What if you could go beyond interest and demographic based segmentation and personalize your email campaigns with copy that really hit the mark?

Successful email marketing programs continue to find ways to stay relevant in the inboxes of their subscribers by optimizing in all phases of email, such as:

  • "From" name
  • Subject lines
  • Pre-header
  • Plain Text versions
  • Email Design
  • Calls to action
  • Copy

For the purposes of this article, and because you want me to get to the point about email segmentation using copy formulas, let's focus our attention on an email optimization strategy that segments our audience based on how they react to certain types of copy. You would use this strategy to improve open rates, click rates, and find out what makes certain segments of your email list tick.

Introducing copywriting formulas

A copywriting formula isn't a template, per se, but rather an approach you take each time you need to write copy. You may have heard of AIDA (Attention, Interest, Desire, Action) or PAS (Problem, Agitate, Solve), these are formulas. Joanna Wiebe of Copyhackers published an ultimate guide of copy formulas that I encourage you to bookmark (after you read this, of course!). Inside this mega resource is a section on email headline copy formulas that reads like a list of con artist ideas from the move Ocean's Eleven:

  • The Open Loop
  • The Empty Suitcase
  • The Punctuator
  • The Shorty

...and others. Each formula can take the message you need to say, and deliver it in a different way. Some have a more factual, no-nonsense tone to them, while some read like pure clickbait.

In practice, you would take your desired outcome for the email (read article, reply to email, buy something, log back in, etc.) and then choose which formula would deliver the greatest chance of getting that outcome.

For example, from the article, allow me to introduce The Punctuator:

For your subject line to earn an open, it needs to get noticed in an inbox. To do that, we use punctuation marks. Truly. That’s what punctuation is for in subject lines: to get eyes on the line.

I’m not going to list out all the ways you can use punctuation to your advantage with this formula, but the goal is twofold:

  1. To visually break up the line of copy that is your subject line
  2. To visually distinguish your subject line from that of all the others
Your expected outcome by using this formula in an email subject line is a high open rate. That's it.


Pop quiz: When would a high open rate be super-important for your email campaign?

The answer: when you aren't getting it to begin with.

Think about that answer for a second...

Pop quiz #2: If you are getting an average 35% open rate on your emails, and wanted to use The Punctuator to increase your open rate, you would:

A) Send your entire list a campaign that used The Punctuator in the subject line.

B) Send The Punctuator subject line to the 65% of subscribers who don't ever open your emails.

C) Split test The Punctuator against a different subject line formula.

Tweet your answer: A  B  C

What can email copy formulas teach us about our subscribers?

More than you may realize. For example, I subscribe to Talia Wolf's Conversioner newsletter. Actually, I'm on it twice, with two different email addresses, and love getting her emails about how emotional triggers can affect conversion.

Imagine my surprise when I received her email newsletter -- twice -- but there were two different subject lines! My first reaction was to love that she was even split-testing subject lines in the first place, but after my "caught you red-handed" moment, I wanted to know why.

Like every great marketer, Talia responds to replies, so I asked, and we had a good chat about it on Twitter and via email.

Talia followed up shortly thereafter, saying that the entry-level subject line (the second one) was a clear winner.

Clearly, this example points out how important copy can be in getting the right message across to your subscribers. By testing these things, you will do a better job speaking their language, which will translate into higher open and engagement rates on your emails.

But wait, there's more! You want to know how to do this yourself, right? I mean, you got this far...

3 segments that can benefit from email copy formulas

Pretend you or your company is publishing a monster article of epic proportions, sure to be the talk of the town for months to come. The first thing you'll want to do is email the link to your subscribers. You're in the Corporate Services industry, which according to Silverpop's latest benchmark studies, gives your industry an average open rate of 21.7%. (For a good breakdown of the numbers, head to the Kissmetrics blog).

Now, let's assume you've read a few of our articles on email marketing, so your company's average open rate is 30%. Fantastic! But, that still means 70% of your list isn't finding you relevant. Why not? Well, maybe you aren't speaking their language!

Create these three segments in your email marketing system (using tags, filters, or whatever features your ESP has available):

  1. People who always open and always click.
  2. People who always open and never click.
  3. People who never open.

(Two more segments are possible: always open/sometimes click, and sometimes open/always click, but without heavily controlled experimentation or data analysis, they will be hard segments to optimize using copy formulas)

Segment 1: Brand Superheroes

They always open, always click, probably reply once in a while, follow you on social media, and are your brand ambassadors. Honestly, you could send these guys the most boring email imaginable and they'd still engage with it. Why? They find you relevant, they trust you, and you provide value.

So, instead of trying to get into this segment's head with different copy formulas, think about mixing up your call to action. Ask them to share your new resource guide with their social networks, or to put you in touch with someone who may want to blog or interview you about it.

Segment 2: Above-Average Joes

This segment is above-average because they always open your emails, which means they trust you to deliver value. Unfortunately, you don't hit the mark to get them to take action (which is why they don't click). There are a few tests you can run with this segment to increase clicks, but for the purposes of this article, let's assume you have the brand recognition (which causes opens) but you aren't conveying the right intent with your copy. Segment 2 is a perfect place to test different copy formulas.

SPLIT-TEST APPROACH: If this segment is large, you could run a split-test with two or three formulas at once to see which compels them to click. Then tag this segment with that copy formula for future campaigns. The split-test also gives you the benefit of a single email, whereas the sequence approach I'm about to describe may alienate subscribers (because I'm advocating that you send them multiple emails until they do what you want them to do).

EMAIL SEQUENCE APPROACH: If your Above-Average Joes segment is small, then consider an email sequence. Email 1 uses a particular copy formula in the subject line that sets the expectation that you want them to click. In our example, the Report or Data formulas may work well for the first email.

If they do not respond, keep them in the email series. But if they respond to any of these attempts, tag them with the copy formula you used so you know how to connect with them the next time.

For email #2, send another email with another formula a few days later. Make this one a little more ambiguous, like The Empty Suitcase, The Shorty, etc.

Tag those who click with the copy formula you used, so you can use it again the next time.

A few days later, send the last attempt to the ones who still haven't clicked through. Get personal, clever, anything to get their attention but that also sets the expectation that your intent of the email is for them to click. The Open Loop formula should nail it for you, or maybe a variation on one of the others you've tried thus far.

Again, tag those who click with the copy formula you used, so you can use it the next time.

Segment 3: The Shake-ups

This is 70% of your email list, so you need to pull out all the stops and focus on getting their attention. In the section above, I covered the split-test and sequence approaches, and you could do the same thing here (but with bolder copy formulas).

The real key in this segment is to focus on opens.

Implementing Copy Formula Segmentation on a Regular Basis

Every email marketer's goal is to deliver emails that their subscribers can't wait to open and act upon. With strong buyer persona and segmentation strategies, you will be well ahead of the game in terms of staying relevant with, and delivering value to, your subscriber base.

But if engagement starts to fall off, you will need to shake things up in some way or another. Copy formulas and the strategies we talked about today are one approach to reactivating your subscribers. Remember to apply this to body copy as well as subject lines. There are others, and many can be easier to implement. After all, if you identify five different copy formulas out of these tests, that means you have to write five different emails every time you send a campaign.

Is it worth it? Consider this: the trend in email, social, and search is to be constantly delivering your audience the most relevant and delightful experience possible. Speaking in a language that you know they will respond to is one very important component of a relevant and delightful experience.

What to do next:

Bookmark Copyhackers' Copywriting Formulas resource.

Contact a member of our team to talk about how you can get better results from your email marketing program.

Explore more helpful email marketing tips and strategies.

Stephan Hovnanian

Stephan Hovnanian runs the show here at Shovi, bringing over 15 years of email and web marketing experience to companies that need more from their digital marketing efforts.

Connect with Stephan here, on Twitter (@stephanhov), LinkedIn, or Google+.


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