Principle: Write like a real person

Speaking of first principles, let’s dig into one.

Principle: Write like a real person.

One unfortunate side effect of looking to examples of “good” email campaigns, or searching for copywriting tips as you’re putting together something to send off to your list…

Is that you end up creating a “standard marketing email” end product before you even sit down to write.

I know this because it’s exactly what I used to do.

Start with a template.

Apply a few time-tested Gary-Halbert-inspired copywriting rules.

Add some polish and formatting, and voila!

You have an email that functionally does what it’s supposed to do…

But at the same time creates the feeling of… “okay, I get it, I get it, let’s see if this is worth my while.”

Here’s what I mean:

As a quick exercise, when we type “tips for writing marketing emails” into the Google machine…

Out pops a ready-made set of tips like this:

write like a real person google search
I’m going to pretend for this exercise that tip #6 doesn’t exist because there’s no world in which that makes any sense whatsoever. But I digress…

And applying these will get you into the right ballpark.

For example, this welcome email from LMS platform Thinkific is right in line with the strong, scannable, “you” focus, benefits-driven writing.

write like a real person thinkific email

They’ve got some benefits in the headline:

“From a 7-figure course launch to 380% increase in new customers

And have captured a bit of the situational focus on me (the potential online course creator) in the first set of sentences:

“Venturing into online education isn’t easy, but you’re here, then you already know a thing or two about making hard work count. You’ve gained the trust of your customers and now you need to make the right choice in choosing an online course platform to deliver the best education for them.”

But even though it says it’s coming from Aaron from Thinkific (a real person), there’s definitely still a veil of corporate marketing email that you feel…

Which makes it something easy to put in the “to read later… but not really” category.

And not saying that’s the wrong approach for a company like Thinkific. They may have other reasons for presenting themselves in this way.

But in your case, I’d be willing to bet that a big part of the value proposition you’re ultimately delivering to your clients is a piece of you:

  • Your expertise
  • Your personality
  • Your take on things

And so while it’s important to keep your audience and mind and convey the benefits of what you can do for them, behaving like a real person is your way out of the “mark to read later” category, and into the “let’s see what has to say today” category.

Case in point:

Here’s an email from entrepreneur and my own personal email marketing thought leader of choice Ramit Sethi, that breaks that marketing email veil within seconds:

write like a real person ramit intro

“There’s no job like being a comedian at the top of your game.

I know this, because every morning when I look at myself in the mirror, I splash water on my face and congratulate myself for writing another hilarious email.


Within the first 3 sentences it’s not only intriguing (hmm… what do comedians at the top of their game do?) but also dripping with personality and self-deprecating humor.

And sure, it’s not like we all are being fooled into thinking this isn’t a marketing email.

But it feels like a highly personal interaction, absent any of the bulleted benefits you’d expect from a marketing campaign.

When in fact, this is actually a sales email for one of their online courses.

write like a real person ramit email sales cta

And it’s being sent out to hundreds of thousands of other people.

“If you’re interested in mental frameworks like this that help you get more confidence and achieve your goals, check out Success Triggers, my course on creating the success you deserve.”

A short one-line pitch after a lengthy exploration of something related, but not necessarily “benefits-driven.”

It’s why I’ve been on his email list, reading almost daily since 2011-ish, knowing full well that I’m going to get “pitched” fairly frequently on their products.

(This is coming from a company named IWillTeachYouToBeRich for god’s sake.)

The takeaway is this:

Have a goal for what you’re writing (e.g. book 3 sales calls for our tax planning service before the end of November).

Stay focused on who you’re writing to and what they’ll get out of associating with you (e.g. busy small business owners who will save a ton of time and money).

But write and act like a real person first.

And all else being equal, the open rates, click-throughs, and sales conversions will take care of themselves.



P.S. As a side note: I’m fascinated in the dichotomy between how email marketing is handled by “online businesses” like IWillTeachYouToBeRich (thoughtful, engaging, but also very “internet markety”) vs. professional service businesses (corporate, boring, but with what appears to be more real-world “meat” behind the service offering). It seems like there’s a big opportunity to bridge some sort of a gap between these two universes.

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