You didn’t mess with my paternal grandmother, whether you were a council official or the English language, both of which she would bully. I remember the agony of having to keep a straight face when she, after examining the monthly medical pension, ostensibly sent to my grandfather, said that we would have to: ‘bend over backwards to make ends meet.’ She had this ability to make a phrase accurate, precise and memorable. When criticising a relative of mine for following the ’50s fashion of petticoats showing beneath skirts, she told her: ‘men should think women are not wearing any underclothes.’
She believed the language was there to serve her needs.
Keep copy brief and relevant
It is generally accepted that copy which is intended to be read on-line should have half the words of printed copy. Email copy should be even more precise. It is a case of what to include rather than exclude.
What you want to say is not relevant. Ask yourself what they need to know to fulfill the purpose of the email marketing, such as sell, gain information, or to generate click-throughs. Every word, not phrase, should be aimed at that one target. If it is not essential then it is redundant.
Say things only once
Say it once with as few words as possible, or rather avoid pleonasm and tautology, the only requirement being to make your meaning clear. If the word you have used needs an adjective or adverb then choose a more precise word. A steep, high hill is a mountain.
Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill when trying to be politically correct. Sexism will grate on both sexes so whilst the use of ‘they’ as a pronoun to mean the singular male or female is grammatically incorrect, it is acceptable. So whilst ‘A customer will have his or her own preferences.’ is how it should be written in an English A-level examination, you could use ‘A customer will have their own preferences.’ But how much better to suggest that ‘A customer will have preferences.’ A bit over half the words, grammatically correct and much more punchy.
You should keep instructions succinct. ‘Click here for the holiday experience of a lifetime’ or ‘Click Here?’ Why pad out?
Precision in wording is required because readers scan email marketing rather than read them word for word. This makes life less than satisfying for copywriters, but then who cares about their needs. The phenomenon requires certain conventions:
• Bulleted lists,
• Headlines should explain not confuse,
• One idea, one paragraph,
• Conclusion first, then explanation,
• Highlight keywords.
Keep the wording short with impact on lists. If a subject needs to be explained more fully, then use a headed paragraph, such as:
Assume you are talking face to face with the recipient. ‘Your recent holiday in Tuscany must have endeared you to the area. But did you know that it would cost you around 40% ‘off season’ yet you would find the weather is, if anything more pleasant.’ Your, you, you and you can engage. And if you would not use a phrase whilst facing the person across a table in a coffee shop, then it is probably jargon so avoid it.
You have just a few seconds to grab the interest of your readers. Much as you might like the steady build-up to an evidenced conclusion, it is, like grammatical prose, a luxury you cannot afford.
The English language is a vibrant, exciting tool. But it is there to use, not to be dominated by.
Ask my gran.