All posts by Mark Brownlow

Mark Brownlow is a former email copywriter and publisher of the retired Email Marketing Reports site. He now works as a lecturer and writer. Connect with him via Lost Opinions.

When writing content for your website, blog, or newsletter, should you aim for brevity or go in-depth?

I’d dump Q and maybe J. Because if attention spans continue shrinking, we’ll need to cut down the alphabet to make words shorter (shrtr). Given the online ADD epidemic, it surely makes sense to go short if you’re producing articles for a newsletter, blog or website? Not necessarily. If short was always the way, this blog would be dead. We just assume people won’t read long articles. The ADD problem has been hammered home so often that we hardly pause to think anymore. But it’s not that simple. Like everything online, the “ideal” content length depends on context: the ideal length is the one that says everything you need to say to get the right response. Not short. Not long. But what suits your needs and the audience you’re targeting. The…

Make sure you remember your target audience aren't always like you. Write emails for them, not you.

I collect first names on my newsletter sign-up form, but I never use them. [Cue embarrassed silence and nervous shuffling among the experts out there.] Yes, it’s an email marketing no-no. The extra form field hurts sign-up rates and it raises expectations that subsequent emails will be personalized more than they are. The survival of my “first name” field is partly down to the delusion that I’ll bite the personalization bullet “sometime soon”. Call me a database coward. But it also survives because seeing those first names acts as a necessary reminder that my emails go to, um, human beings. As in many online industries, the idea that the audience actually includes sentient beings is often trampled into oblivion by our technology focus and the words that go with it: Targets, segments, cells, addresses, clusters, groups, samples, lists, databases,…

Write better copy to get better results

I once had a tarantula walk over my hand. The experience comes to mind every time I face a blank piece of paper. A rising sense of panic…paralysis…a prickle of sweat. Sound familiar? So I thought I’d share the practical tricks I use to write email marketing copy. Not so much the intricacies of word choice or paragraph structure, but the process of actually getting the job done and done well. Your tips are also welcome!

1. Define the recipient

The writing process needs a framework to proceed in: a real or implicit briefing…the whos, whats and whys of the task. Who will get this email and in what context? Have they undertaken some specific action (like registered for an event)? When will they get the email? How does this email fit, conceptually and in terms of timing, with other emails or related marketing campaigns…

Exclusive excerpts from Chad White's new book

You don't have to be...ahem...nearing 50 to struggle to keep up with all the changes in digital marketing. (In fact, life becomes a lot more relaxed once you accept you can't.) It's why guidelines, frameworks and similar play an important role in ensuring your marketing is based on solid foundations. For email marketers, Chad White provides those foundations in the 120 best practices contained within the 2nd edition of his "Email Marketing Rules" book. The new edition also has additional chapters explaining the interactions and synergies between these best practices. Obviously some of those rules cover basics like "Don't buy email lists", but Chad kindly allowed me to pull out other rules that many marketers neglect in the rush to write the next subject line.

1. "Focus on maximizing the value of a subscriber, not on maximizing the results of…

Don't forget the bigger picture

When writing emails, we do like to "optimise" each individual element of the message. Which is a good thing, provided that optimisation takes account of how those elements interact with each other. If it doesn't, you end up with mails like this: From line, subject line and preheader are all individually optimised to ensure people recognise the message. But the combined impact is over the top and ignores the potential of, say, the subject line and preheader to better highlight why someone would want to take a closer look at the mail. (And, yes, I have seen mails like this!) There's a broader impact to consider that depends on the combined impression generated by these elements as people work their way (or not!) through the email. It's why you might ask your copywriter for a headline change and find them rewriting the rest…

SmartInsights tool review: Touchstone

Rumour has it that the next Indiana Jones film will see our favourite archeologist searching for the greatest undiscovered treasure of modern times: the perfect subject line. In the meantime, we're left looking for guidance on how to improve subject line performance by using the "right" words. Do we say "free" or "no cost"? "Summer" or "Summertime"? "Deal" or "Offer"? Any tool that helps us consistently pick out the best words or phrasing would, of course, have two huge advantages: The benefits go straight to your bottom line: subject lines have a big influence on opens, clicks and other success metrics. You can skip a lot of A/B subject line testing: A/B tests are not always easy to do right (and can give misleading results if done wrong). Unfortunately, the tools or reports offering advice on subject line wording tend to suffer from two critical flaws. First, they commonly base recommendations on a review of past subject lines and the…

New survey reveals email marketing top for ROI, but still much potential for improvement

Shocking news in the latest Econsultancy/Adestra Email Marketing Industry Census: 68% of respondents rated email's ROI as excellent or good (the top result). OK, not a shock. However, despite the continuing strong results from email, the report suggests there is still much potential for improvement. The related infographic is below, and one area definitely in need of more focus is mobile email. When I state the mobile email needs more focus, I don't just mean mobile email design, but mobile email as a whole. So what needs optimising? Ignoring measurement issues for the moment, around half of mails are recorded as opened on a mobile device. This is the obligatory stat to remind us that mobile is not the future, but the present (almost one billion smartphones were sold…

Practical ideas to test in the often neglected preheader

The small kid with glasses that gets picked last for the football team? That was me. And that's the email preheader, too... At least that's what it often feels like: it's there to tick the box on the "what goes in an email?" checklist, but it doesn't get much copywriting love. In case you're wondering, the preheader is the line or two of text, usually in a smaller font, right up the top of an email. Here's the preheader at the top of a National Express mail: It's one of the elements I cover in the email module of the Smart Insights online copywriting course, and its potential value stems from two plausible marketing roles. First, while an inbox display typically focuses on the from name and subject line of each email, it may also include the first…

4 quick tips for shorter, successful social updates

My dream is to open a clothing store for online marketers. So content marketers can wear t-shirts with the slogan "I repurposed this from a blog post". And copywriters will proudly declare "I kept it short".

Short is beautiful in the online world.

Though that's not quite correct. The right length for text depends on many factors. But if you can make your text shorter while communicating the same message, then that's a good thing.


Because you don't have a lot of time to capture attention and draw people into and through your text...whether it's a blog post or a product description, email copy or a sales page.

Cutting text down is a particular issue when you have a character limit or space is at a premium, such as with a Tweet or subject line. It's one of the many topics I cover in a new Smart Insights video…

A little fun to end the year

[caption id="attachment_32399" align="alignright" width="270"] Santa discovers his Android rendering sucks...[/caption] If Santa was an email marketer... 1. He'd be the only one who could claim "open rate" is a meaningful metric. 2. He wouldn't have to worry about people complaining they get "too many" presents from him. 3. The message on the gift tag would be limited to 50 characters and always feature first-name personalization. 4. His detailed tests on the “best time and day to send” would have extremely conclusive results (but at least a dozen experts would try and persuade him to always send on a Tuesday at 3pm). 5. Around half the recipients would get their presents while out and about. Some would open them immediately, while some would wait until they got back home. And some would check the gift tags, save the valuable looking gifts for home,…

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