The thing about creative email copy

We all want to send fun emails that get opened, read, and clicked. After all, that’s the name of the game.

(I recently did a training on it in collaboration with MailModo. Hit me up if you want the recording – or want me to teach a more detailed one with examples and Q&A at the end?)

But as copywriters and marketers at heart, we want to our email copy to be creative and fun. The trouble is… creative and fun emails are incredibly hard to create. We all remember the CD Baby email right? 

(Don’t see the email? That’s probably cuz you’ve got your images turned off. Hit “Display Images” to see the email.)

How many versions of this email have cropped up since? Even if you didn’t know where this style of email originated from, reading it would make you feel like you’ve read some version of this email by at least half a dozen brands.

We recognize this style of creative copy the second we see it and roll our eyes.

This post-purchase email was very likely the first viral email on the internet. Folks flocked to online forums, chat rooms, and personal blogs to talk about it. CD Baby got thousands of backlinks, gained tons of free publicity and to quote CD Baby’s founder, Derek Sivers, “thousands of customers.”

Here’s why this email worked for CD Baby so well.

  1. It was 1998 so an email like this was a novelty.
  2. People were still opening every.single.email
  3. CD Baby’s company mission was “putting a smile on people’s faces.”

Unfortunately, it’s no longer 1998, email’s no longer a novelty, and people are ignoring more emails than they’re opening.

What is still relevant though? 

Brand voice.

CD Baby’s email worked so well because their post-purchase email was on-brand for them. 

Why most brands writing “creative” emails fail

If there’s one thing I teach, preach, and practice in email, it’s “clear over clever 100% of the time.”. Clear emails sell and clever emails confuse. Most brands experimenting with “creative” or personality driven email copy fail to make an impact because they don’t consider whether that tone and voice is even on-brand for them.

Imagine Shinesty (NSFW) sending emails like Boardroom Socks 😱. Their sales will TANK. On the other hand, imagine a brand like Boardroom Socks that sells socks folks in straight-laced professions (lawyers, judges, professors, CEO’s…) a suggestive email like Shinesty on Valentine’s…🤢. Not only will their sales tank, they’ll end up permanently losing customers.

Does that mean creative copy never converts?

It does. Rarely. For creative email copy to convert, you need to meet one very important criterion: It need to match the brand’s personality. Last week, a DTC marketer shared an email that they dubbed as “the best email they’d ever seen.”. As someone who picks email fights as a profession, I consider those fighting words 😆

The email in question? Take a look below 👇🏽

As someone with a morbid sense of humor, I found this email funny. (I mean, I live in an apartment next to a graveyard. If I wasn’t cool with death, I wouldn’t be living in a luxurious apartment that just happens to have a graveyard next to it 🤷🏽‍♀️)

As a copywriter, I found this email a little too on the nose.

As a marketer, the first question I asked myself was, “Is this onbrand for this brand?”

Turns out, it was. When I shared this email in the eCommerce Email Bootcamp Alumni Slack group, campers were quick to point out that this email was extremely on-brand for this company.

For me, all speculation stopped there. As long as it’s on brand, creative email copy will convert. Finally, as an email marketer, I consider this email a success. It’s polarizing, it galvanizes the reader into action, and it make you want to claim your spot in the world and tell them “No! I’m not dead!”

As a re-engagement email, it hits the sweet spot of making unenagaged email subscribers sit up and take notice – which is the entire purpose of a re-engagement email.

As for the creative copy, it only works because the tone of voice is on brand for this brand.

Stay alive, %FIRSTNAME%

– Samar

Want to turn your customers into loyal, raving fans? Send them this email

One of the things that always bothers me about the term “brand loyalty” is that it never clearly defines whose loyalty we’re talking about.

Half the advice out there talks about building brand loyalty for your “audience”. The thing is… not all your audience buys from you. But you know who does? Your customers. 

(Not to be cheeky but.. 100% of your customers have bought from you 🤭)

And as a SaaS or ecommerce brand… they’re the ones whose loyalty you should be actively pursuing. 

It’s easier to convince someone to buy from you AGAIN than it is to persuade them to buy from you the first time. In other words, retention is easier (and cheaper) than acquisition.

(This is where I add the disclaimer that when it comes to customer acquisition and retention, one is not more important than the other… one is just easier, cheaper, and mostly ignored.)

So how can you turn your customers into loyal, raving, long-term fans?

By sending them a reminder email when a renewal is coming up.

Last week, I received the following email from TinyPNG.

Honestly, I’d forgotten all about paying for TinyPNG because they never sent me emails after I signed up. We’re talking ZERO communication. Not even an “In these unprecedented times” email 🤣

It wasn’t until I got this email that I realized I’d paid for it last year when I was updating my website and needed to reduce the size of my brand photoshoot images before uploading them to my site.

Here’s the kicker, TinyPNG costs $25 a year.

Smalllll amount in the grand scheme of things but enough to piss me off when it would’ve shown up as an unexpected expense in my statement. 

But because they sent me a reminder email a week before they charged my card, I was aware and prepared for the expense.

I knew it was coming and I could decide whether I wanted to stick around or not.

Not to mention… they now have incredible goodwill with me because they did something other services I pay for don’t (looking at you Typeform!) 

Here’s what I love most about their email:

Not only did they tell me they’ll be charging my card, but they also told me:

Just one email (in an entire year!) and they’ve got a loyal customer at their hands.

So whether you’re a SaaS business or an ecommerce brand, if you’ve got customers on a subscription plan, puhleeeez send them a payment reminder/renewal email.

Cuz no one likes a company that takes money from their customers without telling them first. #justsayin

– Samar

P.S: Got an email problem that’s fast turning into a headache? Book an Email Strategy Consult and get rid of the problem once and for all!

Email experience done right

I talk about email experience all the freakin time.

One of the things that drive me absolutely bonkers about ecommerce emails is how the buying experience isn’t subscriber/customer friendly.

How many times has it happened to you?

You click on an image in an email and instead of taking you to the product page, it takes you to the brand’s home page?

Or you click through to buy the products you saw in the email… only to be shown every product except the ones you saw in the email.

That’s just bad email experience.

Here’s the thing though. When brands get their email experience right, it stands out.

Mother’s Day was months ago. And yet I still think about this email from Soko

https://litmus.com/scope/zaudytugknts <- Click here to check out the full email.

Here are allllll the things I love about this email.

1. Subject line

10 Pieces on Every Mom’s List.

I know exactly what’s in the email (mother’s day gift ideas) and how many items I’ll see (ten). It’s clear (rather than clever) and is also a relatively which means it’ll stood out in my inbox.

2. The lack of email copy

Did your jaw just drop? Hehe.

This SOKO email only has a headline, 2 short sentence of copy, and a CTA.

If you can’t see the image, here’s what it says:

Top 10 Mother’s Day picks

Must-haves for every type of mom.
Mother’s Day is almost here

[Shop Now]

I love that their email copy is less than a 100 characters (86 to be exact).

This is a busy email highlighting 10 products. They know people are going to want to scroll down to themimmediately so they got right down to business.

3. The laser focus on the products

With jewelery brands – seeing is believing. SOKO made their products the hero of the email. The images they used are stunning and they only list the name of the product (no description.)

They know getting people to click-through is the main goal. They don’t waste time trying to get their subscriber to read product description they won’t be interested in any way.

If they want more details, they can get them on the product page.

4. The delivery deadlines

Because Mother’s Day gifts are best received/given on Mother’s Day, they made it crystal clear what their delivery cutoff dates were.

SOKO offered a bunch of delivery deadlines.

They had a deadline for personalized gifts, standard shipping, expedited shipping, 2-day shipping, and overnight shipping. They highlighted which delivery option to choose based on their order date.

Every time a deadline passed, they crossed that option out in their Mother’s Day marketing emails.
Not only is it an email experience win, it’s also a brilliant marketing tactic.

5. The links

SOKO got their links right. Each image goes to its product page. And if you click on the [SHOP NOW] button at the top of the email, it takes you to a Mother’s Day Gift Guide that lists their top recommendations (including the products highlighted in the email.)

6. Bonus: The Alt text

Reading the Alt Text tells you everything you need to know about this email.

As email marketers, our job is to make our brand’s emails stand out.

The best part?

Providing an incredible email experience isn’t hard. The bar is so low that you can stand out just by linking to the right product pages!

SOKO’s Mother’s Day email is one my fav emails of all time because of it’s incredible email experience.

– Samar

Guess the brand (bet you can’t)

I want to talk about Alt Text today. It’s the most underrated ecommerce email tip in my arsenal. When it comes to Alt Text, make sure you:

  1. Have them
  2. Make them descriptive.

That’s it. That’s my tip. Underwhelmed? Please allow me to blow your mind. Take a look at the black and white boxes below.

Now before I reveal which brand this email is from, let’s count the ways this email is missing the mark.

We have no idea:

  • Who they are 
  • What they sell
  • What they want us to do

All we know is that they offer free shipping over $45. That’s a crap ton of money to give to a brand whose name, products, and offer we can’t even see. So, what do you do when you get an email like this? A big fat NOTHING. Now, wanna guess which brand this is? (You can’t because there’s literally no clue in the image above). It’s everyone’s favorite Belgian Chocolatier – Godiva! Their entire email was designed as a graphic-only email with all the copy on it!

Here’s what the email actually looks like:

Now THAT’S an email I would have bought from! Too bad I didn’t see it. Godiva isn’t the only brand that ignores their Alt Text. 

Most ecommerce emails are image-heavy. Often, they're image-ONLY. I mean… it could be the world's most beautifully designed and brilliantly written email but if the subscriber has their images turned off, then all they'll see are blank squares with no copy. Their message is lost forever and as an ecommerce business, they’ve lost customers without even realizing it..

So, what’s the solution? Ideally, it’s creating emails with copy that goes in the email instead of on the images. But changing a brand's email design process isn’t practical because it’s a time-consuming affair. An easy fix to the blank square problem is to add Alt Text to the image. Even if the subscriber has their images turned off by default, Alt Text enables them to read what the email/image is about. 

Here’s an example of Alt Text done right. 

Even though I don't have my images turned on, I know exactly what this email is about and what their offer is. If I'm interested, I'll hit “Display Images”. 

Even if I don't, I can click on the Alt Text and go to the offer this email is promoting. As email strategists and copywriters, we don’t usually have control over how our clients create their emails but this… this is something we can easily do.

In a nutshell, if you want to improve your email conversions, make your Alt Text descriptive.



Transactional emails done right (Stripe edition)

One of the unsung heroes of the email world are transactional emails. Everyone’s so enamored with onboarding, welcome, abandoned cart, and retention-focused emails that transactional emails… get forgotten.

After all, they’re the one emails you don’t have to worry about. They come pre-made and they just work right out of the box. And so you focus all your attention on making sure your onboarding or welcome flow is top notch.

But here’s the thing… Transactional emails are some of the most opened emails. They’re also some of the most neglected. Do them right, and you have the potential to not only delight a customer but also keep them from panicking.

This morning, I got an email from Stripe telling me that someone who’d signed up for the eCommerce Email Bootcamp had disputed a payment they’d made as fraudulent. Even though I’ve been running the Bootcamp for 3 years and have trained over 60 email marketers and copywriters, this is the first time it’s happened.

I got an email from my bank that I’d been charged by Stripe. Then I got an email from Stripe that a payment had been marked as fraudulent. Now this is where I’d have started panicking. 

Firstly, because that word feels like someone’s attacking my integrity. As someone who goes out of her way to turn away people the Bootcamp isn’t a good fit for, I find that word personally offensive.

Secondly because we’re still within the refund policy timeframe. So for someone to dispute their payment as fraudulent instead of just emailing me to say they wanted out felt disrespectful and unnecessary. But that email from Stripe? It took care of everything and stopped me from panicking. It reminded me that this is just business. That they knew how to deal with this. And that I had options.

Below is a breakdown of all the ways their email stopped me from panicking.

  1. They told me there may be a way to recover my funds

Loss of money is a shock no matter what the amount. Stripe immediately set me at ease by telling that I may be able to recover my funds and that they could help me respond through the Stripe dashboard.

I now had a place to go to start sorting this out.

  1. They recognized that this might be the first time this has happened.

Stripe recognized that I may not even fully understand what a disputed payment is and gave me an explanation. It also told me what the cardholder did (contact their bank), what the bank did (return the payment), and what else happened (an additional $15 deducted from my account).

  1. They explained why payments are sometimes marked as fraudulent

Reading this stopped me from getting personally offended and give this person the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they really didn’t recognize the descriptor. After all, it does say Emails Done Right instead of eCommerce Email Bootcamp. 

It’s a slim chance but it could happen.

  1. They explained their role in this situation

When things like this happen, it’s easy to blame the company that bears the bad news. They make it clear that they have no control over this and they’re just the party that’s notified (and is in turn responsible for notifying me. Now this is where Stripe could have dropped the ball.

They could have said, we’re just the bearer of bad news – this is out of our hands. But they decide to stick by their customer (in this case, me.)

  1. They tell me what my next step can potentially be

Because this is a dispute, it’s up to me to accept or fight it. But they also recognize that sometimes people decide to resolve the dispute for whatever reason. If that’s what I wanted to do, they told me what I needed to do next.

And finally…

  1. They addressed the one question that was on my mind – how do I avoid this from happening again.

By telling me they had a fraud prevention system, it made me hopeful that this might not happen again. Upon digging further, I noticed that Stripe had blocked their first attempt to sign up for the Bootcamp. Then they used another email address (from the same domain) and it passed through. This means that at the very least, I can get in touch with Stripe and ask them how to block new payment/signup attempts from this domain.

And just as I was thinking this… their email offered me the most reassuring option yet.

  1. They asked me to hit reply if I needed assistance.

They were empathetic and acknowledged that this was a tough situation and they if I needed more help or had any questions, I could just reply to their email. Now, I don’t know about you but this email is *chef’s kiss*. Transactional emails aren’t just order, shipping, and/or delivery confirmation emails. They’re also the bearer of bad news sometimes.

And when they are, an email written that wants to help (instead of just delivering the bad news) will go a long way in creating a loyal customer. As for the dispute, I decided to accept it. The way I see it, I got saved from a much bigger headache down the line. And were within the refund policy timeframe so I’m more than happy to let them go.

Moral of the story: Be like Stripe. Create better transactional emails.

It doesn’t take much.

All they did was share information with me but it was enough for me to deal with this unfamiliar and challenging situation.


When a good email goes wrong (and you don’t know why)

As an email strategist, I collect a lot of emails. I’ve got a Gdrive folder full of email screenshots that I don’t even remember where I found. Any time I need to find an email example, I open my email swipe file and choose one.

This email from Doc Martens is the first email I audited based on my 3-item email conversion checklist. It’s the first email that made me stop and think, “Hang on, I love the email copy and the photos. So why don’t I love the email?” If I had to credit one email for waking up the email strategist in me, it’ll probably be this one.

Take a closer look at this email here.

Here’s what I love about this email:

The email copy

  • It’s telling a story (about the iconic 1460 design)
  • It aligns itself with the underdog (everyday workers)
  • It provides proof of quality (100 million pairs sold since 1960)

The offer

  • They have a reason to make this offer. (birthday/anniversary of their 1460 design)
  • There’s built-in scarcity (because the sale’s for one day only.) 
  • It’s across their entire collection (which makes shopping easier.)

Here’s what I don’t love about this email: The CTAs (call-to-actions)

  1. There are wayyyy too many CTAs

There are four different kinds of CTAs in this email, and only two are (somewhat) relevant to this email.

  1. Not enough of the “right type of” CTAs

As an email that’s focusing on a discount, there should be multiple “Shop Now” CTAs. The first one should have been directly below the 15% OFF section. I’d argue that even “Shop Men” and “Shop Women” are the wrong kind of CTAs. If you go to Doc Marten’s website, they have men's and women’s sizes on the same product page.

This email would have been much better served had the CTAs called attention to the sale and encouraged people to avail the discount before it was too late.

  1. The CTA buttons (or lack thereof)

The CTA buttons look like a design element. Predictability and sticking to standard practices is your best bet when it comes to CTA buttons. Honestly, this email would have been a winner if they’d ended it with a call-to-action after the email copy section.

Everyone knows what Doc Martens look like. You don’t need to highlight individual designs. 

Allright, I’ll get off my soap box now. 

Catch you later!

– Samar

Heads up: If you’re interested in learning the ins and outs of email strategy… the eCommerce Email Bootcamp may be what you need.

Doors open once or twice a year and folks on the waitlist get first dibs, early bird pricing, and longer payment plans.

Interested? Get on the waitlist.

Love at first site.

I’m reviewing a brand I immediately fell in love with for a multitude of reasons. 

  1. It’s a tea brand (I’m a tea snob. Traveling with my own tea and creamer kind of snob.)
  2. The founder is a South Asian who proudly celebrates her heritage.
  3. Their website is a masterclass in how to engage website visitors. 

Brand name: One Stripe Chai

Now before I go off about how there’s no such thing as “Chai Tea” or “Chai Latte”, let me show all the reasons why I’m crushing on this brand so hard. 

1. Their opt-in offer

No discount! 😀

I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to see a small brand offer something other than a discount. Their opt-in offer invites you to join their chai club and offers free shipping. The opt-in copy says, “Sign up for your newsletter to get recipes, learn about chai, and get deals.”

Also, that GIF is *chef’s kiss* 

You can bet your ass I immediately subscribed. From a business perspective, offering free shipping is such a smart move because it allows you to protect your profit margin. One Stripe offers you free shipping on your first order and then it’s free shipping on orders over $100. 

Chai lovers are extremely loyal. If they like your chai, they buy in bulk and often for the entire month. Orders can easily cross the $100 mark. Now before I get into their welcome email, there are other things on their website that deserve a shout-out. 

2. Headline and CTA

“Everyone deserves good chai.” is such a short but inclusive statement. Chai lovers are going to feel seen and those new to the chai scene are going to feel welcomed. The call-to-action “Shop Good Chai” is also a no-brainer. Of course, we want to shop for good chai. No one wants bad chai after all.

Side note: The imagery is so well done!

3. Social Proof

Immediately below the header, they’ve placed their media social proof. They’ve been featured in Epicurious, Bon Appetit, Thrillist, Kitchn, and Bustle, and they’re proudly showcasing it. It even links to the review articles! And while you could argue that doing so is taking visitors away from the website, I’d counter-argue that it’s doing the job of building brand authority. 

All those links lead to articles raving about One Stripe Chai’s amazing tea blends. 

4. They feature UGC (user-generated content) on their homepage

And clicking on it doesn’t take you away from the website. Instead, the TikTok video opens on the website as an overlay with the product highlighted on the right for you to add to cart.

And they do it in more than one place!

The same goes for their Instagram. 

They give their Insta feed a prominent spot on their homepage but clicking on the images doesn’t take you away from the website. The images load as an overlay again. (It’s also why I think the decision to link to articles in the “As Seen In” section is deliberate.)

Not to mention, their meme game is spot-on!

There’s more to cover but this blog’s getting too long and I’ve still got the welcome email to review.

Did the welcome email match the incredible website experience?

I’m going to have to say… no. Not because the email wasn’t good. But because it’s breaking a few email rules. The good news is, they can be easily fixed.

You can take a look at the email in detail here.

Here’s what’s working in this email:

  1. The copy is nice
  2. The design is great
  3. The free shipping code is prominently displayed

Here’s where the email’s missing the mark.

  1. There’s no “Shop Good Chai” CTA button
  2. It’s got a navigation bar at the top which is great for clicks but bad for email sales
  3. It needs a higher line space, a bigger font size, and more white space.

To be fair, it’s not a bad email at all. It’s got the same brand tone and voice as the website. It delivers on the promise made in the opt-in form (free shipping), and it makes the subscriber feel welcomed and included – just like you’d want to feel when you join a club.

When brands reach out to me, I often say my focus is on improving customer experience – email’s just my weapon of choice. Going through One Stripe Chai’s website reminded me why customer experience is so important. It’s your one chance to engage with your audience and turn them into customers or subscribers.

For brands – especially newer ones – customer experience starts at their website. For them, the priority is to get the visitor engaging with their brand. And when you think about it, subscribing to a newsletter is brand engagement.

It’s a level above website browsing and a level below buying.

It’s telling a brand, “Hey, you seem interesting. I want to know more.”

It’s giving the brand permission to sell to them.

And that’s HUGE.

– Samar

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