3 Email Copywriting Principles Of An Email Marketing Pro

With these 3 components, you can more fully optimize email marketing for long-term success without eroding your subscriber base.

  1. Relevance
  2. Cliff-hangers
  3. Automation


Email Relevance

Try selling pink crocodile handbags to a male nature conservationist and he’ll drop you like a lead weight in a swimming pool.

…but promote your handbag as a Western fashion-icon to high-fashion female chuppies (Chines young urban professionals) in Shanghai and even if they don’t buy, they’ll keenly stay subscribed to your list.

Put another way…

Our first step in crafting winning email copy is to identify the most relevant copy-platform based on the target audience and product.

We need to pinpoint your audiences biggest emotional need (as relevant to the product) and thereby identify the biggest appeal we can use to get and keep his or her attention.

Your subscribers will forgive receiving a lot of email from you as long as they perceive your email topics as relevant to their needs and interests.


Email Cliff-Hangers

Relevance alone is far from sufficient…

Bland straight-benefit copy does not maintain readership in email over time. If your emails become predictable (10% discount off said pink handbag), they’ll soon stop reading, even if they stay subscribed.

We need to make use of story, anecdotes, relatable news items, and so on, to fully captivate the reader so they are entertained even if they’re not yet ready to buy.

In a series of emails or an extended campaign, each email can help build anticipation for subsequent email, by tying in with previous email and alluding to what’s coming next, so tension, anticipation and curiosity is built up like a soap opera TV show.

(if you ever watched the series called ’24’ you’ll know EXACTLY what I mean).


Your subscribers then emotionally bond with your brand and ‘need to know what’s going to happen next’. They develop such an emotional response of excitement as soon as they see email from you that they’ll open it even before they read email from their own dear Grandmother.

And yes, the same principles apply in both B2C and B2B. We’re all human. Although the emotional triggers of people in terms of personal life vs professional life are often different.

Email Automation


One of the best methods of maintaining relevance through the use of targeted cliff-hangers, story and updates, is through behavioural based automation.

As Head of Marketing for an Email Service Provider in 2008/9 (DBGi as per my LinkedIn profile), I saw literally hundreds of email campaigns produced and tracked, including data-driven segmentation, with creative cells selected based on the individual contacts profile.

Then InfusionSoft, Sales Genius, MailChimp and other small-to-large business email service providers included various automation elements…

Despite being clunky in some ways they provide email marketers with a means of becoming more relevant as well as timely through segmented automation.

At present I’m working on behavioural triggered automation using the Active Campaign platform  (which I absolutely love) with multiple workflows throughout the customer nurture process, from initial opt-in through to sale and on to customer retention and growth.

Besides evergreen automation workflows, the very best approach is to have email campaigns tied in with relevant current events sent ad hoc when the opportunity arises.

For both ad hoc campaign email copy and evergreen automation series copy, you’ll find a number of email copy samples via my copywriting portfolio page.

Video Sales Letter Copy for Weight Loss

While consulting to an ad agency on web copy and marketing during 2014, they requested I write a full VSL script for a breakthrough probiotic weight loss program and manage production of the video.


This involved studio time with the Doctor, writing the Doctors script as well as the ‘publishers’ script and then facilitating video production via a 3rd party video editor.

Here’s the 2 minute intro of the full VSL:

Here are the slides for that intro:


click to open pdf

The rest of the VSL involved the publishers voice as narrator with PowerPoint slides mixed in with live footage  of the spokesperson, a renowned Doctor.

I wrote both scripts and liaised with the Doctor including several phone interviews as he knows his subject well.

A copywriter via my clients agency helped with some of the more standard sales copy later in the script.

As the lead copywriter the final version was mine.

Here is the working version of near final copy for the publishers voice.

wl-script-publisher-thumbclick to open


Copywriting Sample – Video Sales Letter Lead – Male Health Supplement

As consulting Lead Copywriter for an ad agency, I needed to improve the response from a Video Sales Letter that the agency had paid a top VSL writer to produce.

It wasn’t converting well and I felt the copy overall was strong but the lead (the introductory attention grabber) seemed to lack empathy with the audience.

I completely replaced the lead section.

Here are results of the split test on the Video Sales Letter version using the old copy against my new copy.

(Coloured screenshots come from the video analytics software showing engagement levels of both variants)

Original lead variant: 25% retention past the lead.


My new lead variant: 44% retention past the lead.


This meant the new lead increased engagement by… well, a lot depending on which stat you calculate from. 🙂

Here’s the copy, slightly modified for use as the long-form transcript of the VSL:



I was offered this report while searching for something more comprehensive and more reliable, than all the popular health supplements that get bandied about online like candy…

You may know the one’s I mean. Maybe you’ve tried them out yourself…

And sure, I got great results in the past from things like Omega-3, CoQ10, Resveratrol… even Algae Powder.

(my wife got me onto that awful stuff after I started suffering with erection problems hoping it would fix me)

…and I was looking for something all-inclusive… something for complete masculine health… and specially designed for men over 40.

Something that could literally be felt in every area of my body, for all areas of my life.

From ‘Balls-to-Bones’, so to speak…

And after days of searching, a trusted health advisor who I interviewed by phone offered to send me a 30-page report chock-full of his research.

And What I Read Changed My Life Forever


“…multi-billion dollar research by the U.S. Army revives the health of our soldiers for peak performance — at any age!”

Dr. Dan Johnson of The Comprehensive Fitness Program of The U.S. Army announced: “The U.S. Military has a strong interest in the potential health benefits of this formula”

“…Restores your ability to carry out complex tasks, both physically and mentally, allowing you to function in all areas of your life with peak performance.”

“What the Army calls Executive Function”

Believe it or not, that was just one of the tips I learned.

The Report Covered Everything I Feared About Aging


I felt like I’d struck oil!

And my wife’s expression was priceless after my bedroom performance just a matter of weeks later.

It all begins with shocking insight about:

[the original script continued from here]

The Causes Of Decline For Civilian Men Age 40 And Over

Video Sales Letter (VSL) Copywriter

In this article:

  • My first Video Sales Letter
  • Video Conversion Funnels
  • Video Sales Letter Length
  • Video Engagement
  • Video Sales Letter Copywriting
  • Multi-Part VSL Launch Sequence

My first Video Sales Letter…

Converting at a huge 8% back in 2008 it was about 12 minutes long and sold an info product on ‘how to get organized’.

You can watch the entire thing if you’d like, right here:

 VSL Conversion Funnels

The most successful VSLs I’ve been involved with or know about are very simple in appearance, on a very plain webpage, typically with no navigation on the page.

However, sending traffic straight to that VSL page may give you a lower conversion rate than if you send them initially to what’s known as a pre-sell page.

A pre-sell is an article that positions the video to help ensure the visitor has anticipation for the value they are going to receive by watching the video. This often involves highlighting pain points around the topic, such as health problems, or lack of success in the relevant area of life that an information product relates to, such as relationship problems.

‘Top 5 Reasons Why Men Pull Away During Early Stage Relationships”

“5 Causes Of Weight Gain That You Can Avoid Starting Today”

These headline examples suggest the person learning a solution to a problem that is causing them pain.

The pre-sell article then links in multiple places over to the video.

Video Sales Letter Length

Over the past few years the length of VSLs has stretched to 45 minutes or more, particularly for consumer products including information products and health supplements. My approach with VSL length is to consider:

  • The placement of the video (whether it accompanies a full sales later or is part of a piecemeal launch sequence),
  • The sophistication of the market (is it a commodity product in a sea of competition or something unique and special) and
  • Desire of the audience for that particular type of product when they land on the page (why go into extensive background detail and personal story building credibility and riling up their emotions if they are already super keen to buy a product of that type).

Case in point:

The 12 minute VSL for the ‘get organized’ product above. Back in 2008 there was less competition for such information, and my traffic came from people who had searched for terms like ‘how to get organized’. So the product was desired and competition was low. The price difference compared to the alternative of hiring a professional organizer was clear, reasonable and compelling. So 12 minutes was plenty of time to make the sales presentation to a relatively low buyer resistance.

However, if the product is new and unfamiliar with a potentially high perceived price, a full length VSL will generally help maximize sales to the widest possible market.

Here is the introduction script for a full length VSL I wrote promoting an innovative training system for American Football Quarterbacks. If you are familiar with the QB position, you will see how well this matches the dreams and frustrations of a QB, ensuring that they’ll stick around for the rest of the VSL.


(click to open the script)

But how do we maintain engagement through a full 45 minutes..?

 VSL Engagement

It’s generally true that ‘the more you tell the more you sell’.

So… as long as the sales copy is RELEVANT to the audience, then providing you can make it sufficiently entertaining and fast flowing, the VSL can be ‘long’ (45+ minutes) and you’ll hold the attention of your audience and thus maximise conversions.

8% is a very high conversion rate. You may be looking for 2% to make a Video Sales Letter a big success and very profitable. Think about it. That’s just 2 to 8 people out of every 100. So you don’t need ‘everyone’ to want to watch a long VSL. Just a relative few.

The trick to keeping those few engaged is to craft a compelling message.

Here’s an example of an introduction to a full length VSL I wrote for the weight loss market (a massively sophisticated market given the history and level of competition). In this introduction I am to grab viewers attention by immediately calling out the ‘fads’ being marketed in the industry at the time, thereby differentiating this video and increasing engagement.

I’ll get into that a little lower down, but first we need to touch on…

Video Sales Letter Copywriting

So how do I do it?

My process involves [with more detail coming soon]:

  • Gathering Insight – Take a detailed brief from the client to understand the product and the audience (including where the traffic will be coming from). Watch competition VSLs for related product.
  • Developing a persona or avatar (an ideal customer description) including their major pain points as relates to the product and then write a bunch of potential positioning statements, headlines, and bullet points that speak to the audiences major pains with the promise of the product as a solution to their problem(s)
  • Writing a number of possible creative connections between the product features, the product background (how it came to be), the pain points (this is a copywriters secret sauce)
  • Using a series of best practice points from a template I have pieced together over the years to help ensure I hit all relevant selling points throughout the script
  • Leaving it for a day or so and then starting a ruthless editing process of removing sections that are clunky, boring, confusing, or lack credibility. All the while strengthening what remains by making it conversational, succinct and emotionally gripping

Multi-Part VSL Launch Sequence

A very significant approach to the use of a VSL is to break it down into sections and deliver them throughout a gated sales funnel. The gates may be actions the visitor must take, such as opting in by email to gain access to another segment of the video, or gated by time, as in a drip-campaign via email.

Here’s the homepage video (just 2 minutes in length) to introduce a relationship advice membership program:

Hiring A VSL Writer

A VSL Copywriter charges anywhere from ~$3,000 to ~$25,000 for a full VSL script plus royalties.

In a VSL split-test with a $25k copywriter’s original intro against a new intro that I wrote, my version increased engagement by 3 times. But don’t worry, I won’t charge you 3 times his fee 🙂


My new Headline for the replacement introduction copy I wrote to split-test against the original copywriters version.

You can see the new copy here plus the split test result. And see below for details on hiring me as your next VSL writer.

Video Sales Letter Copy Sample for Sports Training Equipment

This VSL is to launch an innovative training equipment for Quarterback training. The product is in design and development so I can not reveal the complete script.

Here is the entire lead section of the VSL file that is sure to get any QB absolutely hooked on watching the rest of the sales video.

I’m not myself a football fan. So how could I possibly write compelling and relevant copy for the target audience?

Because, as many hall-of-fame copywriters have said, top performing copy is produced via 80% market research and only 20% of actual writing.

I went to the subject experts, the inventor of the equipment, I watched some games and I got into the mind-set of a Quarterback sitting in his locker room before a big game feeling the stress and disappointment about the training he’s received until that point. A gut wrenching anxiety that the market can relate to strongly.

So whatever your market, providing you have something of significant value or desire to promote, I can turn your insight, gather more of my own via research, and conjure copy that nails the deep emotions of your market, compelling them to take action and engage with your brand.

Here is the entire lead section of the VSL.

Long Copy is King – Short Copy Kills Sales

Imagine trying to sell a product through pictures alone.

Snazzy billboard adverts. Flashy TV adverts. Creative attention grabbing magazine adverts.

Big on ‘big ideas’.  Short on copy.

Do they sell?

Who cares?! They win awards for the creative agencies.

But a certain type of copywriter does care.  They care about your bottom line as a client. They care about the prospect, because they will put together a good case for why the prospect should buy. They will run split tests. They will even suggest weaknesses in the product offer so they can be improved.

What kind of copywriter sweats bullets and bleeds onto a blank canvas, cares little about awards, and avoid the word ‘creative’?

A Direct Response Copywriter.

The mirror opposite of a creative short copy copywriter.

The DR Copywriter wants a 100% market to message match.  To make the sale.

A short copy creative copywriter wants to entertain his audience, and win his agency an award.

I think the opposing philosophies can be made clear with this one simple test.

Creative copywriting wants big pictures, and very few words.

Direct Response Copywriting uses long copy, and only images where they can directly support the text.

So which is more important? Pictures or words?  Are pictures worth a thousand words?

There are 2 ways to find out.

Test 1: The Logical Test

Imagine trying to sell a product through pictures alone.  If there was absolutely no text whatsoever, just a big bright entertaining picture, would anything get sold?

Only the most simple of products. And probably only the products that have already had untold millions spent on building ‘brand awareness’. Coca Cola could do ads without words.  Would they help sell more coke? Perhaps. But who cares, the ads look cool!

Well, smaller companies, with more complex products, could they rely on ads without words? Just the pictures? Absolutely not.

So for most products (if not all), the words are by far more important.

But it’s test 2 that really takes home the money…

Speak to DR Copywriters, and they’ll talk about split testing and conversions.

  • They’ll talk about features, benefits, and advantages.  The gains made by the prospect.
  • They’ll also talk about possibly buying objections, providing guarantees, removing the risk, adding bonuses (premiums).
  • They’ll ask to see previously run ads.
  • They’ll ask about USPs of the product or company, and they’ll actually probe it to clarify and expand on them.
  • They’ll ask about the history of the product. It’s origins. How it came to be. The full story behind it.
  • They’ll ask about the media in which the adverts need to run in.
  • They’ll ask about front-end products and back-end products.
  • And much, much more…

Bottom line, they’ll ask a great deal of questions.

The creative copywriter will be different. He’ll want a creative brief, not too long though mind you, life’s too short for reading lots of text. He’ll want to know the USP, the main benefits, and then he’ll go to work scratching his head with his friendly Art Director, watching cartoons, scribbling slogans on a pad, and trying to be… well, ‘creative’.

Rosser Reeves, one of the greats of Direct Response Copywriting said:

“Creativity is one of the most dangerous words in advertising”

I obviously couldn’t agree more.

Short copy loses sales. Long copy is king.

4 P’s of an Advert

There are many formulas for writing an advert, sales letter, optin page, etc.

One from AWAI is the “Four P’s.”

As follows…

1.  “Picture” – spark a picture in the readers mind that grabs their attention
2.  “Promise” – point out the benefit you are offering
3.  “Proof” – then demonstrate credibility for why and how you can deliver on the promise
4.  “Push” – then get them to take the next action now

Pretty straightforward right?

Your Buyers Core Complex

When considering the profile of your ideal prospect, we can use the BFD Core Complex model as proposed by the American Writers and Artists Institute (AWAI) – Inside their Direct Marketing University course.

The Core Complex

In simple form, we use BFD to denote Beliefs, Feelings, and Desires.

The broader classifications of this are:

  • Intellectual – What are your prospects beliefs, attitudes, and principles
  • Emotional – What are the prospects feelings related to your product category – his fears or frustrations
  • Personal – And what are his or her psychological needs and desires

Working with these categories allows you to derrive a sensible well rounded view of your ideal prospect profile that can guide your copywriting.

Find out more about the core complex and developing prospect insight.

My Position on Creative Advertising

With my one hundred year background experience gleaned by studying the history of direct response advertising (mail order, direct mail, and print advertising)… my position on ‘creative’ advertising is this:

Combining an accurate well researched copy platform with the right mix of campaign execution, is far different from being ‘creative’.

This is vitally important to me as a direct marketer and copywriter.

‘Creative’ agencies often miss the potency and necessity of tying the product with the markets state of awareness (needs/wants) and their level of sophistication (how defined the offer is, how many times the prospect has been exposed to it, or similar offers from competitors).

You might be interested to know that David Ogilvy quoted Rosser Reeves as saying

“creativity is the most dangerous word in advertising”.


Because it is equally important for innovative marketing success as it is a cause for possible marketing failure.

Advertising and marketing must suitably match the buying process of the target market.

It is from that direct response copywriting perspective that allowed me the 510% response increase (1900% ROI) at an Ad Agency – after which the Marketing Director had me prepare copywriting training for her staff.

Read more about the distinction between ‘creating’ and ‘connecting’ in marketing.

How To Select Your Next Advertising Copywriter

I have just revised the introduction pages of the white paper on choosing a copywriter.

The paper explains how professional marketers and business owners can approach, select, judge, and guide a copywriter…

…explaining the link between:

  • business strategy (market definition, segmentation, and targeting)
  • and the copywriters process of ‘getting inside the head of the customer and delivering compelling sales copy.

Grab a copy of the paper from my copywriting services page.

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