How to E-mail Important People and Get A Response

by Brett Borders on July 26, 2011

Most people aren’t very responsible with their e-mail. It can be especially difficult to get a response from really important people… who can easily get 200+ emails per day when they only have time to respond to a handful. But if you write e-mails using basic principles of psychology and direct response copywriting, you can greatly increase your chances of hearing back from a big shot.

Inbox Psychology

Professionals open their inbox hoping to see messages bearing good news or leading towards money. But what they usually see is an avalanche of spam, unwanted social media updates and newsletters, and long-winded requests for people wanting something for free.

A hypothetical e-mail to a busy tech blogger, following the advice below.

Important people tend to delete or wait till later (meaning “never”) to handle almost all messages except 1.) very simple messages and 2. messages they are obligated to respond to. If you don’t know the person well, keep it as simple and scannable as possible!

Professional E-mail Writing Tips for a Better Response Rate

  1. Choose a headline that communicates either “painless” or “possible benefit.” If your e-mail has some angle that could genuinely benefit the recipient, allude to that in your headline. If not, I’ll frequently ask just one question and use the headline “Quick question”. This makes it seem painless enough to open or respond to.
  2. Keep the copy short and spaced out. Aim for 5 sentences or less. Seriously. Add a line of space between each sentence or main point: don’t smash it all into one intimidating block of text.
  3. Make a personal connection. If you can show that you know about the person and you’re up-to-date with what they are currently working on – it makes it harder to dismiss your e-mail as irrelevant. If you’re in the same business, you love their company or use their product, or if you admire a specific piece of work, or you’ve been to their town or country before… don’t be afraid to quickly mention that.
  4. Say what’s in it for them. Let them know how helping you can also help them – if possible – but don’t stretch the truth so far that it’s absurd.
  5. Use bolding, italics and underlining to make the main points “pop.” This makes an e-mail much easier to scan quickly and digest the main points. I like to save the bold for my main request or question… and use the italics and underlining to draw attention to the main supporting points.
  6. Ask only one question or favor per e-mail. The more questions you ask, the less chance any of them will be responded to. Try and slim down your requests to the most crucial one. If you get a response to the first question, then you can follow up with with a second.
  7. Specifically ask for a response. A call-to-action in the text that specifically asks for a response implants a psychic suggestion that makes it harder for them to ignore you. Something like “I’d really appreciate your reply, either way” at the end gives them wiggle room to say no, and it will greatly boost your response rate.
  8. Include your full name, website and phone number in the signature. Important people will often want to find out a little more about you before responding or saying “yes” to something. Having some information about yourself makes it easier for them to feel like they’re responding to a real person.
  9. If you don’t get a response, wait 7 to 14 days and keep trying again until you get one.You can send the message as is, again. Or quote the whole thing and ask a micro question like “Any thoughts?” or an ambiguous statement like “Thanks“. Thanks is a sneaky way of saying “Please respond now” while sounding grateful. Keep going every week or two until you get a response of some kind. You may have to try 4 to 8 times before they finally have a moment to get back to you.

That’s what has worked best for me!

What are your own tips and tricks for increasing the response rate of personal business e-mails? Please share whatever you are thinking in the comments below!

{ 14 comments }

What is “Cocaine Monologue” Copywriting?

by Brett Borders on June 7, 2011

Ad agency copywriting is often so unorthodox that it’s ineffective. While agencies manage to pump out some pretty decent TV commercials that catch my attention using quirky and irrational premises, the same techniques doesn’t work nearly as well in the written word.

product label copywriting is often psychotic

The current ad agency fashion is copywriting that is so self-aggrandizing and sarcastic, it borders on psychotic.

The current trend I’ve spotted in print ad agency copywriting is what I call cocaine monologue copy – a sarcastic, exceedingly casual personal “rant” injected with strong personal opinions and observations. It’s copy where the writer gets drunk off their own “clever” brillance by making puns, while disregarding the reader’s own desires and interests.

Here’s an example of this style of copywrtiting… verbatim, from the product label of my zero-calorie orange Vitamin Water sports drink:

if you ask us, its no coincidence that ‘morning’ and ‘mourning’ are only one letter apart. ok sure, there are a few good things about mornings (we’re looking at you, pancakes). otherwise, forget it. not only does a 15 minute snooze pass in what feels like a blink, but let’s be honest, the sound of birds chirping is a bit over-rated. so to help give your morning some nutrition, we added 120% of your daily value of vitamin c per serving plus some other key nutrients we think’ll brighten up your day. but don’t worry, not rip-open-curtians-with-no-warning kind of brighter.

vitamins + water = all you need

nutrient enhanced water beverage

What’s Wrong With This Copy?

In my opinion:

  1. It has improper, all-lower-case capitalization. If you want to be casual in copywriting you should do it with your words and your tone. The sturdy linguistic conventions of capitalization and punctuation aren’t good things to mess with. It doesn’t look casual, it looks like a communication signal that is amatuer and shouldn’t be trusted – right from the start.
  2. It starts off focused on the writer, not the reader. By leading with “if you ask us” – it sounds like the copy is about to launch into a rant or a personal diatribe – which it sure does. Don’t scare readers off by “telegraphing” you’re about to launch into your personal opinions. Readers are they’re interested in “what’s in it for me” – so focus on that.
  3. It tries too hard to be ‘clever.’ It makes a pun between ‘morning’ and ‘mourning’ and suggests that mornings are grim and dreadful. While the analogy helps set the stage for how the product can cure these blues – the cleverness doesn’t help sell anything. (It mostly just helps pump up the writer’s ego.)
  4. It sarcastically assumes the reader has the exact same taste the writer does. The copy boldly asserts that pancakes are one of the few good things about mornings, otherwise “forget it.” Well.. I don’t personally care for breakfast pancakes – the combination of refined white flour, butter and sugary syrup is a recipe for a stomach ache and a sluggish + unproductive morning. And if someone were to say “We’re looking at you, pancakes” I think I’d have a hard time not laughing at them. By assuming that I like the same things they do – when in fact I have distinctly different taste – I feel turned off. It diminishes trust and credibility in the copy. That defeats the purpose of the copy being there in the first place.
  5. It ignores the lifestyle of the target audience. The lament about “how quickly the 15 minute snooze button goes by” might sound brilliant to the other 9-to-5 employees at the ad agency they all hate working at. But I don’t relate. I’m a freelancer with no alarm clock. And much more importantly, I’ll bet some of the target market for Vitamin Water are athletes who like to wake up early and train before work. My advice: focus on the people who are likely to purchase sports drinks and appeal to them. “Bottle” your own prejudices.
  6. Features and benefits are discussed last. It’s good to know that the drink contains 120% of my daily allowance of Vitamin C. But I wish they’d put how it can help me and brighten my day up towards the top, rather than buried it under their sarcastic personal opinions. I also wish they’d name the the “other key nutrients” it contains, rather than casually alluding to them. I want to believe that drinking this tasty Vitamin Water is good for me… enough so that it justifies the asking price and me buying it again and again. Convincing me of this is the product label copywriter’s job, and they didn’t convince me here.
  7. The headline and tagline are on the bottom. The headline (“nutrient enhanced water beverage”) is great, except for the capitalization. The tagline (“water + vitamins = all you need”) is the most compelling equation and concept in the whole rant… so they should put it at the top. This is the standard, expected convention for headlines that has existed long before the invention of the printing press. Breaking it isn’t cutting edge or trendy, it’s ass-backwards.
  8. What Do You Think?

    What are your own feelings on this Vitamin Water copy? Did it resonate with you or not? Does it have an effectiveness or charm that I was oblivious to?

    Am I ironically guilty of any of the sins that I called out, here in my own blog prose?

    Let me know what you’re thinking in the comments below!

    { 9 comments }

Social Media in the 1990s

May 19, 2011

The world has changed shockingly fast in the past decade. Technology that was standard just 10 or 20 years back seems like it was from another century. 1. Before YouTube… there was “America’s Funniest Home Videos” This 90′s television smash-hit, based on a Japanese show, kicked off user-generated video content in America. People submitted home [...]

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Social Media Rockstar is now “Copy Brighter”

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10 Persistent Social Media Marketing Myths

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Social media has broken out of the underground and into the mainstream. And while personal social media literacy rates are rapidly rising, awareness of how to use social media tools for business and marketing campaigns is still very murky. Here are 10 of the most common myths I’ve had to untangle during my social media [...]

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How to Build A Massive Online Community

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There are tons people in the social media scene who talk a lot about “community”… and there are a quiet few who work hard at building sustainable online communities. Joshua Dorkin is an independent online publisher and community manager in Denver, Colorado – who runs the real estate investing community BiggerPockets.com. Josh shares tips for [...]

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How to Set, Change & Transfer Facebook Usernames

February 21, 2010

Warning: Facebook constantly changes their software rules without warning — and the advice in post may not work anymore. Many users have reported problems following these procedures – see the comments. Use this advice at your own risk! Love it or hate it, Facebook is currently the biggest and popular site on the web… except [...]

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The Most Valuable Social Media Skill for 2010

February 17, 2010

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The Dangers of Social Media Imbalance

January 25, 2010

Social media is quietly forcing an integration of “work” vs. “play” into the mainstream business culture. Networking and socializing used to be quarantined into special times and locations – like conferences, power lunches, and parties. But now virtual cocktail hour and watching cool videos have been integrated into our desktop, inbox and phone with apps [...]

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VIDEO: A Brief History of Social Media

December 28, 2009

Here’s a video of a short presentation I did on the history of social media. It traces the evolution of social media back from phone phreaking in the 1950′s, to the BBS’s and online services of the 80′s, to the real-time mobile web and social collaboration tools of today. If you’d be willing to take [...]

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