Email writing: 5 secrets to get more sales

Before I show you the five powerful secrets to use in your emails, I’m going to share with you a story I found in the book, Good to Great, by Jim Collins.

“The Fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one BIG thing.

In a vote for the smartest animal on the planet, most people would probably put the Fox above the Hedgehog.

The Fox is cunning, quick, slick and creative.

It is tenacious in finding ways to outwit its prey, and even in thinking of ways to get around the traps and barriers humans put in its way.

The Hedgehog on the other hand, though nimble on its feet, seems far less ambitious.

A cross between a toothbrush and an anteater, is mainly concerned with finding food and looking after its nest.

When the Fox is sensitive to whatever is happening within the wider environment, the Hedgehog seems preoccupied with its own small world, hardly aware of anything beyond the radius of a few metres.

So how is it, then, that the Hedgehog consistently outsmarts the Fox?

The Fox lies patiently in wait at the crossroads for the unsuspecting Hedgehog.

And when the Hedgehog arrives, with speed, stealth and guile, and from a cunning angle of attack, the Fox makes his move.

But the Hedgehog senses the approach and with a minimum amount of fuss, rolls himself up into a perfectly defended spiky ball, which denies the Fox any chance of success.

The Fox retreats, baffled, and slinks off into the forest to develop some new, even more creative stratagems.

But despite his cunning, creativity, speed and slyness, the Fox hardly ever wins.

Despite his many strategies, none of them can overcome the Hedgehogs one simple, unadorned yet sufficient strategy.

This battle, in some form or another, is played out every day.

And almost every time the Hedgehog wins.”

That’s like most email copywriters.

Like the Fox they know all the slick strategies.

The new ‘shiny’ techniques.

The NLP persuasion hype.

That almost always fail.


The answer is simple.

Most online sales copy is like talking to a car showroom salesman who brushes his hair with buttered toast.

While email copy is like talking to your “buddy on a barstool.”

Your buddy knows only one BIG thing.

How to keep you on the barstool next to him.

Barstool Buddies crave attention.

Without it, their life sucks.

In email writing you need attention.

In marketing jargon, it’s known as

“The attention economy.”

The one big thing you should know in writing emails is “Curiosity.”

You will outsmart, outmanoeuvre and outwit the “Foxes” (aka your competition), with that one big thing.

That said, let’s delve into the captivating words you can use in your subject lines.

Words that compel people to open and read your emails.

If you’ve ever read any good sales copy, you’ll be aware of ‘bullets.’

The three types of bullets.

The first type is where each bullet is usually a summary of a benefit the reader gets when they buy.

The second type is known as a ‘blind bullet’ because it withholds desired information from you.

The only way to get that desired information is to buy the product.

Blind bullets are normally written to sell information products.

Like this, “The quickest, easiest way to get a good night’s sleep every night.”

The third type of bullet is known as “Fascinations.”

Magic Bullets.

These are the ones that fascinate the reader into wanting the answer the bullet sets up.

Like this, “If you win the lottery, do this to immediately protect your ticket.”

And “Bills it’s okay to pay late.”

You want to know which bills it’s okay to pay late.

And that’s the magic of these types of bullets.

Now you’ve seen these fascinations it’s time to take this to the next level.

Think of subject lines as “fascinations.”

They must fascinate the reader, so they want to open and read on.

Like this…

“How a stopwatch is more accurate than your doctor at assessing your health.”

You want the answer to that.

Or how about…

“How a pickpocket can cure your back ache.”

Or even, “What never EVER to eat on an airplane.”

Fascinating, aren’t they?

I bet you want the answers to these as well.

Keep reading to find out.

Now let’s translate these fascinations into subject lines.

Subject line type 1. Open loops.

One of the ways you can cajole your readers to open your emails is called an “open loop.”

Hypnotists use open loops to prevent the critical mind resisting what’s being said.

An open loop is a phrase that doesn’t come to closure.

Like, “The safest seat on an airplane and the scary reasons why.”

If you plan on flying anywhere soon, you want the answer to that.

Here’s one from a recent campaign. I wrote for Income Diary.

“Real men don’t write content”…

You instantly want to know what they do instead.

It creates an open loop in your mind.

It also prevents your “logical” mind from criticising what’s being said.

At least until the “loop” is closed.

It’s also known as the “Zeigarnik effect.”

While sitting in a busy Viennese restaurant in the 1920s, Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik noticed something strange.

The waiters could successfully remember the details of the orders for the tables that had yet to receive and pay for their food.

As soon as the food was delivered and the food was paid for, the waiters’ memories of the orders disappeared from their minds.

The open loop (Zeigarnik effect) caused the waiters to recall orders for food.

But when each order came to closure the waiters soon forgot the details.

One reason why this works so well is because the brain needs to get to closure so it can go on with something else.

When you open a loop in your subject line it makes it difficult for your reader to ignore.

One of the open loops I used just recently was, “SEO is for suckers.”

If you’re a world-class SEO guy like Barry Dunlop, you want to know why SEO is for suckers.

Hence the high open rate.

How can you use this in your emails?

Now you know how to use this in your subject lines, let’s turn our attention to the actual email copy.

In you emails the principle is the same, but with an added twist.

Did you spot what I just did there?

Yes, that was an open loop.

In your emails you open a loop, and right before you close it, you open another.

Subject line type 2. Implied benefit.

This is also an open loop subject line.

It works like this…

To entice readers to open your emails promise them something in return.

Professor Robert Cialdini calls this technique, “Reciprocity,” in his bestselling book called, “Influence.”

The internet was based on the “something for nothing” mentality.

That’s why you’ve seen so many “opt-in” offers to get a free “widget.”

A good opt-in offer will be gobbled up faster than a bowl of rice in an African orphanage.

Once you get people on your email list use the “implied benefit” subject line to “train” them to open your emails.

How can you use this in your emails?

I like words with “est” on the end of them.

One of my favourites is, “The quickest, easiest way to…”

See how I’ve implied a benefit?

You can also use words like, fastest, simplest, and effortless.

Yes, I know that last word ended in “ess,” but you get the idea.

Subject line type 3. Reveal a secret.

We all love to learn secrets.

We all believe the grass is greener on the other side.

Even cats want to get on the other side of the door!

Here’s another one from my recent campaign…

“What is the greatest secret in all of content creation?”

You can see that’s clearly an open loop.

That’s why the open rate was so high.

How can you use this in your emails?

Look into your product, service or information and see if you can find something, anything that’s not common knowledge.

It must be something you can hold your hand on your  heart and say, “This is a secret very few people know about.”

Typically, it’s the “how” your reader will benefit from your product.

“Little known secrets that can steer your profits in gold… even if bullion drops to $250 an ounce!”

Subject line type 4. The number formula.

You’ll often see this subject line in your inbox if there are several ways to solve a problem or achieve a desired outcome.

How can you use this in your emails?

Think about the many ways your product or service helps your reader.

“Four ways to stimulate the body to release its own natural pain-killers.”

Starter templates for you include,

“The world’s two most powerful…”

“The seven little known signs of…”

“3 often overlooked…”

Here’s a fun one I used in a recent email campaign.

“50 shades of content…”

Don’t laugh, that got a high open rate.

Try fitting “50 shades” to what you offer.

You will be laughing then.

All the way to the bank!

Subject line type 5.

Start in the middle of the action.

If you can pull it off, stories are the best way to begin any email.

How can you use this in your emails?

If you have a backstory, here’s where you’ll use it.

I used this in a recent subject line.

“I still remember the doctor walking into the room and giving me the alarming news.”

If your readers trust you, a subject line like this makes it almost impossible to ignore.

When you look at great movies, most start in the middle of the action.

Molly’s Game is a great example of this.

“Middle of the action” subject lines compel readers to open your email to read the rest of the story.

Now you know how to use open loops in your subject lines.

However, before I leave you to use these 5 subject line types, let me share with you one more important tip:

“The sneaky second loop.”

To get even better results, you’ll also want to close the loop in your subject line and then open a new loop just before the end of your email.

If they want closure on the second loop, they must click on a link you put in your email.

You know this whole open loop thing comes from hypnosis, right?

Here’s how it goes.

The hypnotist starts a story and right at the cliff hanger point they start a second story.

Then they take the second story to a critical moment and guess what?

They start a third story.

This pattern is repeated twice more.

Now here’s where the fun begins. At the climax of the fifth story they “implant” suggestions in your mind.

After which they close all the open loops (stories) in reverse order.

This then “folds” each story neatly inside you mind so that you consciously forget the implanted suggestions.

Is that cool or what?

You don’t need to go that far, all you need is just one more open loop after your subject line has been paid off.

Go ahead and try my sneaky second loop idea – I think you’ll like your results!

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