A Winning Promotional Email Formula

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Time and time again, I watch my fellow marketers agonize over writing email copy, overcomplicating the process and completely destroying any of the creativity or innovation that might have gone into their work. It’s too bad, because writing email copy can be a lot of fun. In fact, writing emails should be at least kind of fun, because it’s how you get to test your skills as a marketer.

Here’s why most people get hung up on their promo emails: They try to sell the product in the email copy itself … big mistake.

That’s what your sales page is for. The only goal of your email is to get as many qualified eyeballs to click through and view your offer. Simply put, don’t try to sell in your email.

Think of it this way, you’re trying to ease your users into the proper frame of mind to listen to your sales message. That way, when they see the offer, they’re ready to engage with it.

The Email Two-Step

With that being said, there are really only two things you need to focus on when you write your promotional emails:

1. An Attention-Grabbing Subject Line – yes, your primary goal with the subject line is to get opens but what you really want is a subject line that is strong enough to entice your reader to actually read the email. The entire sales process starts with that first impression … make it count.

2. The Body Copy Gets Clickthroughs – the purpose of your body copy is twofold: (a) to qualify your potential prospects by taking them by the hand and leading them down the sales path (if A then B, if B then C), and (b) inspiring an actual clickthrough to the offer itself. The best way to get this done is through either piquing curiosity or focusing on the primary benefits (giving the reader a self-serving reason for them to click).

The one overarching thing to keep in mind while you write both of these things is what we like to call “congruency.” Opens and clickthroughs are great and all, but if they’re not congruent, they’re basically useless.

For example, if your subject line and body do a great job building up the benefits of a new kind of cat litter, but then you send those leads to an offer for a home-study martial arts course, they’re obviously not going to convert very well. So congruency is essential.

But a quick note—the subject line does not necessarily need to be congruent with the offer. In fact, I find that the occasional subject line that has seemingly nothing to do with your offer (or even your niche) is attention-grabbing enough to inspire action… you just have to make sure you connect the dots in the body of the email itself.

Okay, so that was sort of a third step … but the best way to think of it is 1a. and 2a., because it’s integral to both steps.

Subject Line FTW!

Across all of our companies, we focus on short and sweet, curiosity-piquing headlines that either grab attention or offer an immediate benefit to the reader.

Once again, priority number one is to entice the reader to open and read the email. If you’re stuck,

I find that curiosity-based, open-ended questions make for great subject lines. You want to ask a question that the reader would actually care enough about finding the answer to that they would actually click through.

So how short and sweet should it be? We try to keep all our subject lines down to six words or less. Sure, sometimes it needs to be seven or eight, but six is what we shoot for.

Here’s the formula for the perfect winning subject line: 6 words or less + pique curiosity + offer an immediate benefit = WINNING!

Here are a few examples we’ve used recently with our Absolute Rights brand:

  • Free KINDLE Survival Book Until Midnight
  • 13 CIA Mind Tricks That Could Save Your Life
  • 40’ Geometric Dome for $500?

It’s not always easy but the best subject lines combine an immediate benefit AND pique the curiosity at the same time.

Writing a Smoking Body

Beginning – Working from the top down, the first paragraph of your email should be no more than two sentences that are designed to pique enough curiosity to inspire a clickthrough, OR that serve to frame your offer as the answer to the question the reader wants addressed.

For example, if you’re in the golf niche and you have a subject line that promises the reader they’ll “Never Miss a 4-Foot Putt Again”, you better believe they’ll want to know how you can deliver on that promise. The first sentence of body copy could be something as simple as “Find out how by clicking here” and drop the first link under that.

The reason for limiting the first piece of copy to 1-2 sentences is that it allows you to get the first link to your offer above the fold. People are used to clicking links (in fact, it has been shown that people want to click links if they trust who is asking them to do so), and oftentimes, you may not even need any more body copy to induce the click.

Some of our highest CTRs have come from emails that include a quick answer to a question and a link! That’s it.

Middle -The middle of the email is where a lot of people run into trouble. It’s where many of us tend to get longwinded and try to make the sale. Once again, don’t try to sell in your email.

Instead, focus on the one, most attractive benefit that your viewer will get when he or she clicks the link. We like to keep the mid-section of any email between two to five sentences, followed by another link.

The goal in the body is to showcase that one, ultra sexy benefit, not to sell the product. In fact, it’s a good idea not to even name the product in the body of your email.

Closing – After the middle link, you may choose to go with a closing sentence, just to create a little urgency or emphasis before your sign-off. If you feel like your email needs a closing remark, be sure to keep it to one sentence or less.

P.S. – After the closing, I use a postscript on almost every promotional email I send. The strategy here is to focus on scarcity, or concisely summing up the benefit the body of the email covered.

For example, you might say, “This offer is only available for the next 24 hours, click here to get your free copy now!” This sets up an additional link at the very bottom. For those individuals who have read the entire email but haven’t yet clicked through, it gives them a subtle reminder of what is expected of them next.

One Last Trick

Here’s one little bonus trick that I’ve found to be really powerful. I’ve just showed you our promotional email formula, but if you get any of our non-newsletter content emails, you’ll notice it doubles as our content email formula as well.

Why? Because it keeps our readers guessing…

They never really know whether we are directing them to something that is free (content) or something they have to pay for (promo). But either way, every one of our emails seeks to provide an answer to a question they have a burning desire to get answered… and they can only get the answer if they click on that link.

So now you know our winning email formula; it’s simple, and more importantly, effective. Use this formula as a template for your emails and your email copywriting life will be much easier and much more rewarding.


  • Peter Garety says:

    I disagree.
    It is wrong – curiosity marketing is what kills email effectiveness – I can prove it over and over again – 50% of sale must take place in your email and remaining 50% is done by sales copy (mostly for people who do not read emails, because curiosity marketers have trained them not to)

    If you want to sell effectively, email should be doing it. If your email doesn’t do it, it means your audience doesn’t listen to you, which again is the consequence of curiosity marketing.

    And I can prove it with numbers – anytime!

    – Peter