November 14, 2016

Drayton Bird on email length

In the talk I saw last week, copywriter Drayton Bird was talking about copy length.

“Almost all copy is too short,” he advised. “The more expensive the thing you are selling, the longer it takes people to decide. Most marketers give up too soon.”

I asked Drayton in one of the breaks how he thought this applied to email. As I see it there is a trade-off between email length and email frequency. Should you send an infrequent 2000-word email, or a frequent 300-word email?

Drayton’s opinion was that you should send a frequent 2000-word essay, as often as you can.

Having thought about this for a few days, I only half agree.

If you’re a professional writer, sending regular 2000-word essays is no big deal. Writing 2000 words isn’t too hard if you have 2000 words in your head. I have about 10,000 words in my head at any given time, and most of them are exceptionally grumpy.

But what if you’re not a professional writer?

We have to remember that attention in your recipient’s inbox is fragile. Not only does the reader have to hold you in high regard to even open the email, you also have to hold their attention in a sea of distractions.

The risks of sending a 2000-word email are:

1. You might lose their attention, due to no fault of your own.

A new email from somebody important pops up. Facebook dings on their phone. The phone rings. The baby cries. You cannot compete with all of these distractions.

2. You might end up saying the same message in more words, in a less persuasive way.

The challenge isn’t to get more words onto the page. The challenge is to communicate the same message in fewer words, with the same emotional impact.

If I wanted to send you a 2000-word letter, it would probably be a sales letter. And in that case I would probably send it through the post, assuming I had your mailing address.

Failing that, I’d put the 2000 words on a distraction-free web page, with an invitation at the top of the page to print the whole thing out. The email you received would then just be a teaser for the longer message.

P.S. Fundamentally Drayton is correct. Your copy should do a complete selling job, in whatever format you send it. I just think that long emails are exceptionally hard to do well.

P.P.S. Before editing, this post was 428 words.

Rob Drummond

Rob Drummond runs the Maze Marketing Podcast and Maze Mastery. Rob specialises in content production, ad creation, storytelling and CRM systems. He has two published books, Magnetic Expertise and Simple Story Selling, affordable on Amazon.