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Email's Little Secret: 18 Words to Fly or Die By

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Just 18 words. Marketing and Sales pros who know this powerful stat, fly; and those who don't, die.

By now you've heard all about the white-hot account-based marketing and account-based selling theories; but, astonishingly, there's been a technological shift that's being ignored, and it's affecting your emails.

The body of each email you send is previewed in mobile devices. People quickly scan that preview and make a snap decision to either delete your email along with the rest of the unwanted multitudes, or take the time to engage with it.

We know that an increasing number of personal and business email readers access their mail accounts on their mobile phones: The stats range from 40% to upwards of 70%, depending on the survey.

We also know most people don't change default settings on their iPhone or Android mobile device, which means we have a pretty good idea of how the email message is being displayed: There's the sender's name, title, and a snippet of the start of the email, right?

That's the punchline. That's where you'll find the value: On average, about 18 words are displayed in that preview screen (a couple fewer in Android devices).

And that preview is the most valuable real estate your email copy occupies. So make it specific to the buyer and the buyer's vertical. Make it meaningful and intriguing. Leave out the formalities and niceties and get to the meat—fast.

To quote the old rock adage: "Don't bore us. Get to the chorus!"

Look back at the top of this article. The first line is an example of copy written to captivate a specific type of user (here I'm targeting you, marketing and sales professionals), intriguing the reader enough to cause them to engage with a fun tease. Ask yourself, if you saw this 18-word-long email copy in your phone's preview screen, would you be quick to delete it, or would you seriously consider opening the email?

Chances are, it has better odds of gaining your attention than "Hello. I hope you are well. My name is Johnathan Jones, and I was just wondering if..."

In this era of customized, personalized marketing and sales, many are still missing the boat.

Now let me tell you a story...

At a recent #FlipMyFunnel conference in Atlanta, I was aghast to see a borderline-famous CEO (in Martech, anyway) show us a prospecting email he had sent out. I'm going from memory, but it looked something like this:

Hi Dave,

My name is [REDACTED] and I'm the CEO of [COMPANY NAME REDACTED]. I'm going to be at the conference in San Francisco later this month and wanted to know if you wanted to be my VIP guest at our event.

Holy smokes! This guy is up there talking about how it's critical to customize content and copy for your audience, and he starts off by telling people who probably don't know him about himself and what he's doing.

News flash: they don't care. They probably don't know you. And, frankly, even if they did, they likely still don't care very much.

People care about themselves and what can better their lives personally and professionally. Heck, that's why you're reading this article, right? So, Mr. Emailer, I could give a rat's backside what your name is, what position title you have, or what you want. Why? Because I don't care about you. I care about me.

If this highly successful CEO had asked me to take a stab at rewriting his copy, I'd probably have come up with something like this:


Your new Apple Watch and VIP experience at the San Francisco Giants baseball game is a small way for me to thank you for meeting with me next month. Gaming companies like yours traditionally see double-digit increases in adoption rates by using our technology.

Can I count you in for a quick chat at the ballgame?

During the presentation, we learned that was the giveaway the company was using. And that's pretty swank. Also nice, though? What business value I can derive from meeting with you. Note that the first 18 words in the preview screen would likely pull in the reader. Even if there were no giveaway, you could easily lead with the next sentence, which delivers industry-specific, meaningful value.

The next time you're prospecting (or writing copy for those who are), take a minute to think about what 18 words you want to use.

If the reader isn't familiar with you, all you have are a fleeting moment and those 18 words.

Use them wisely.

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Michael McCunney is a self-professed marketing geek based in Atlanta. He is director of marketing for SmartBIM, where he is responsible for all marketing strategy and tactics for the company.

LinkedIn: Michael McCunney

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  • by Neil Mahoney Thu Apr 27, 2017 via web

    Why don't you follow your own advice.??

  • by Bill Thu Apr 27, 2017 via web

    Ahhh, WIIFM is alive and well. Some truths are eternal.

  • by BlakeH Thu Apr 27, 2017 via web

    THANK YOU. I go back and forth with my sales reps SO MANY TIMES over emails like these! "Hi, I'm so and so and I'm your new rep for our company..." etc. So frustrating. Having an article like yours that I can literally copy and paste snippets and refer them to your link is so valuable in gaining credibility for what we already know to be the best practice here. Really appreciate you writing this!!

  • by Amie Thu Apr 27, 2017 via web

    Awesome. Awesome. Awesome. Great point about front-loading an email. It's easy to stray to make an email flow naturally, but if the reader only decides within the first 18 words, then goodness get it in there!

    Thank you!! Great insights and reminders.

  • by Julia Thu Apr 27, 2017 via web

    Thank you for a great insight on how to write compelling email copy that grabs attention in a fast-pace congested information space.

  • by Katra Thu Apr 27, 2017 via web

    It feels like emails are the new "elevator pitch"! and I think intros are so ...
    Great post.

  • by Holly G. Thu Apr 27, 2017 via web

    I'm not sure if I fully agree with the premise of this article.

    For one, getting an email from a stranger merits and introduction - seems almost polite.

    Second, the suggested edits sound very "marketing" and people don't want to be marketed to anymore. This is one of the reasons that content marketing has taken off so rapidly - because it doesn't look, smell or feel like marketing.

    The original email sounds more personal and less like it's trying to aggressively sell me something.

    In general, however, I do agree that individuals are self-centered and they don't really care about you, how you feel, or what you're up to all the time.

  • by Jerry Pompilio Sat Apr 29, 2017 via web

    Thanks Michael, enjoyed your post. Right on point, get to the point. Great advise to try and stand out from the pack.

  • by Melissa Tue May 9, 2017 via web

    I totally agree that in mobile email, you must grab my attention or I hit "Delete."

    I love my "junk" email (yes, I said that) since most of it is relevant and I subscribed for a reason. However, some are boring, are sent to frequently, or just don't deliver what they promise in the subject line or preview. BUT if the preview grabs my attention, I will open it.

    Thanks for the reminder to stay original and bold.

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