How to write a story-based email

How to Write a Story-Based Email

Shane Herring
Shane Herring

Course Developer at Atomic Education

Last Updated: May 28, 2021

Email marketing is can take many forms. From the broadcast newsletter to the hyper-targeted cart abandonment email.

There’s the welcome message, where we thank our reader for signing up to our list.

Then there’s the special occasion emails we send on a birthday, or the start of a season.

But emails don’t always have to be so focused on a specific goal.

If there’s one type of email that gets left behind it’s the storytelling email. They’re an extremely powerful tool and by sending email that tell a story, you’ll stand out amongst the competition.

In this article I show you how to write a story-based email.

Start with the subject line

A great story email starts with a great subject line.

If you’re over 15 years old, when you buy a book it’s the title that catches your eye. Well, for many people. Me? I look at the cover.

Anyway, moving on.

This means that your subject line must not only stand out, but it should lead the reader into your story. Here’s an example:

“A typo that cost me 15,000” – from copywriter Cole Schafer’s newsletter “Sticky Notes

First of all…15 grand? For a typo? That’s insane. This can’t be true. Whoever reads that has an urge to find out why something so small cost so much. If they’re copywriters or freelancers, they’ll want to make sure they won’t make the same mistake.

“Never, ever do this”. – from SEO expert Heather Lloyd Martin’s “SEO Copywriting Buzz” email newsletter

“Never do what? I wonder if I’m doing what I’m not supposed to when it comes to SEO best practices…let me check, just in case.”

“Swords, belly dancing, and repurposing your content”. – from Copy Luv’s Cheryl Binnie email newsletter

While we’re talking about the subject line, don’t forget to take advantage of the preheader text to add interest or include a call to action.

Don’t make your email a sales pitch

How many ads do you see each day? They’re everywhere. TV, radio, websites, billboards, cars, buses.

It seems like everyone is trying to sell something to everyone else.

Now, add in your email trying to sell something to someone and it’s highly likely that your recipient won’t read your email to the end and unsubscribe.

Email marketing is about building a relationship. Establishing trust. Giving your reader something of value.

If you want your readers to be engaging with you and your business, one of the tactics that helps do this is to tell a story.

Telling stories creates a lasting impact on your reader and embeds your brand in their memory.

Make it personal

This isn’t just about you. A story email need to be relevant to the reader.

Having said that, the story can be about something that has happened to you or to someone you know. But it still should be relatable.

The stories you tell will depend on the products or services that your business offers. The secret is to look for stories around you. Just remember that when you find a story, ask yourself…

“What benefit would my readers get from this?”

Every great story has a moral, but your audience doesn’t care unless it helps them in some way.

Make it real

Don’t just make a story up.

It needs to be founded in the real world.

If you make it up 1) you’re not being honest with your readers 2) they can come off as a little too perfect.

A simple formula

I love a good formula. It helps me understand how I can move an idea forward.

Once I understand the formula, I usually find ways to make it better for me.

Here’s a common formula that I started out using.

This is what it used to be like.

Tell the reader about the problems and frustrations you were having. How did it affect you? How did it make you feel? This is about building empathy with the reader showing that you understand the problems they’re having.

This is what I did to change it.

What did you do to change things? One or two simple, actionable steps that the reader could take to change their life just like you changed yours.

This is what it’s like now.

What does life look like now? How you feel now. What were the positive outcomes of making those changes? This is the goal you want your reader to achieve. To show them that if they take the same step, they’ll get the same result.

Here’s an example:

When I started out, I found it difficult to attract prospects to my business.

Then I started email marketing. I offered opt-in incentives, collected email address, and sent free valuable tips to subscribers.

Now, I don’t need to find prospects. They find me. I use email marketing to build relationships then convert them into customers.

Different types of stories

Don’t just stick to one story. Different stories can be told for different reasons and to send to your reader at different times.

Here are 5 story types that you can send to your readers.

Origin stories

This is one of the first story emails you should be sending. It’s so important you should be including it in a welcome sequence when someone subscribes to your list.

They’re the story of your business. What inspired you to start helping people? How did your business come into being?

“Reason why” stories

Different to your Origin story, this is explaining to the reader the story behind a product or service. Why are you offering it? How will it help the reader?

Vision stories

This story tells the reader what you’re trying to achieve. How is your business going to change the industry you work in or even the lives of the people who buy from you? Why should someone stay with you?

Rapport-building stories

Do you remember when I said that story need to be relatable? But they don’t always have to be directly related to your products. Personal stories that give an insight into your personality are just as valuable. These stories can create a strong emotional connection between your readers and you or even your brand.

Tell your customer’s stories

These stories are about other people or brands. They’re the social proof stories that show the reader that there are other businesses out there having the same problems they’re having. How your business worked with them to fix the problem and how that business operates now. How the solution made life better for someone else.

 Again, humanise these stories. Introduce key stakeholder into the story and let them tell their story.

What a story email looks like

Of the five types of stories, I’ve chosen to show you an example of customer story.

In a customer story, the customer is our hero.

Do you remember my favourite story telling formula? I’ve used the same formula in this email example. See if you can spot the three parts.

Sandy is a café owner in Brisbane. She has a problem. She has quite a few loyal existing customers who she sees regularly, but she isn’t getting many new customers. She wants more people to know about her café and come through her doors.

To tell people about her cafe, Sandy has tried a lot of marketing ideas. She setup paid radio, Facebook, and Google campaigns, she did letter drops in her local area, loyalty cards to local business but nothing seemed to work.

With poor results for the money she spent, she was desperate. One day, her Facebook feed showed a Facebook ad for a local restaurant featuring a beautiful photo of a meal and glass of wine along with a link to get a discount code. She hadn’t thought of capturing email addresses and promoting her café to those people.

Sandy started googling for information about email marketing tools. She found a few options, compared them, and asked other hospitality business owners what they were using.

The tool she found that seemed offer the features she could use for her business was Email Marketing Platform. She signed up for a free trial and received some training.

Within a month of setting up an email marketing campaign, she had an email list of 450 people. 30% of them started coming to her café. Revenue was increasing. Sandy has never been happier. The best part? She only spends an hour a week on her email marketing. Don’t you love a happy ending?

Wrap up

Marketing is about creating an emotional connection between your brand and your prospects. Stories are one of the most powerful ways to get your message across because they are remembered.

The best stories you tell don’t have to be about you. Stories about the people who use your product or service will inspire people much more than stories about you, your brand, or your products.

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