B2B Marketing Zone

Why Formulas Work Better than Templates for Email

Why Formulas Work Better than Templates for Email

“Grab the 3 Follow-Up Email Templates that Got a 70% Response Rate – in Silicon Valley!”

“The EXACT Template that Pulled 308,074 Emails from Facebook!”

“The Sales Email that Won 16 New B2B Customers!”

You’ve seen these types of promises before. Verbatim email templates that worked like gangbusters for the author, now available to you – lowly sales creature! The templates come gift-wrapped in blog posts, PDFs, and eBooks.

It’s easy to dismiss these templates as hype, especially when they come from someone you’ve never heard of, on the fringes of the Internet. Not so easy when they come from legitimate, no – respected – companies selling quality products.

What gives? Could it really be that easy to steal an email template, plug it in, and wham… instant leads?

Well sure… it could… as could a lot of things in life. But it’s not likely. Here’s why…

Novelty is fleeting

Remember the “Hey” email? That was one of many subject lines Obama for America used (and reused) during the 2012 presidential election to pitch donors. As a stand-alone email, “Hey” was a roaring success. It had the highest open rate of all subject lines and pulled in millions of dollars, according to Obama’s email director.

Naturally, when Obama’s team shared these details post-election, email marketers got to work. Overnight, inboxes nationwide were flooded with “Hey” and “hey.” Personally, I’ve seen it used to pitch everything from charities to seminars to vitamins (seriously).

Let’s be frank. If you’re a marketer, you’re on a TON of lists: industry groups, trade papers, thought leaders, competitors, and probably a dozen more. You get what… 100, 200, even 300 emails a day? Maybe… maybe… you read half of them. More likely, a third, or a fourth.

Still, even with long hours, overwhelm, and email fatigue, you remember more than you think you do. Your brain is great at recognizing the patterns and word choices in common email subject lines

I’m not just talking about classic direct response grabbers (e.g., “Who else wants to save money?”). I’m talking about that email you glanced at last week, first thing in the morning, before having coffee. Yes, that subject line made an impression on you. When you see it a second time, your brain will remind you, even if it’s subconscious. When you see it a third, fourth, twelfth time (because 8,000 marketers read the same blog post) your brain gets acclimated to it.

Which means, when it shows up in your inbox for the 437th time, you literally stop seeing it. That’s right, your eyes blind themselves, as a favor to your brain, to prevent sensory overload.

“Guaranteed email templates” are a novelty item. And novelty items, by definition, have a short shelf life. Often a very short shelf life.

(Caveat: we are NOT talking here about your branding template, where you have an established look-and-feel, with your logo, header, footer, etc., all in place to ensure consistent branding. We are talking about the “verbatim” templates which promise you untold wealth and fame and sales if you just buy the thing and run it … verbatim, with no changes.)

Context is everything

A second problem with the verbatim approach to email templates is that it minimizes (or completely ignores) context. That’s an unforgivable mistake because context is, by far, the most important element of an email campaign.

What is context? Merriam-Webster defines it as:

” The interrelated conditions in which something exists or occurs.”

So, to properly understand “The Sales Email that Won 16 New B2B Customers,” you would have to know at least…

  • Who received the emails
  • What emails (if any) preceded this one
  • The features of the product or service offered
  • The benefits of the product or service offered
  • The price of the product or service offered
  • The relationship between the sender and recipients

That’s not even mentioning all the other factors that can make or break an email campaign. Those are mundane but critical things like date sent, time of day, branding, and sender’s name.

While it’s true that some of the companies promoting guaranteed email templates mention a few contextual details, they never go far enough. Why not? I suspect it’s because those niggling details would undercut the whole click-bait premise of using their email templates for guaranteed success.

The fact is, no two companies are exactly alike. Even direct competitors, who fight over prospects like Spy vs. Spy, vary enough in price, selection, return policy, etc., as to require different emails.

Obviously, email recipients are different too. An appropriate email for one group of prospects might be downright offensive to another. Add to that the rapid changes in job titles, roles, and responsibilities in today’s marketplace and you’re doing a lot of work to try to shoehorn a stranger’s template into your campaign.

Any good email copywriter knows that context – list and offer – trumps the words in a template. Hurts me to say that, as a copywriter myself, but it’s the truth.

Do this instead

Verbatim email templates aren’t totally useless. They’re great for inspiration. They’re also make excellent case studies. MarketingSherpa, for example, does regular deep dives into email campaigns, providing context and important qualifications. One template, in isolation, would not offer anything useful to their readers. One template, in context and over time, is a different story.

So, you while can certainly learn from email templates, they’re not nearly as valuable as learning formulas for creating your own.

What are formulas?

Formulas are outlines that copywriters use to ensure their message stays on track. They save time for the writer and provide the reader, viewer, or listener with a coherent message.

Some of the most common copywriter formulas are:

AIDA – Attention, Interest, Desire, Action

PAS – Problem, Agitate, Solve

4Us – Useful, Urgent, Unique, Ultra-Specific

4Ps – Picture, Promise, Proof, Push

When you understand these formulas at a gut level, you’ll never look at “guaranteed,” email templates the same way. You’ll decipher the code you once thought was magical and mysterious, and see it for what it is: a simple progression of thought, based on human psychology.

You’ll begin to see formulas everywhere, especially in your inbox. You’ll be surprised (and amused) by how you still fall for formulas – even when you know where they’re headed.

These formulas have deep roots; they go all the way back to whenever people first began selling, trading, bartering, and haggling.

Does automation mean set n’ forget?

Of course, a third problem with guaranteed templates is that they imply that automation solves conversion problems. By putting their emails on autopilot, it’s suggested, money will just roll in. But that’s simplistic, and it’s not how savvy marketers view automation.

With analytics tools as sophisticated as they are, marketers are constantly testing even the strongest email campaigns, looking for ways to improve. When you understand formulas, you’ll be able to refresh a sagging campaign or create a whole new one rather than wait around for the next blog post flogging a “can’t miss!”  template.

Really, until you thoroughly understand email formulas, verbatim templates are a silly distraction. And who’s got time for that?

12 tips email subject lines

Whether you’re using a template or a formula for your emails, your subject lines can be one of the most important elements of your email program. After all, an awesome email is worthless if it’s never seen. That’s why it’s so important to know how to create amazingly effective subject lines that will get your email opened. Download Act-On’s eBook, “12 Tips for Amazingly Effect Subject Lines” to learn tips for creating subject lines that are sure to attract attention. 


About

Mike Devaney is a freelance copywriter with a bias towards direct response tactics. His clients run the gamut from small businesses to startups to Fortune 1000 companies.