Exclusive Interview With Joanna Wiebe From Copy Hackers

7 min

Today we sit down with Joanna Wiebe, an expert copywriter and co-founder of CopyHackers.com to talk about how copy can make or break your email marketing campaigns. We also pick Joanna’s brain and learn what you as a marketer or copywriter can do to turn your everyday work into an even greater success for your business


GetResponse: In your recent ebook with GetResponse, you wrote that “40% of B2B content marketers believe newsletters are less effective content marketing tactics than social media and other tactics. (2014)“, do you agree with these marketers?

Joanna Wiebe: I definitely do not agree that newsletters offer less effective content marketing than social media. I think the problem with this idea is twofold. The first part of the problem: well-intentioned marketers misread “newsletters” as “boring collections of stuff you spam your subscribers with” instead of developing a strong value prop for their newsletters, thus giving them a raison d’etre that every marketing tactic needs. The second part: failure to measure beyond opens and clicks. If you don’t know why your newsletter exists, then you won’t know how to measure whether it’s doing its job, so you won’t know if it’s helping your business or not.

GR: You also wrote that a newsletter needs a reason for existing. In your opinion what are some reasons for a business to have a newsletter? Is there just one overall copy, or are there business-specific approaches?

JB: An inspired content strategist can come up with a dozen or more reasons to create and send a [great] newsletter: to build warmer relationships with people; to increase brand awareness; to demonstrate thought leadership by curating and sharing the best content for X topic or industry; to offer value so that, when the time comes to sell by email, your From name is welcome in their inbox.

Newsletters should be considered, created, and sent using the same business rigor we use for other marketing tactics. You wouldn’t run retargeting ads without a reason and without a way to measure their success. If you don’t have a reason to send a newsletter or a clue about how you’ll know if it was a success or not, don’t send one. Step back. Figure out your newsletter’s value prop and how that connects to 1) your subscribers and 2) your business – and then start the job of planning, writing, sending, and optimizing your newsletters for your business.

GR: What do you think is the most frequent email copy mistake that marketers make? Our readers are always looking for specific patterns that marketers think are right, but might not necessarily be as good as they thought. 

JB: The biggest problem may be trying to make a newsletter look, somehow, like a website. They’ll use a two-column layout with images squished into one side and tiny text squished into the other side; they’ll put a big banner at the top and find a way to stack three more banners at the bottom.

Shorter, more personal newsletters that are single column and that use a stripped-down design allow the content of the newsletter to be the focal point. They let the reader look at one thing at a time. And that’s powerful. That controlled reading experience is what makes long-form sales pages so powerful, and it can be just as powerful in email (which lends itself well to a top-down narrative form rather than to scanning).

Beyond that, I always encourage people to split-test newsletters that contain links to multiple landing pages against newsletters that have just one goal. If your newsletter’s value prop is along the lines of being the single resource for curated content on X topic, then perhaps multiple CTAs make sense; however, if that is not your express value prop, then why break the rules of email?–why distract users by adding more than 1 goal?–why risk getting fractions of the traffic to each landing page?

GR: Marketers often find themselves looking into quick-fix solutions, forgetting about A/B testing. Call to action buttons are in that group as well. Is there a formula for the perfect call to action?

JB: There’s no formula, of course, but there are a few tricks. Here you go:

  • Don’t think of a CTA as a call to action. Think of it as a call to value. An action may be “Read the blog post about button formulas” but the value would be “Convert better with these 3 button formulas.” Test the two against each other. I’d put my money on the call to value.
  • Write button / CTA copy that completes this phrase: I want to ________________. The underlined part becomes the button copy.
  • Never introduce work in your CTA copy. So if you’re writing a newsletter that leads to a landing page where the user will have to sign in to watch a video, don’t write a CTA in the newsletter that goes, “Sign in to watch the video.” That’s introducing work. It doesn’t matter that, in fact, they will have to sign in to watch the video; all that matters is what the end user wants. What do they want? To watch the video. So test CTA copy that reads something like “Watch the video” (and then add a few words about the value of doing so).

GR: That being said, when you look at platforms like GetResponse, what are the first tools, as a copywriter, that you find most important in creating the perfect newsletter? 

JB: Segmentation! Whom you’re writing for is everything when it comes to writing well – and by “well” I mean in a way that connects, resonates and ultimately converts. Blast emails are tragic. They’ve generally got awful open rates for lists over 25,000. But if you can segment the folks on your list and invest in writing tailored content – which is easier to write than generalized content – you can stand to get more folks to engage and fewer folks to call you spam or unsubscribe due to lack of perceived relevance.

After segmentation comes automation. What triggers can we set to generate the right message at the exactly right moment for our subscribers. If I write a newsletter linking to a post about social media marketing tips and I just so happen to be an affiliate for a social media marketing course, then I’d likely want to trigger a drip campaign promoting that course to the people who showed interest by clicking in the first place.

GR: As an expert in your field, is there any advice that you could give copywriters as to what they should pay attention to when they create newsletter copy?

JB: Write for one human. That human is a real human, with a personality and with a busy life. That human has a hundred other emails in their inbox. That human may be reading on a mobile device, which comes with a new set of distractions and limitations. That human is looking at their inbox right now potentially ‘cos they’re bored; maybe they’re at work or waiting somewhere, and they want to be engaged. Engage them. Connect with that one human using your words. Find a way to be so real and authentic with them that they don’t consider you a nuisance even though they’re extremely busy and distracted. Start there. And if anyone reviewing your copy tells you otherwise, tell them to come talk to me. 😉

GR: For those following in your footsteps, what books, blogs, or tools would you recommend they read to inspire them?

JB: Today, I’d say to read all about mobile content design and UX. Add to that a healthy dose of good ol’ Caples and Schwartz – classic long-form copywriters who could destroy email if they’d been alive to see this form of direct response marketing explode. From there, sign up for every email you come across and file them all away in swipe files in your email solution (e.g., in Gmail, in Outlook); I have 100+ swipe files for everything from welcome emails to receipts to newsletters to sales emails, and I refer to them almost every single time I have an email to write.

A big thank you to Joanna Wiebe for sitting down with us and answering our questions! Share with us in the comments below what you think are the golden rules of copywriting and how you manage your copy! Also, get your very own copy of our new ebook with Joanna “How to Write Newsletters That Get Opened, Read, and Clicked.”

Joanna Wiebe - Copy Hackers for Copyblogger

About the author: Joanna Wiebe runs a conversion copywriting consultancy in Victoria, BC and is the co-creator of both Copyhackers.com and Disco Surveys, the incentivized pop-up survey for marketers.