How to write a B2B marketing email that works

B2B copywriter David McGuire shares four tips to help you stand out in a crowded inbox

One of the most common questions I’m asked by B2B copywriting training delegates is what tips and secrets I have for writing effective marketing emails. After all, as a professional B2B tech copywriter, I must know the words and formats that transform open rates and clickthroughs, right?

Sadly, it doesn’t quite work like that. While there are often reports about the impact of certain words, character counts, and the like, these tend to be self-defeating. As soon as a trick becomes best practice, it stops standing out, so it stops working.

But while there aren’t any silver bullets, there are four key principles I try to stick to when writing emails during my day job at Radix Communications. They seem to work well for our clients – and for our own marketing emails, too.

Remember you’re writing to one person

It doesn’t matter if your email is being sent to a list of millions, each person still reads on their own. To them – even if, at some level, they realise it can’t be true – your email feels as if it’s an individual communication, sent to them in particular.

If your email sounds as if it’s addressing a crowd, or it talks to nobody in particular, you break that spell. And in that moment of realisation, you remind the reader they’re not special. It’s a tiny, fleeting snub that breaks any connection you’ve made.

So instead, make sure your email would make sense if it really was being sent to just one person. Don’t think of it as an “e-blast”; treat it like a letter.

Don’t make it feel like marketing

On a similar note, there is such a thing as being too slick, polished, and professional. We all have inboxes that are freshly stuffed every day with shiny, highly produced offers and claims. As a result, we instinctively tend to distrust, skip, or ignore emails that look, feel, and smell too much like marketing.

This goes double if you’re addressing a technical audience. Devs, engineers and the like wear their cynicism as a badge of pride. (Indeed, I once specifically asked a client not to use their usual brand-approved marketing template for an email to electronic product designers and instead send an authentic, personal email from one expert to another. It worked.)

But when you know people are filtering out marketing content, you can use it to your advantage – and put the most important stuff where people actually look. Lately, I’ve taken to including a long (frankly, sometimes rambling) personal note at the end of Radix copywriting tips emails. The links in that section usually outperform the carefully-honed CTA buttons above.

Once again, the moral of the story is don’t write anything in a marketing email that would sound weird if you emailed it to one person.

Think about what’s in your reader’s inbox, then do the opposite

Marketers love the old Levi’s strapline “When the world zigs, zag” – and nowhere is that more important than in an inbox full of unread email.

For instance, if you’re running A/B tests on subject lines, start by experimenting with the counterintuitive. If everyone’s running short lines, try really long ones (the old Adestra subject line reports always seemed to say that very short and very long performed best – presumably because most emails fell in the middle).

Likewise, for ages the word “newsletter” made your email measurably less likely to get opened. So people stopped doing it, and now the term seems to have had a renaissance.

Same goes for when you look at things like using emojis. They’re neither good nor bad – it doesn’t matter whether you have one or not; what matters is that you don’t do what everyone else does.

Write for the people who won’t read

Even the best-written emails generally return open rates below 50%. And that means most people you write to will never open your email. Why do we neglect most of our audience?

As my colleague Steve George once pointed out in a very insightful blog post, the way we measure open rates can lead us to assume a subject line’s only job is to get the email opened. But in reality, your subject line (and the preview text that goes with it) is the only thing most of your audience will read. That makes it the most important part of your email.

So, if there’s something vital you want to say, your subject line is the only place you know it’ll reach everyone. Think about the information you share, and the impression you create, if that’s all the reader ever sees – because, for most of them, it will be.

The same thing goes for the start of your body copy. Like any piece of B2B content, most people are only going to read a couple of sentences, then scan. So put the most important thing first, and make sure all your headings and highlights tell the same story – there’s more on that here.

The only silver bullet is thinking about your audience

Ultimately, any set of email guidelines and best practices (yes, even these ones) will only get you so far. It’s really down to you to think about your reader, their context, and what they would really like to see landing in their inbox – so you can become someone they actually want to hear from.

But of course, that’s a lot easier when you have more ideas and perspectives to draw upon. There will no doubt be plenty more suggestions from marketers who send a lot more emails to a lot more people than I do; let’s get a chat going, whether here in the comments, on LinkedIn, or in the Propolis Execution and Campaigns Hive.

Propolis: Execution

Want to learn more about events in B2B marketing? Check out our execution hive at our new community hub Propolis. Here at our new community platform Propolis, we offer expert advice in eight different unique topics we call "hives". You'll get tons of insights on digital, data, events, creativity, propositions, internal communications and agency management.

Check out Propolis today!

Execution and campaigns