Over the course of 2 years I’ve had the honor to coach dozens of course creators for their sales copy. We’ve tackled everything from emails and sales pitches to crafting landing pages for lead magnets and offers. And in this journey, one recurring misconception has stood out:
Successful email marketing campaigns should be complex examples of word mastery, story telling, persuasion
I understand where that’s coming from. Particularly if you are a course creator, you want to make sure that your marketing efforts reflect the level of expertise you’ve honed over the years. You want to make sure your campaigns are valuable to your subscribers. But here’s the issue: because of this misconception, many course creators craft emails that are overwhelming, vague, or excessively detailed, making it difficult for email subscribers to grasp the message.
In reality, an email marketing campaign is successful when it is simple.
Confucius once wisely said, “Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.”
You could have the best offer in the world and a course that really delivers results, but if your message doesn’t convey that with clarity, you’ll have a hard time enrolling students. And the reason is simple: the more time and effort you ask of your subscribers to read and comprehend your emails, the less likely they will be to enroll in your course.
The psychology behind writing simple and easy-to-comprehend email marketing campaigns is closely tied to the cognitive preferences and limitations of the human mind.
Simplicity reduces cognitive load, enhances comprehension, and aligns with our natural inclinations for clarity and efficiency in communication. As a result, simple messages are more likely to be well-received, remembered, and acted upon.
I obsesses with psychology, so I’ll list some key cognitive principles and behavioral factors below, but if you don’t really care for it, feel free to scroll to the next section (What is simplicity in email?).
- Cognitive Load Theory: This theory suggests that individuals have limited cognitive resources available for processing information. When a message is complex or convoluted, it places a heavy cognitive load on the reader or recipient. Simplifying the message reduces this cognitive load, making it easier for the recipient to process and understand.
- Clarity and Comprehension: Human brains are wired to seek clarity and comprehension. When information is presented in a straightforward and uncomplicated manner, it aligns with our natural cognitive preferences. Simple messages are more likely to be quickly comprehended and remembered.
- Processing Fluency: Psychologists have found that people tend to prefer information that is easy to process. When a message is simple and straightforward, it enhances processing fluency, making it more appealing and persuasive. This principle is often used in marketing and advertising.
- Reduction of Cognitive Effort: People are naturally inclined to minimize cognitive effort. When a message is simple, it requires less mental effort to understand. As a result, individuals are more likely to engage with and act upon a message that doesn’t strain their cognitive resources.
- Effective Communication: Simplicity in email marketing aligns with the principles of effective communication. Effective communication aims to convey information clearly, accurately, and efficiently. Simple messages are more likely to achieve these goals.
- Reducing Ambiguity: Simplicity in messaging reduces ambiguity and the potential for misinterpretation. Ambiguity can lead to confusion and uncertainty, which are undesirable outcomes in communication.
- Audience-Centered Communication: Effective communicators consider the needs and preferences of their audience. When messages are simple, they cater to the audience’s desire for clarity and understanding, which enhances the effectiveness of communication.
- Memory and Recall: Simplified messages are easier to remember and recall. The human memory tends to retain information that is presented clearly and concisely, making it a valuable strategy for ensuring that key points are retained.
- Emotional Response: Simple messages often evoke a more positive emotional response. People tend to feel more comfortable and confident when they can easily understand and relate to the information presented.
What Is Simplicity in Email
When course creators ask me for email marketing tips, they’re surprised with the answer: Keep it simple and don’t be weird. Here’s what that means.
Why are you creating this email campaign?
Is it to welcome new subscribers? To engage inactive subscribers? To nurture leads? To turn subscribers into new customers? To boost sales? To turn subscribers into website visitors? To invite potential customers to an online event? To collect feedback or perform market research?
Is this a marketing automation, a transactional email, a welcome email, a promotional email, a weekly newsletter?
Before you go deeper into this blog post, think about a recent email campaign and answer the questions above. Once you have the answers, you’ll find this blog post a lot more valuable. Simplifying for effectiveness starts with clarifying the goal of your emails.
Understand that most email subscribers are not actively interested in reading through a Yellow Pages type of email.
I’m not saying your emails should be long or short. What I am saying is that if you try to cram hundreds of different options in one go, you’ll lose their interest. It’s not about how much content you fit into your email campaigns, but how relevant, valuable and easy-to-digest it is. Remember: there are different types of emails. This means that your weekly newsletter could be the Yellow Pages of your blog or business, but your promotional messages need to take a different approach. Simplicity means stripping your message of fluff.
People are scanning inboxes for subject lines that stand out.
Your entire campaign performance will be tied to how compelling your email subject lines are. Writing a compelling subject line isn’t easy. But it can be done. Start by researching your target audience. Make sure you understand who they are, what they need and how they talk about the problem or desire you’re going to help them with.
Then you have to know this: a compelling subject line should make people want to open your email. I really like this example from the Search Engine Journal:
Subject Line 1: Study Reveals How Many Fake Social Followers 100 Celebrities Have
Subject Line 2: Almost 50% Of The Kardashian’s Instagram Followers Could Be FAKE
Which one would you click? James Brockbank explains in his piece for the Search Engine Journal:
Subject line 1 is a statement. It’s simply a description of what the campaign is and gives no indication as to what the actual story is. Without any insight into the findings of the study, it’s all just guesswork. It could be that only 5% of a celebrity’s followers are fake. Or it could be that this figure is 90%. Who knows? (…) Subject line 2, on the other hand, tells a story. Firstly, it focuses on one of the world’s most famous celebrity families, the Kardashians. This immediately picks up attention as many relevant journalists will know that there’s an audience for content which talks about Kim and co.
Good thumb rules for writing an email subject line:
- Keep it short. Research shows around 41 characters is the optimal length for a subject line.
- Use the preview text feature to add context and entice your subscribers into opening your message. Check with your email service provider to see how this feature is labeled in their system.
- Use personalization in your subject line to draw the reader in (yes the Name field is the easiest one, just make sure the formatting is right Fname). Learn more about personalized campaigns in this piece from Hubspot.
- Not all emails are built the same, so tweak your subject lines accordingly (think transactional emails vs welcome email, promotional email vs weekly newsletter).
- Play the curiosity game. Your subject line should entice your audience. Your email copy should make people want to click the call to action button and go to your landing page.
- When writing your subject lines, always ask this question: What’s in it for your reader? Can they tell from the subject line? Would you open that email?
Looking for inspiration? Pick your next subject line from this list. Download it for free here.
You can find a list of tools for testing a subject line in this list from Hubspot.
Don’t use complicated language
Many course creators who teach language, grammar, pronunciation OR are in technical industries, think their emails should be written like a grammar or law book. Unless your audience is really formal and academic, consider using less complicated language. Simplicity again.
- Remember, subscribers are not reading their emails using a dictionary or keeping track of things with pen and paper. They are scanning. So, email copy should be accessible and easy to understand.
If you’re teaching grammar, don’t turn all of your emails into grammar lessons. Seriously… grammar is dry and boring (and this is coming from someone who loved grammar). Don’t turn all your marketing emails in long grammar lessons. That’s what grammar books are for.
- Translate the complicated language into something that is easy to understand and remember.
- Remove the bits that are not necessary for them to know at the moment.
- Give examples and put new elements into context.
Your audience’s reading age is lower than you think. Read that again.
The average American reads at the 7th- to 8th-grade level, according to The Literacy Project. In the UK, the central government encourages content writers to aim for a readability level of age nine. Research indicates that children age 9 and more stop reading common words and just recognize their shape. This allows them to read faster.
So, by reducing long sentences and words, you can help keep text simple and easy to read.
One of the best tips for a successful email marketing campaign is this: optimize for mobile
Even though most people are reading their emails from mobile devices, many campaigns are not optimized yet.
About 3 in 5 consumers check their email on the go (mobile) and 75% of say they use their smartphones most often to check email. – Fluent “The Inbox report, Consumer perceptions of email” (2018). In a Nielsen Normal Group research people rated the ease of reading newsletters on their smartphones and tablets only 3.3 on a 1–7 scale.
Sure the data might vary based on the age of your target audience, but consider this: “In 2023, including both smart and feature phones, the current number of mobile phone users is 7.33 billion, which makes 90.93% of people in the world cell phone owners.” (BankMyCell).
Your email marketing software should allow you to see what your campaign is going to look like on mobile. If you don’t have that feature, send a test campaign to your email address. Open it from your smartphone. Is it easy to read? Are the buttons easy to spot? How about the size of the font? Too small, too large or just about right?
Digital communication needs to be simplified
Back in the old days of advertising and marketing, ads were long. Long. Several pages in a magazine long. Nowadays, digital marketing especially, needs to adapt to the new way we live: the constant chase for time. Your audience’s time is precious. Inboxes are crowded. By crafting email marketing campaigns to be simple to read and comprehend, you respect their time.
This doesn’t mean stripping your message of personality, value or flair. You’re not dumbing it down.
On the contrary, it’s about making every word count and ensuring your message shines through in a clear, uncluttered manner.
Which isn’t as easy as you might think.
Remember, the best emails don’t just convey information; they create engagement and drive action.