6 Copy Starters for Emails & Letters

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definitno of ledeCopywriting  – what you say and how you say it – is still one of the most important disciplines in marketing. Sometimes just getting started is the hardest part.

The first sentence of copy is critical for grabbing attention. It sets the bait for hooking scanners – who become readers – who then turn into responders – and finally into customers. That sentence can be a hot spot that lights your campaign up, or a rough spot that derails it. There’s a lot of pressure to get it right!

Pat Friesen is a very successful veteran copywriter. She’s also a nationally recognized content developer, creative strategist, and speaker. She’s the author of The Cross-Channel Copywriting Handbook, and has over 30 years of experience generating sales and leads using traditional and new media.

Pat shared a bit of her knowledge in a webinar – “Copy Starters: 48+ Ideas for Letter & Email Openers” – that’s sponsored by Act-On and presented by the Target Marketing Group. You can catch up with the recorded webinar in full here, and we’ve excerpted a few choice morsels below.

Note: These tips for copy starters aren’t crafted for subject lines, tweets or other forms of very short copy. They’re crafted for longer formats: papers, blog posts, direct mail letters, and so on. That said, with a little imagination you can use them across all kinds of formats.

1. Ask a question. Make sure your question connects with your audience. It needs to be broad enough to appeal to your entire segment, yet specific enough to make a connection and lead into the rest of your content. Pat suggests:

  • What if _____…?
  • Did you know that…?
  • Have you ever wished for …?
  • Are you paying too much?
  • Do you make these mistakes?

Try to use the word “you” near the beginning of the sentence.

Here’s a sample question that became the lede for a lead generation email, in which a franchisor was looking for franchisees. The three sections of the question came from research that showed these were the top three reasons people fled corporate life for a franchise, so the likelihood was that prospects who responded to these would be well-qualified.

Are you tired of office politics, corporate ladders with limited opportunities, and demanding responsibilities that go unrewarded?

Start writing.2. Ask for help. People like to offer assistance, and they like to feel appreciated for it. They also like to share their opinions, so why not ask for them?

  • I need your help.
  • I’m writing to ask your help in …
  • Your opinions matter.

This copy from a doctor’s email to patients converted well, partly because it told people why they were being asked for their opinion:

Dear Mrs. Smith,

Would you do me a favor? It only takes a few minutes. Please answer the questions in the enclosed patient survey. Your opinions and answers will help me and my staff as we ….

3. Establish rapport. While you always want to establish a rapport with prospects, this type of email makes it more personal, sometimes referring to a pre-existing relationship.

  • Thank you.
  • We’ve missed you.
  • If you’re like me …
  • Because you are a _______…
  • Our records show it’s time to ____ your ____.
  • Thank you for your _______.

Never underestimate how powerful the words “Thank you” are.

Pat Thank you4. Power of a single word. It can be dicey to use a single word appropriately, but it’s also intriguing and powerful. It stops the person who’s just scanning in their tracks, and lures them into reading the next sentence.

  • Maddening! That’s what I think about …
  • Thanks. I appreciate the way you’ve …
  • Whew. It’s been a tough year, but you’ve …
  • Oops! Thank you for your patience while …
  • Shhhh! This is your invitation to a private …

Pat Shhh

5. Extend an invitation. Invitations make people feel at least a little bit grateful – they’ve been invited– and from childhood, we’ve been taught to respond to invitations. The more personal an invitation is, the better it will work.

  • You are invited ….
  • This is your private invitation to …
  • It’s my privilege to invite you to …

6. News/Urgency. People like to be in the know; they also really don’t like to be the last to know.  And, letting people know that a window of opportunity is closing will often spur action from genuine prospects.

  • You have ___ days left to pick up the phone or go online to …
  • This is your last chance.
  • For the first time, you can …
  • Good news!
  • We’ve got some good and bad news. The bad news is _____. But here’s the good part …
  • This will be short, sweet and full of good news for you and your family.

Pat good news

So, what’s the most effective lede you’ve ever written?

If this is useful for you, do check out the full webinar to get all the tools Pat introduces, plus examples and stories of how best to use the techniques. Watch the on-demand webinar.

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  • bri44any

    On a professional level, we’re finding more results from asking questions and “the power of a single word.” As a consumer, I don’t like the pressure associated with urgency.

    • http://www.act-on.com Sherry Lamoreaux

      I agree with you, with one caveat: if it’s something I really want, I see that “closing soon” as a reminder to take action. I got an email this morning about a play I plan to see…only 4 more performances…that spurred me to action, and I liked the reminder. But most of the time, yes indeed, it just feels like pressure.

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  • Tim

    Nice post Sherry. I think #3 is critical, especially for nurturing campaigns. People have to be made quickly aware of the context of the email and a quick reminder of how they got on the list and who you are can go a long ways.

  • Joe Goehring

    I need to print this out. We focus heavily on subject lines and often don’t pay enough attention to the email copy. Most of our introductions are statements of fact and don’t motivate. I’ve found that they key is to speak in a conversational tone and be frank. As Tim said, it’s also great to incorporate any information on the recipient to show that it’s’ not a mass email blast with generic appeal. Personally, those are the things that get me to open an email.

    • bri44any

      I actually discussed this with some team members and it’s interesting to see what parts people focus on more–seems like everyone can use a reminder to be aware of all of these.

  • Thomas Craft

    Great piece, I really appreciated the section on Ask for Help, we struggle with finding the right combination of asking for help and offering solution. I also agree whole heartedly with the Power of a Single Word.