No man is an iland

Feed | marketing advice, info and tips by Mark Brownlow

Why is there no S in iland?

September 4th, 2013

Given the lack of recent action on this blog, a few people have wondered where I am.

Truth is I left online marketing to pursue a full-time career as a professional footballer.

OK, maybe not (I’m 45).

Writing commitments for clients unfortunately mean I have little time spare for the blog. It’s as simple as that.

But…you can find a monthly column from me over at SmartInsights. I also regularly highlight and comment on email marketing developments and ideas at Google+ and on Twitter.

Hope to see you at one of those venues!

Find related articles:

Permalink | September 4th, 2013 | Comments Off
Get posts like this: RSS feed | via email | via Twitter | via G+
October 18th, 2012


Yikes! The holiday season is almost upon us.

Time to order that turkey compile the annual holiday email marketing resource list.

Here are 2012′s articles, white papers, presentations etc. on the topic. I’ll add more as they come in. Don’t forget previous editions of this post, which still contain heaps of useful insight:

Research and studies:

  • Retail Email Guide to the Holiday Season: 6th edition of this annual report from Chad White and Responsys looks at different holiday opportunities and tactics you can exploit, based on hundreds of monitored retailer campaigns.
  • Consumer online behaviour report: Combines a consumer survey and analysis of actual marketing campaigns to produce insights for holiday strategies (by YesMail).
  • 2012 holiday guide: WhatCounts with insights based on a review of data from last year’s Q4 efforts.

Tips and advice:

  • Handling holiday frequency: Suggestions on how to increase volume without subscribers crying “spam”.
  • 10 power tips for the holiday season: Quick tips on scheduling and, particularly, content approaches from GetResponse.
  • Christmas email tips: Multi-part series from emarsys, looking at tactics, key dates, segmentation practices and similar. Browse their blog for all parts.
  • 15 tips: Listrak on the phases of holiday campaigns and developing approaches to capture holiday value.
  • Getting ready for Christmas campaigns: Pure360 guide looking at creatives, offers, scheduling and metrics.
  • Six predictions: Chad White previews likely trends and approaches for the Christmas season.
  • Five ways to great promotions: Specific tips for the tone, content, design and timing of a promotional holiday email.
  • Cross-channel email strategies: A few suggestions to account for the role of mobile and multichannel shopping patterns.
  • Holiday content inspiration: Outlines a few things that are different in 2012, including new social networks, role of mobile etc.
  • Twelve Days of Email Marketing: minisite from AWeber with various goodies for marketers (templates, checklists, subject line generator and more).
  • Addressing last-minute shoppers: Describes the characteristics of those who leave shopping late and suggests how to target them.
  • Optimise for the pocket inbox: Another review of how holiday promotions could (should) be more mobile-friendly.
  • Holiday marketing checklist: Don’t think I have to explain this one…planning checklist from Bronto.
  • B2B ideas: Adam Q. Holden-Bache has suggestions for how those not in B2C can exploit the holiday opportunity.

Recorded webinars:

Reviews of the 2011 season:

Find related articles:

Permalink | October 18th, 2012 | 2 Comments »
Get posts like this: RSS feed | via email | via Twitter | via G+
June 19th, 2012


Value, usefulness and relevancy: it’s not just what you send, but when you send it…

Value in email

Find related articles:

Permalink | June 19th, 2012 | 8 Comments »
Get posts like this: RSS feed | via email | via Twitter | via G+
June 11th, 2012

spiderI 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 the recipient might see?

2. Define your objectives

Well, yeah! But this is where I’ve seen (and made) a lot of mistakes.

“Get another email into their inbox” is an objective. So is “raise awareness” or “build loyalty” or “generate sales”.

But are they defined well-enough?

What is it you actually want to happen as a result of this email?

There is a big difference between “tell people about our new service” and “get people to go to Page X and start a free trial of our new service.”

What emotional response or physical action do you want?

The clearer and more specific the objectives, the tighter and more focused the writing process and the resultant text.

3. Define what’s really important

We can argue about whether you should want recipients to do more than one thing…but if you do, what’s the most important?

Are there any specific key messages that must come across, as opposed to those that “would be nice”?

When space and attention is scarce, where should you focus your efforts?

You can’t communicate seven corporate values and three calls to action in a four-word headline. At least I can’t.

In trying to achieve everything you can end up achieving nothing.

4. Account for the email context

Email text does not exist in a vacuum: it’s surrounded by images and other template elements, and changed by colors, fonts, backgrounds, line lengths, and positioning.

All of this affects the tone, readability, impact and influence of the words.

What works well in a plain text file can take on a different hue when placed into the email itself.

If you don’t have the template and images to work with when composing the text, then review your efforts afterwards and check it all still reads as you wanted it to read.

5. Choose your moment

Only the lucky few can sit down and simply rattle off top text any time of day and night.

So time writing tasks to those periods of the day when your mind is at its creative / disciplined / energetic best. For me, for example, that’s 8-11am and 4-7pm.

The middle period of the day I use for checking the football news, drinking tea, lunch, staring pensively out the window, emails, accounts, background research etc.

Encouraging creativity is an art in itself. For reasons unknown to science, my best creative moments come while waiting for the kettle to boil. Which is why I keep a pen and paper in the kitchen…more tips on encouraging creativity.

6. Review

After completing a text, I always try and review it again the following morning.

A night’s sleep can bring a fresh perspective and this never fails to lead to improvements. You can get so involved in the detail of the text that you miss the big picture or little errors like typos. These things jump out at you immediately next day.

7. Give yourself enough time

All of which means you need enough time at your disposal. Easier said than done and work realities will often drive a truck through this ideal writing scenario.

But enough time is important. Not so much for the basic writing task, but for refining the words. Tightening a text often takes me longer than the first draft.

And if you’re pressed for time? Well, the silver lining in that cloud is that imminent deadlines have a marvelously curative effect on writer’s block:

writing time

8. …but don’t give yourself too much time

It is possible to analyze, edit, review, rework and rehash a text to death…where the message is obscured by all that red ink. Or where the personality is squeezed out of it after editing by committee.

9. Use the science

Make use of all the public information out there on copywriting that works, especially from such data-driven websites as MarketingExperiments and WhichTestWon.

Take care though: the results of a test or campaign depend on the context as much as the content. What works for me might not work for you…and vice versa.

10. But don’t lose your humanity

If you take an entirely pragmatic approach to writing and accept the average reader has the attention span of a gnat on acid, you can end up with a list of bullet points.

Pragmatism is good, but people still want to be amused, engaged, tickled, entertained, motivated, moved and enthused.

Humor, a little animation, some word play…a touch of personality goes a long way.

11. Seek inspiration elsewhere

Everyone advises keeping a “swipe file” of great text, phrases, subject lines and emails you’ve come across that you can draw on for inspiration.

No argument there, but there are two problems.

First, using your inbox to collect and review hundreds of emails for your own swipe file takes time. An alternative is to use what we might call public swipe files as and when needed.

If only someone had a list of links to public email campaign galleries, databases, reviews and award sites!

Here you go.

…and some sources of subject line inspiration while we’re at it.

Second, a danger is that as a marketer and writer of emails, you like emails that match that experience and your personality. But your favorite emails aren’t necessarily those that appeal to your audience.

So it also pays to have an “internal” swipe file, featuring words, phrases, CTAs, headlines from previous emails and other marketing copy you or your client has already used (ideally with an understanding of how they worked out).

This helps guide tone, style and vocabulary. And if consistency and repetition are required, then you just copy, paste and adapt as needed.

So, just a few ideas that have helped me. How about you?

Find related articles:

Permalink | June 11th, 2012 | 3 Comments »
Get posts like this: RSS feed | via email | via Twitter | via G+
February 22nd, 2012

short peopleThe world is full of sensible advice that’s hard to put into practice.

Do more exercise.

Reduce your stress levels.

Accept that salt and vinegar flavor chips are not, in fact, a mainstay of a well-balanced diet. (Damn).

Oh, and keep your tweets and subject lines short.

Actually you can argue about that last bit of advice. But if you have something to say and have two equally impactful ways of saying it, then pick the shorter one.

Often it’s just a question of practicality.

Shortening your Tweets makes it easier to fit the message within the 140 character limit. If you can get the length down further, then you leave enough space for people to retweet your message in its entirety*.

Shorter subject lines avoid the pitfalls of email software arbitrarily cutting off your words.

But…how do you actually keep subject lines and Tweets short?

I’m hoping you’ll offer your own suggestions in the comments, as there’s not a lot of practical advice out there beyond, um, “keep it short”.

But here a few tips I’ve picked up over the years…

1. Rewrite

The famous quote commonly attributed to Blaise Pascal runs something like this:

“I have made this letter longer than usual, only because I have not had the time to make it shorter.”

My biggest challenge with copywriting emails, for example, is not finding the words, but finding fewer words to express the same meaning.

Your first line of text probably does communicate what you want to say, but it takes rewrites to communicate it succinctly.

2. Synonyms are your best friends

Rare is the word with no alternative. We often fall into patterns and habits, where we favor particular words simply because they’re the ones we’ve always used. Perhaps you can find shorter synonyms? For example:

Excellent article on
Great article on
Top article on
Top post on (9 spaces saved)

Buy (5 spaces saved)

Hard (5 spaces saved)

Lots of
Many (3 spaces saved)

Last year
In 2011 (2 spaces saved)

A few
Some (1 space saved)

But take care…

Not all synonyms are truly identical and a different word can introduce a subtle change in meaning.

Even true synonyms can draw a slightly different emotional response in the reader. In subject lines, particularly, it pays to test variations to find the choice that elicits the best response.

These two concepts apply to many of the tips below, too, so keep them in mind.

3. Eliminate implied and unnecessary words

Do you have any words that are not contributing to the message? Words with no impact on the meaning, value, emotion, etc. of the tweet or subject?

These are common candidates for freeing up space.

If tweeting as an individual, for example, the “I” in “I love this article:” is implicit. “Love this article:” would be fine.

Where possible, scrap unnecessary modifiers like “that”, “which” and “who”:

The presenter who was after me
The presenter after me

New products that you’ll love
New products you’ll love

You can shorten phrases using contractions:

Tips for summer fashions
Summer fashion tips

People in New York love Apple
New Yorkers love Apple

This is an article that really engages:
A really engaging article:

4. Mathematical symbols and numerals

Styleguides typically say numbers up to ten should appear as words, not numerals. But you have more flexibility in tweets and subject lines:

Seven ways to win with words
7 ways to win with words

“&” or “+” or even “/” can substitute for “and”:

Email more popular than beer and chocolate
Email more popular than beer & chocolate

The “>” and “<” symbols can be used for “less than”, “more than”, “under”, “over”…with certain audiences:

Fewer than 10% of marketers test their copy
<10% of marketers test their copy

Try “=” instead of “equals”, “means”, “leads to” etc.:

Donut consumption shown to lead to higher risk of stomach ache
More donuts = more stomach aches

5. The active voice

Switching from passive to active voice simply reads better, but also means shorter text:

Half of marketers are using email design preview tools
Half of marketers use email design preview tools
50% of marketers use email design preview tools

6. Hashtags

Twitter’s hashtags, like many tools, are neither good nor bad. It’s all in how you use them.

A suitable hashtag might replace lengthier information explaining the context for a tweet:

Images lift clicks by 34% when used in marketing emails
Images lift clicks by 34% in marketing emails
Images lift clicks by 34% #emailmarketing

7. Abbreviations

Nobody is going to write United Kingdom when they can write UK. Abbreviations are great space savers, provided you follow two rules.

1. They must be understandable (audience)

Well, yeah.

Except it’s easy to use abbreviations you’re familiar with, and forget that your audience isn’t. “Promo code” for “promotional code” seems unarguable. “w/ free shipping” for “with free shipping”? Maybe.

2. They must be appropriate (context)

My wife is familiar with the abbreviation OMG. I’m not sure, though, she wants to see it in an email from her gynecologist:

“OMG, u r pregnant!”

(She’d be quite surprised, too).

Your choice of abbreviations says something about you as a sender / tweeter.

Equally, subject lines are not tweets and tweets are not SMS text messages. The medium alone changes what abbreviations are acceptable and that’s before we get into the context of the message itself.

Too many abbreviations are also difficult to read and interpret if you’re not familiar with that kind of writing.

“UNESCO says tnx FB 4 gr8 AIDS donation”


FYI, Social Media Today has a list of common Twitter abbreviations.

8. URL shorteners

Needless to say, anyone putting a link in a tweet should use one of the common URL shortening services out there. The popular tools used to send tweets should make this easy. So the Hootsuite tool turns:


Links in tweets posted through Twitter itself are also automatically shortened.

9. Colons and trailing dots

OK, this is your bonus tip with a couple of related techniques.

If space isn’t an issue and you have trouble getting important keywords near the front of your subject line or tweet, consider the colon option. Example:

Great advice on how to write shorter subject lines
Subject lines: how to make them shorter <– great advice

If you’re running out of space and want to imply there’s more information than you can reasonably fit into the subject line or tweet, consider using trailing dots:

Free shipping on top brands: Calvin Klein, Burberry, Coach, Trussardi, Fila,…

And finally…

In King Lear, Shakespeare wrote:

“Thou art a boil, a plague sore, an embossed carbuncle in my corrupted blood”

He could have said:

“You annoy me”

…and saved 63 spaces. But it’s not the same is it?

Short, concise writing can destroy style, humor, emotion and personality if handled badly. And these may be the very things that differentiate you from the competition or drive higher responses. Words matter and, sometimes, long beats short.

So…your tips please!

*You need two spaces for the RT, then a space, then your username plus a colon plus a space: so tweets by @MarkatEMR need to be 125 characters or less to be retweeted as RT @MarkatEMR: Blah Blah

Find related articles:

Permalink | February 22nd, 2012 | 36 Comments »
Get posts like this: RSS feed | via email | via Twitter | via G+