Monica Badiu, Email Copywriter & Copy Coach

In 2023, I wrote promotion emails for 7 course creators and coached about a dozen others on their marketing emails and landing pages. Over $3 million were generated as a result. Here’s what I’ve learned:

Don’t assume you know your audience, until you perform market research

Brands tend to have a lot of biases and misconceptions about their email subscribers, potential customers and actual buyers. This applies to online course creators as well. You can know your target audience, but you will most likely not know their actual pains, desires, needs, obstacles, biases, misconceptions etc unless you run actual market research.

A customer avatar is an essential element of any successful email marketing strategy.

  • Surveys, testimonials, and regular feedback from your email subscribers and buyers will inform your marketing messages and positioning. This helps to dissolve biases you might hold.
  • I’ve seen this on more than one occasion: course creators choosing the wrong offer to promote to their email list because of what they think they know about their prospects.
  • Example:
    • Pitching a course for advanced email marketing strategies when the majority of subscribers are beginners who are wondering if email marketing is a good channel for them. This is an insight you can discover from talking to your email list and buyers. Which leads me to the second lesson.

Email subscribers love to receive high quality emails, even if it’s sales emails

In 2023, I worked with a course creator and personal brand who was very concerned about using marketing emails to pitch his courses. I adapted his tone of voice and insights to my email copywriting strategy, which implies using very valuable content to drive engagement and lead prospects into an email journey that moves them through the four stages of the consumer journey:

4 Stages of the Customer Journey Graphic

During the awareness stage I write email copy that is highly relevant to where the reader is.

So, if I know the audience consists of email marketing beginners, then I will focus my copy on tackling common mistakes, misconceptions, struggles this target audience might be struggling with. And in every email I include an invitation to engage with the author. Sometimes it’s a one-question survey, other times it’s an invitation to reply to the email and share a little bit about their journey, business, etc.

For this particular course creator, the first email marketing campaign we ran together generated more than a thousand replies, taking his deliverability into the green and moved his personal brand into a new stage.

Read this blog post: Unleashing the Power of Warm-Up Emails: A Conversation on The Art of Selling Online Courses Podcast

Make it easy for your audience to engage with your emails

Before any sales promotion, I write 3 email campaigns that have 2 goals: raise awareness and invite readers to engage with the content. I tried a lot of things. Things like asking them to reply to the actual email, click a button, watch a video, download a freebie, add something to their calendar, forward to a friend, answer a survey.

In 2023 I’ve been looking for a way to reduce the effort that goes into engaging with the email copy.

So, I’ve started to use one-question surveys as part of the email content. The idea is to make it super easy to get the click (which also helps with deliverability), collect the data (market research and segmentation) and build a touchpoint in the user journey.

Example of a one-question survey used as part of the email content
Example of a one-question survey included in the email body

Email deliverability will make or break the success of your promotion emails

You could write email copy that is relevant and valuable. You could have the best course in the world. It’s all for nothing if your deliverability sucks. And unfortunately it’s something that has happened in 2023 both for done for you and coaching clients. Segmentation, re-engagement, and cleanup are basic practices for email marketing success.

Seriously, you could hire the best email copywriter in the world. If your email list is dead, they won’t be able to do much with a sales emails. They will first recommend you fix your deliverability issues and clean-up your email list.

You can learn more about email deliverability here.

It’s a podcast episode I hosted for The Art of Selling Online Courses and I interview deliverability expert Adrian Savage. We look at his SMART acronym for deliverability and how it can help keep your emails out of the spam folder.

You can learn more about running re-engagement campaigns in this podcast episode from The Art of Selling Online Courses.

You’ll hear from Martina Viljevac, who is my colleague at Data Driven Marketing. She explains the strategy we use to revive dead lists and she’ll share a bit about some of the results we have had with this email marketing tactic.

A re-engagement campaign should be on your to-do list ahead of any Black Friday or big launch. Make it one of your annual marketing goals.

If you don’t email the right audience, you’ll hit the spam folder and make little to no sales even if your emails are amazing

This is a frustrating one.

Many small businesses operate huge email lists that have little potential for revenue. It’s costly to keep 1 million people on your email list, but if those are in your target audience and your email copy, product or service are on point, then you can turn a costly asset into a profitable one.

However, when you’re hoarding the wrong audience, the best thing that can happen to you is to see them unsubscribing. But massive unsubscribes is going to impact your email performance. So it’s better to make sure you’re getting the right audience on your email list from the very beginning.

Unfortunately, as an email copywriter I’ve seen this happen on more than one occasion. It wasn’t even the fault of the course creator. Either the marketing copy was misleading and got the wrong people on the email list, or the ad targeting was focused on saving money instead of generating money (like targeting low cost leads from India just because it was cheap).

Send marketing emails that build a long term relationship with your audience

When it comes to using email marketing to promote offers, one of the biggest mistakes people make with their email copy is to focus on the short-term benefit. This is only going to lead to burning your list and alienating your audience.

Think and write to build a long term relationships with your audience.

  • This allows you to focus on delivering value, actual value to your prospects. You become a coach instead of a salesrep.
  • You also have enough time to guide your email subscribers through the four stages of the customer journey without fearmongering or pressuring them into buying your stuff because of an expiring discount.

My email copywriting strategy blends in relevancy, context and a sales pitch, but the delivery actually focuses on getting results down the line.

This can be confusing to email clients because they expect salesy emails that convert on the spot, when what I’m doing is gradually introducing prospects to multiple problems or solutions they can use your course or product. I’m not going after everyone on their email list. I’m only talking to a specific group in a target audience.

Being exposed to that slow-burn, value-based email copy builds trust, positions the course creator as a partner and someone who understands.

Write like a person talking to another person

Many course creators write email copy that has too much technical jargon. Yes, it might show their expertise, but it doesn’t do a good job getting a reader’s attention. Keep your email copy simple, easy-to-scan and to comprehend.

It’s important to understand how your audience consumes content and what’s going on in their everyday life.

Most subscribers don’t really read email messages in the beginning. They first scan to see what’s in it for them.

  • Is the email’s message relevant?
  • Is it easy to read?
  • Does it have a very clear outcome?

Language course creators struggle to understand how they could make their email copy sound more natural and easy-to-digest while still teaching. My go-to advice is to insert the teaching into something that is contextually relevant, give examples and break down complicated theory into multiple emails.

Here’s an example from Charlie Baxter at The English Academy.

Screenshot of one of Charlie's emails.
Example of an email from The English Academy

Same thing applies for grammar. Yes, it is essential but it can be the driest thing ever to learn. It’s also hard to draw in the reader’s attention if all you talk about is phrasal verbs and complicated pronunciation rules only teachers would know.

Subject lines should be relevant, but curiosity-based

Here’s the deal. Your subject line should make subscribers open your email. Then the email copy should make the reader want to click the call to action to get to your landing page. Sometimes, my subject lines are one number and a word.

Sometimes, it’s a quote (“Someone was there for me”).

Other times, it’s the actual desired action I want subscribers to take.

Writing effective subject lines is an art in itself, and I am still learning.

In a nutshell, here’s a list of my own go-to email copywriting tips:

  • Avoid false promises in your subject line – you’re putting off your audience. Fool me once, it’s on you. Fool me twice, it’s on me. And there won’t be a third time.
  • Tailor your subject lines to match your target audience’s actual customer language. This makes the copy sound familiar.
  • Talk to your audience whenever you can. Use personalized subject lines to make them pay attention.
  • Always try to establish relevance, particularly in the very beginning of your promotions. Whether it’s something contextual like a holiday or addressing the problem or desire in your subject line, this helps your audience sort through all the content in their inbox.

Case in point:

One of my clients has an audience of hard-working entrepreneurs. They’re in the early stages and they’re often working during the weekends. Not because they want to, but because they have to. So, I wrote an email that tackled that situation.

The killer subject line was Are you working today? We sent it to two segments on the same day. A Saturday.

The first segment had 29K subscribers and got an open rate of 69%. The second segment had 1,6K subscribers and got an open rate of 72.6%.

I reused that same email during the Black Friday promotion. This time, it was sent on Sunday, and I tweaked the email subject line to read Working weekends? It got a 62% open rate.

Don’t rely only on the subject line copy to get people to open your email

Even though most email service providers allow you to add in a preview text, a small percentage of brands are actually utilizing this feature. And it’s not something to ignore. A subject line is the first thing that draws people in but you don’t have a lot of characters to work with. Make it too long and you’ll lose the scanning contest. Make it too short or too vague and it won’t be relevant. That’s where the preview text is so useful, particularly when it comes to a sales email campaign.

Preview text is the bit of text below or next to an email’s subject line in the inbox. It gives extra insight into what’s inside the email which can help draw in a reader’s attention.

Gmail refers to this as Snippets, Apple Mail refers to it as a preview, and Outlook calls it a Message Preview.

Sender name, subject line, preview text
A screenshot from my inbox: (Left to right) Sender name, Subject line, Preview text

In a crowded inbox, you have to use every asset you have. Think about Black Friday. Every subject line tends to look the same, but you can use your preview text along with your subject line copy to stand out from the crowd.

Example of a subject line and preview text
Example of a subject line and preview text

Create a sense of urgency in your emails, but don’t overdo it

Most sales email campaigns focus too much on urgency to drive action. And while urgency is effective in driving sales, if you overdo it, you’ll lose your audience’s attention.

Because I craft my email campaigns to move the reader through the four stages of a customer buyer journey, I can create a sense of urgency in any marketing email but without making it the whole reason of an email campaign.

And as every email gives the reader another piece of the puzzle, I make sure that we’re tackling the big objections by the time we enter the last stage of the promotion. So, when it comes to the last 48 hours of an email marketing promotion, that’s when I can bring out the urgency without annoying the readers.

One of the best performing urgency-based emails in 2023 was:

$X today, $XX tomorrow. I’ve used it twice for one of my clients. It generated about $30,000 in total.

  • $xxx today, price goes up tomorrow – open rate 64.6%
  • $xxx today, $xxxx tomorrow – open rate 44.7%

I normally send 3 emails within the last 48 hours. Only one of them looks like the one above. The rest tackle what I call philosophical objections. Here are some examples of the subject lines I’ve used in these emails:

  • What’s worse than waiting? – open rate 58.6%
  • Starting a business isn’t for everybody – open rate 45.5%
  • Can’t decide? – open rate 52.5%
  • Why you’ll succeed this time – open rate 54%
  • Love yourself in a way you never even imagined – open rate 50%
  • Fname, the choice is yours – open rate 49%
  • [last day] Finally, relief – open rate 45.6%

I always use the Preview text feature along with my subject lines to make my email more appealing and relevant to this stage of the promotion.

You can’t have urgency without countdowns

I know… everyone hates countdowns in emails, but they’re effective. I use them only in urgency emails, those 3 emails at the end of every promotion. Sometimes, I use them as the actual topic of the email. Like how much stuff can you get done in the amount of time left in the countdown. And it becomes a game, rather than something annoying.

I use one or two countdowns per email, usually in the email body.

They’re always close to the call to action button and oftentimes have a piece of text that says “Your chance/discount/gift/bonus expires in: countdown”.

The same email can be repurposed into multiple campaigns with similar results

As I mentioned before, I’ve used the same email a few times in 2023. Here’s why I’ve done that: if something works, you don’t change it entirely. You optimize it.

A/B testing is a great example of what it means to optimize an email that is already performing above the average. And since I write copy for monthly email promotions, this allows me to run experiments at different stages in a promotion, particularly if I’m writing copy for the same offer.

It’s similar to working on a sales funnel. You don’t completely change the offers if something is underperforming in your funnel. You look at the benchmarks and identify the parts that are underperforming. That’s where you begin.

This is an eye-opener for my coaching clients. Nobody told them they can repurpose sales emails that have performed well before.

Read this blog post: Case Study: 5 figures from an email tackling the fear of starting something new

Actionable language is needed, even if it feels uncomfortable

Most of the course creators I’ve worked with struggle with sales-based actionable language. In other words, they feel awkward asking a subscriber to buy something. But a call to action doesn’t have to tell people to buy. It can tell them to check the curriculum, to read the testimonials, to watch a video.

In the very beginning of an email promo I mostly lead with indirect, curiosity-based call to actions.

This removes the friction of a big ask like enroll now. I’m only asking them to keep an open mind and learn more. Then as they continue to read my marketing copy and engage with the emails, they are moving on their buyer journey and are ready for more direct call to actions. Such as order now.

Here’s the proof:

  • Yes, show me more in the form of a button is one of the CTAs I often use in the first two promotion emails. For one specific promotion, this CTA generated a 1,70% and 1.20% CTR and a total of 1,820 sales page visits, out of which 48 bought. It generated $5,400+ in revenue. All from a soft CTA.
  • A more actionable CTA used in body copy was Get the [product name]. While it received a 7% CTR, and 207 sales page visits, only 4 purchased. That was used in the first promotion email. Interestingly enough, in that same promotion, the CTA copy that had the worst CTR, generated the most revenue.

Obviously, it’s important to perform a/b testing until you decide that one CTA is better than the other. Just remember that not all CTAs are the same.

One important note: call to actions in the form of buttons work much better than hyperlinks. Personally, I use a mix. In short emails, I make sure I have at least one hyperlink and one button in the email body.

In longer emails, I use multiple hyperlinks and a maximum of 3 buttons throughout the email content (it’s usually 1-2 buttons in the email body and one in the PS). I know it looks like a lot, but I write really long emails.

Don’t forget about your current buyers

This is probably the biggest missed opportunity course creators are missing out on when it comes to their email marketing strategy. When someone already has purchase history with your brand, and the experience was positive, that person is a lot easier to convert into a repeat buyer than a non-buyer. And it’s not just me and my experience saying it.

According to digital marketing reports:

  • 82% of companies agree that retention is cheaper than acquisition. (SmallBizGenius)
  • Repeat customer statistics reveal that returning loyal customers spend an average of 33% more per order as compared to others. (MyCustomer)
  • 91% of customers are more likely to purchase from brands that provide them with meaningful and relevant offers.  (Forbes) 

In 2023, I’ve spent more time on tailoring offers to existing buyers. Here’s how you can do it:

  • Segment your email list. Make sure you know exactly who has purchased what.
  • Buyers of one or two courses can get a special deal on the regular offer you’re sending to non-buyers.
  • Identify 4 promo emails that are going out to non-buyers and tailor them to your buyers. This means that you’re writing personalized emails that go beyond Hey FNAME. You should know exactly what they’ve purchased before and explain how this new offer is going to help your buyers get closer to what they desire to achieve.

Very important: before you start blasting sales email messages to your current buyers make sure you’ve kept in touch. Most brands forget about their buyers. You shouldn’t. Email them good stuff regularly. Ask for their input.

  • Crush imposter syndrome and boost sales with email marketing: A conversation with Kristin Morris

  • How to write emails your audience will love: a conversation with Sky Cassidy

  • 6 reasons why overloading your emails with urgency might be a bad idea

About the Author

Monica Badiu is an email copywriter and copy coach. She specializes in sales copywriting for online course creators who want to send emails that speak to their ideal customer and generate conversions without using fearmongering or pressure. She’s made clients over $3 million in 2023.

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