Estimated Reading Time: 2 minutes
Anyone who practices email marketing knows that there are days when you just can’t quite think of what to write. Or can’t bring yourself to write yet another variation on the same subject line. Days when you wonder why, after all the effort, your emails are just not converting.
I’d like to recommend three great books that I am sure will help. Don’t be dissuaded by the titles, two of which deal with advertising, and one of which doesn’t seem to have anything to do with marketing. And don’t sniff at the age of these books, which were written in that bygone era when only university researchers and real geeks had email addresses. Fact is, these books are gems. I keep them close at hand on the bookshelf in my office and refer to them frequently. Not only will you find great tips on writing and ideas for subject lines, but you’ll be inspired by some of the great direct marketing campaigns of the past.
Being Direct, Les Wunderman.
For those who don’t know, as I didn’t when I discovered this book, Les Wunderman invented direct marketing, aka direct mail. This is a fantastic book written by a man who has sold everything from credit cards to rose bushes via direct mail. My personal favorite, which I remember from my childhood, is his work for Columbia Records, where he measured television advertising influence on direct marketing using a small yellow rectangle. Read chapter 14 to learn the secrets of “The Gold Box of Colorado.”
Tested Advertising Methods, David Caples
I have Hiten Shah to thank for this one. I was heartened to hear a modern email marketer highly recommend this book from over 30 years ago, and to an audience of twenty- and thirtysomethings at a marketing meetup at Zendesk in San Francisco, no less. Caples stresses the importance of tying subject lines – and in his case headlines – to a buyer’s self interest. Going through examples of headlines that simply don’t work and why, to ones that do work with explanation of how they tug at the desires of their readers, Caples provides a bevy of examples for those who are stuck. And as my team will tell you, since I bought Tested Advertising Methods, I am obsessed with self-interest when it comes to blog post titles and subject lines.
Ogilvy on Advertising, David Ogilvy
My wife’s bookshelf is where I met this book. Of course, I’d heard of David Ogilvy, but it wasn’t until around my tenth year of walking past the books in her office that I finally decided to take it down and peruse Ogilvy’s eponymous classic. David Ogilvy, as some may know, is a legend in the advertising business, and one of the original Mad Men. What many don’t know is that this Brit was a great copywriter, and in fact some say he himself was responsible for the boom in direct marketing in the 1960s and beyond.
Ogilvy on Advertising is a fun read that covers everything from how to write good ads to how to build an ad agency. He reveals the inspiration for some of his most famous campaigns like American Express, Rolls-Royce, and Volkswagen.
Chapter 2, ‘How to Produce Advertising that Sells,’ is great for email marketers. First, I love how he plainly states the purpose of an ad: to sell. Not to create awareness, start buzz or ‘build the brand,’ but to sell. He then gives some great tips on how to create great copy: know your product inside and out (‘Do your homework’), make sure the concept is good enough (‘What’s the big idea?), and kill bland groupthink (‘Down with committees’). A sure favorite for weary emailers will no doubt be ‘Repeat your winners,’ where he recommends, “If you are lucky enough to write a good advertisement, repeat it until it stops selling.”
There are many other books I could tout. As you can see, I have quite the collection. And sure, there are many great blog blogs that cover effective email (perhaps the topic for another post). But if you only purchase these three books, not only will you improve your copywriting skills, you will learn the secrets of the masters that your competition probably doesn’t know.