template (which you can download for your own use):

In Favor of Long, Image-light Ecommerce Emails 4

And once that’s filled in, we’ll know exactly what content to include.

(Don’t worry about that template for now. We’ll come back to it later.)

Step 1. Find your One Reader’s beginning stage of awareness

If you’re not a seasoned copywriter yet, then stages of awareness may sound strange. Here’s a quick refresher:

Picture a slippery slope.

(Yes, I stole that from the great Joe Sugarman.)

Here’s how Joanna illustrates the stages of awareness and how they impact what you’ll write:

In Favor of Long, Image-light Ecommerce Emails 5

And here’s a modified view of that for ecommerce specifically:

In Favor of Long, Image-light Ecommerce Emails 6

If your prospects (your not-yet customers) are sliding down a slippery slope, on their way to becoming your customers, then they need to move from pain aware all the way through most aware to get there.

At each new stage, they come closer to buying your product, and importantly you cannot skip a stage.

If you want your prospect to turn into a customer, they cannot go from pain aware straight to most aware. They need solution awareness and product awareness to continue sliding down the slope.

So, in our example – the welcome sequence for the sustainable apparel brand – our one reader is new to our brand and probably knows little about what we offer.

So, in this case, I assumed they were in the earliest stage of awareness: pain aware. We use that information to answer the first question:

  1. What’s my One Reader’s beginning stage of awareness?
    Pain aware.
  2. Where’s my One Reader in their customer lifecycle?
  3. How many emails are in this sequence?
  4. What’s the one goal of my email?

Great. One down, three to go.

Step 2. Figure out where your One Reader is in their customer lifecycle

Lifecycle marketing is the idea that customers go through a… well, lifecycle.

In the early stages, a prospect becomes aware of you. Then they buy from you. (Hooray!) Then, they might buy from you again. (Whoopee!)

…But eventually they lose interest in your products or stop needing them (how many {something funny} does one woman need anyway?) and they move on. 

A sad day, but an inevitable one.

To visualize, the customer lifecycle looks like:

In Favor of Long, Image-light Ecommerce Emails 7

Here are the main stages to remember, as they relate to email marketing:

  • New: New to our brand, never purchased
  • Abandoned cart: Close to purchasing
  • Post-purchase: Just after purchasing from the brand
  • Lifecycle: The natural lifecycle of a product when it would make sense to purchase again (e.g. for a 30-day supply of vitamins, the lifecycle would be 30 days)
  • Winback: When a customer has lapsed and is not purchasing at the normal lifecycle interval.

For our example…

Since it’s a welcome sequence, then we’re sending these to prospects who are new. They have yet to make a purchase from us.

  1. What’s my One Reader’s beginning stage of awareness?
    Pain aware.
  2. Where’s my One Reader in their customer lifecycle?
    New
  3. How many emails are in this sequence?
  4. What’s the one goal of my email?

Moving right along…

Step 3. How many emails are in your sequence?

Now, this is something you can decide before you start creating content for your email sequence. It depends on the timing of your emails and how long you want your sequence to run.

If you’re sending a newsletter, then that would be a one-off and you can just fill in ‘one’. (The formula works the same way for newsletters.)

To help you decide how many emails to include in your sequence, here’s benchmark data from Klaviyo on how emails perform based on how many there are in the sequence:

In Favor of Long, Image-light Ecommerce Emails 8

For my sequence, I wanted to send four emails (so I could send a mix of sales and nurture emails). So let’s answer question #3.

  1. What’s my One Reader’s beginning stage of awareness?
    Pain aware.
  2. Where’s my One Reader in their customer lifecycle?
    New
  3. How many emails are in this sequence?
    4
  4. What’s the one goal of my email?

Step 4. Figure out the goal of your email

And finally, we move from questions about the entire sequence to questions about each individual email.

To do this, we need to refer back to our template from earlier:

In Favor of Long, Image-light Ecommerce Emails 9

Now, let’s fill in the pieces that we already answered from the first three questions: lifecycle, stage of awareness and number of emails.

In Favor of Long, Image-light Ecommerce Emails 10

Now, for each of the four emails in this sequence, we need to decide on what kind of email we’re going to send: nurture, sales or engage.

Determine the kind of email you’ll send based on your goal:

  • Sales emails sell, so their KPI is revenue (if you’re generating more orders) or average order value (if you’re generating larger orders).
  • Nurture emails nurture, so the KPI… depends.
  • Engagement emails engage, so their KPIs are click-through rate followed by active time on site.

Now, let’s look at my welcome sequence for my sustainable apparel client.

In my four-email welcome sequence, I’m going to send:

  1. A welcome email with a discount coupon (which is the incentive to opt-in).
  2. A nurture email that tells a story about the brand.
  3. A second nurture email that tells another story about the brand.
  4. A reminder email – that their discount coupon (from email #1) is expiring today.

That means emails #1, #2 and #3 are nurture emails because we’re nurturing new subscribers. And email #4 is a sales email because it’s the final email in the sequence and it’s closing on the expiring discount. So now our template looks like this:

In Favor of Long, Image-light Ecommerce Emails 11

(Note: email #1 has Sales listed as a secondary goal. We won’t use that in our formula, but I included it because we may want to use revenue as a KPI for that email – since it has a discount coupon included.)

Now, let’s use our formula to fill in all the grey cells for us.

Here’s the formula that will eliminate the guesswork from how long to make our emails:

For nurture emails, the ending stage of awareness of that email is one stage past the beginning stage of awareness of that email (e.g. Problem → Solution, Solution → Product).

For sales emails, it doesn’t matter what the beginning stage of awareness is. The ending stage of awareness is always most aware. (Since we’re trying to make the sale).

For engagement emails, the beginning and ending stages of awareness are the same. Since we’re trying to engage, not sell.

To make it easy, here’s your handy-dandy formula:

Nurture email: Add +1 to Stage of Awareness

Sales email: Ending SoA = Most Aware

Engagement email: Beginning SoA = Ending SoA

So for our example welcome sequence, this fills in the rest of our template to look like this:

In Favor of Long, Image-light Ecommerce Emails 12

Of course, this formula didn’t give me the description of our One Reader at the top.

I got that from all my voice of customer research. (You can check out content from master researchers – like the tutorial of Copyhackers’s own Hannah Shamji on getting quality VoC from customer interviews – to learn how to get inside the head of your One Reader.)

Armed with your VoC research, and now with this template, you can see how to work your VoC data into the email sequence you’re building.

Now, I made two promises to you…

That you’d know how long to make your emails AND that it would become clear what to write in your emails.

So let’s see how this template helps us with both of these problems.

Problem #1: Knowing how long to make your email

Just as the original conversion copywriter, Joanna Wiebe, teaches: copy is as long as it needs to be.

And you can figure out how long a piece of copy needs to be… by looking at the beginning and ending stages of awareness.

(Where your prospect is now vs. where they need to be for your goal.)

This template shows our beginning and ending stages of awareness for each email.

Let’s look at emails #1 and #4 from our sequence to see how this template influenced their length.

If you remember, both emails are giving a discount to the subscriber. So it would seem like they’d be identical in length. Right?

But what the template shows us, is:

  • Email #1 moves from problem aware to solution aware
  • Email #4 is already at most aware – and stays there

So email #1 is slightly longer than email #4 because it has more work to do. And email #4 is just going for the close.

Email #1

Ecommerce email example

Email #4

HubSpot email survey

They’re both discount, promotional emails, but that’s not what determines length. It’s the stages of awareness from our template that we need to adhere to. Here’s how to figure out how long your email should be:

The greater the distance between our beginning and ending stage of awareness of the email (with problem to most aware being the greatest), the longer our email needs to be.

So, length: solved.

Problem #2: Knowing what to write in your email

Now, this is the real magic of filling out the entire template.

To find what content is best, you need only to isolate the email that you’re currently writing and find the copy that solves your problem. 

Let’s look at email #2 for this one.

In Favor of Long, Image-light Ecommerce Emails 13

For this email, we’re moving the One Reader from solution to product aware for sustainable apparel.

So she knows about other sustainable apparel options, but she wants to know why our line of clothing in particular is better than our competitors’. And she’s frustrated that most sustainable clothes don’t look great and are expensive.

Bingo.

Now, all I have to do is weave the VoC I have from my research into an email about how problems with sustainable clothing shopping (the solution) are solved by a particular brand: EcoVibe (the product).

And the resulting email…

Ecommerce email example

Armed with this template, and your voice-of-customer data, writing your email is largely done before you even open up your blank Google Doc. You know where to start, which is a great way to end Blank Page Syndrome. And you know your destination, which means you’re less likely to ramble. Now just plug that VoC into a compelling framework! Well, there’s a little more to it…

“I still don’t want to send long emails.”

If you’re still against writing a longer email with more than just a sentence or two of copy…

Darling, let’s not fight.

Let’s compromise.

Try writing an email with just a bit more length, but feel confident by putting a call-to-action above the fold.

Like I did in the first email of this sequence:

Ecommerce email example

So no one has to read, if they don’t want to. They can click-through right away.

(And you and I can pick up this discussion later.)

“Okay, but what about campaign emails? Those go to a variety of people.”

You are absolutely right. I’ve got a suggestion for how to handle the varied audience of a typical email newsletter, but first I want to say…

THIS is exactly why segmentation is so powerful.

Segmentation helps you know which portion of your audience you’re speaking to, where they are in their customer lifecycle and what their stage of awareness is. The better your segmentation, the more you can dial-in your messaging and use this formula to your advantage. (Jo talks more about segmentation inside 10x Emails.)

But if you (like many ecommerce stores) are sending newsletters to your whole list…

You should switch it up between longer and shorter emails. Just like the examples I showed you above from Kettle & Fire. By getting different messages to your email list, you’ll get more of the right message to more of the right people.

Use nurture, sales and engagement emails to engage your whole email list. Use variety to target the natural segments within your email list.

A quick note on the engagement email –
the bread-and-butter of email newsletters.

Many times your campaign emails will be engagement emails. That’s the classic newsletter email that people think of when they think of marketing emails, where you link to content and try to get people to click through.

So let’s talk about what an engagement email should look like. Since, from our formula, you remember that the beginning and ending stages of awareness are the same.

Engagement emails, as you expect, should be very short.

Our stage of awareness doesn’t change with an engagement email. The content that people click through to might change their stage of awareness, but that’s not our email’s job. Our email’s job is to get them to that content.

So, here, the copy should be very short. Just enough to entice them to want to know what’s after that button.

That’s why the very short Moo engagement email works.

Ecommerce email example

It’s doing just enough to get you curious, and not distracting you with anything else.

Copyhackers also sends engagement emails that follow this principle:

Ecommerce email example

Just enough to make your curious about the content. Nothing else to distract.

It’s your sales emails and nurture emails that will be longer. Since those need to bring your subscribers further along in their journey. So make sure you’re still including engagement emails in your email newsletter strategy.

Your ecommerce emails…
mapped, wrapped and ready

By answering the following four questions:

  1. What’s my One Reader’s beginning stage of awareness?
  2. Where’s my One Reader in their customer lifecycle?
  3. How many emails are in this sequence?
  4. What’s the one goal of my email?

And armed with our voice of customer data and the answers to those four questions, we are able to fill in the white cells of this chart:

In Favor of Long, Image-light Ecommerce Emails 9

Then, use the following formula to automatically fill in the remaining grey cells:

Nurture email: Add +1 to Stage of Awareness

Sales email: Ending SoA = Most Aware

Engagement email: Beginning SoA = Ending SoA

We’ve mapped out the entire content strategy of any ecommerce email sequence.

Whether the emails you’re sending are automated, a single newsletter, a 10-email long sequence… or any other hypothetical you can imagine, with these tools in your arsenal, your email content strategy is solved.

So you never have to stare at the blank page again.

The post In Favor of Long, Image-light Ecommerce Emails appeared first on Copywriting for startups and marketers.

Read more

%d bloggers like this: