TCC Podcast #395: Email Strategy with Donnie Bryant - The Copywriter Club
TCC Podcast #395: Email Strategy with Donnie Bryant

The demand for emails is enormous. And there are probably more copywriters writing emails than any other product. But that doesn’t mean those emails are great. Some are barely readable. Others go straight to the junk folder—where they belong. There’s never been more need for better emails than today. So for the 395th episode of The Copywriter Club Podcast, we asked email strategist and copywriter Donnie Bryant to share what he knows about email. Donnie is the author of Subject Line Science, a short book that will help you get more emails opened. If you write emails for clients or your own business, you’ll want to lick the play button below, or scroll down for a full transcript now.


Stuff to check out:

Subject Line Science by Donnie Bryant
Tricks of the Mind by Derren Brown
The Copywriter Club Facebook Group
The Copywriter Underground


Full Transcript:

Rob Marsh: Let’s talk about email. When copywriters reach out to us, they often ask what’s the best way to learn how to write emails and probably more importantly, land clients who need help with regular emails. And it kind of feels like there’s been a sea change around email over the past couple of years. Maybe it’s because email is a great way to connect one on one… or at least in a way that feels one to one. OR maybe it’s the shift in buying behavior that’s happened over the past decade. I’m not sure… but what I am sure about is that email isn’t going anywhere. It’s getting more important, not less. And it’s a great service to offer for clients who need ongoing help… that is the kind of clients you can work with long term.

Hi, I’m Rob Marsh, one of the founders of The Copywriter Club. And on today’s episode of The Copywriter Club Podcast, I interviewed copywriter Donnie Bryant.  Donnie recently wrote a book about subject lines and what it takes to write them, so he was the perfect guest to invite on the show to talk about email, strategizing a campaign—which I asked him to walk through step by step, as well as what it takes to break into the financial copy niche. If you want to write emails as part of your business, you’ll want to listen to this episode until the end.

Now before we get to the interview… you’ve heard me talk about the copywriter underground and what it includes. If you’ve been thinking about joining this amazing community, I want to give you two reasons to jump in now. The first is a limited time Client Emails Masterclass with copywriter Michal Eisik. Michal launched her business after completing the copywriter accelerator and think tank. What she’s built is amazing. We asked Michal if she would share her masterclass with The Underground. But because Michal actually sells this to her own email list, she asked us to limit access to just a couple of day in May.  Which means if you want to get the Client Emails Masterclass for free, you’ve got to jump into The Underground now. NOTE: Sorry, this bonus is gone.

We also have a second bonus… it’s the strategic plan that copywriter Daniel Throssell used to make his client’s book a best seller in Australia. Daniel has only shared this plan one time… to subscribers who paid to recieve his newsletter. It’s not currently available anywhere. Even new subscribers to his newsletter don’t have access. But he offered to give this strategy—completely free of charge—to members of The Copywriter Undergound. And like the Client Emails Masterclass, this member exclusive is only available for one week during the month of May—and only for members of The Underground. 

If you were to purchase these bonuses sepearately, you’d pay more than what you pay to join The Underground for a single month. Plus you get all the other training, coaching, and community stuff that comes along with your membership in The Underground. There’s never been a better time to visit to claim your free bonuses now.

And with that, let’s go to our interview with Donnie.

Donnie, let’s kick this off with your story. How did you get to be a copywriter? I think you’ve been described as one of the best email copywriters, sales copywriters out there. So tell us your story.
Donnie Bryant: Yeah, well, it didn’t really start out that way. Right. I think I feel like a lot of us copywriters kind of stumbled into it. When I was a very young boy, I always wanted to write. But I really thought I would write science books or some kind of nonfiction books. I often tell the story. My grandmother had, in her house, 25,000 books—kind of like your wall there. That’s nuts.

Rob Marsh: People won’t be able to see it because we don’t have the video here, but yeah, there’s a lot of books behind me.

Donnie Bryant: Okay. So I grew up loving books. I thought I would write them, but it’s kind of a childhood dream. I also wanted to be an astronaut, but that didn’t happen. Getting into regular life, I went to college, got married, and then got into the working world, retail, to provide for the family. And over time, I continued to find myself in roles where I was doing marketing and or communications for the companies I was working for, even though that wasn’t in my job description or anywhere near it. 

But these opportunities kept bubbling up. And my wife, being the intelligent person that she is, she said, you always said you wanted to do something with writing, so why don’t you just explore that? And I did. And so in 2007, while I was working 70 hours a week at Kmart, for everyone who remembers Kmart. There’s a handful of them left.

Rob Marsh: Blue light specials. 

Donnie Bryant: That’s right. I started to study while I was working. There was a library directly across the parking lot from the Kmart I worked at and Bob Bly’s books were over there. So I just went over and started to study and that’s where that’s where it all began. I love the written word and I like selling. And so the two married pretty nicely.

Rob Marsh: So it’s one thing to love that and to think, “Hey, I want to do something with writing.” It’s quite another to start making money at it. So as you discovered, what this thing is, how did you turn that into a business opportunity?

Donnie Bryant: This is funny. I don’t remember how I discovered this, but at least back in the day on Craigslist there was a little section at the bottom called gigs and in various cities they would have gigs and I would just look for writing gigs. Anyone who I thought I could help or who I thought I could convince, I sent messages. And because you instantly know or quickly know, if I ever want to have a crack at this, I’ve got to start making some money. So I probably started soliciting clients before I was responsibly capable of earning their money. Actually, that may not be true because some of my early projects I think turned out really well. But I started very quickly trying to solicit clients. I began through Craigslist and I looked at some job boards, but the first clients came through the little gigs section on Craigslist. Not long after that, you know, as you study, you see the experts say you got to have an online presence. So I started doing a blog, and I started my own email newsletter. And I got on LinkedIn, which seemed like ages ago, must have been about 2010. Started spending a lot of time on LinkedIn, and things kind of developed from there.

Rob Marsh: Cool. So again, I just kind of want to follow the career path. With those initial gigs, if I remember right, and I was writing way back then as well, a lot of those were like $15 jobs, $25 jobs. Basically, you’d spend three or four hours or maybe even longer writing a project and make less per hour than you might at a retail job. What was it about it that made you think, “hey, this is what I’m going to lean into and I’m going to make this work?”

Donnie Bryant: I think it was something that I could see and control because job boards—it’s the same—but everything else was different. A mystery to me. I didn’t know anything about promoting myself. I didn’t know anything about outreach or anything like that. But I knew that these jobs existed. People were paying people to write. And so, like I said, I don’t remember how I found out about it. Maybe someone mentioned it. But yeah, I remember I got some very tiny projects. I did an eight-page sales letter for $25. And the client paid me $35 because he gave me a tip for doing a good job. And he actually ran that sales letter for at least three years. So I have no idea how much money he made from it.

Rob Marsh: That’s like $7.70 per page, and probably less than that per hour.

Donnie Bryant: Yeah, it was bad. And it wasn’t a topic that I wasn’t super well versed in, so I had to do some research. I just was reading his material to get a hang of it. I think it performed well. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have used it for three years. And that was how it went. 

The breakthrough job for me, it was similar in the pay per project thing. It was a very small payout. But they had an unlimited number of pages that you could do. You got paid per page. It was actually for speed dating. Speed dating, I think, was a new phenomenon at that time. And we needed to do SEO. And we had speed dating pop-ups in every city in America. So unlimited may be a stretch, but there were thousands of sites, geographically, specific sites, and they all needed four or five pages. And so it was like, write as much as you want. And I would work all day and come home and write all night. And I was able to start making some good money and gain some confidence that way. But you’re right, they were small paying jobs. But I also met a great client. The first person who told me “You need to charge me more than you asked me for this.” But he was a consultant who used to work at Microsoft. And I met him on Craigslist, surprisingly, and turned that into a long-term engagement with higher-paying projects. You kind of build brick by brick, learning lessons as you go.

Rob Marsh: And so is this the point at which you’re doing this now full time? Or how do you shift away from supporting your family, doing retail, working, all of the stuff that the real workers do versus writers? What was that turning point? And what did your business start looking like at that point?

Donnie Bryant: Yeah, it was right there. When I found out I could write an unlimited amount of paid work, I wasn’t making all that much in retail. Right. Well, yeah, who does, right? And I think about the numbers now. I know inflation and cost of living are way up. But there are people who can walk in the door at McDonald’s and make $15 an hour, depending on where you live. I was making about $15 an hour as an assistant manager at Kmart at that time. Maybe a little bit less when you factor in the hours. But $35,000 was what I was earning then. So to replace that income didn’t seem so far out there. So I just, I ground it out and just doing this quantity of work. And my relationship with my wife suffered at that point because I had to spend as much time as I could writing the projects that I could write and still trying to build a presence online, trying to find better gigs and develop relationships. I probably spent 17, 18 hours every day just either writing projects, low-paying projects, or trying to build up from there with LinkedIn and things like that.

Rob Marsh: Amazing. So let’s fast forward to what you’re doing today. Obviously you’re not writing seven page sales pages for $35 anymore. Talk to us about the kind of work that you’re doing and the kinds of clients that you serve today.

Donnie Bryant: Okay. These days I’m mostly working with financial clients, publishers, you know, newsletter publishers tend to be my bread and butter or have been for the last eight or so years. Maybe nine years. Also, I enjoy writing for financial educators, people who are doing training, educational stuff, courses, and financial service providers as well. Totally different world, because in publishing we make outlandish claims and really ramp up the emotionalism. And then as a financial service provider, the regulations are much stricter, so you have to work within the confines of what’s permitted, what you’re permitted to say. And it’s a lot more subdued, but I really enjoy those spaces. The majority of my clients for the last eight or nine years have been in various financial spaces, but I do all kinds of projects. I really love email marketing. I love it. That’s probably my first love, but I’ve done, you know, the hour long video sales letters, Google ads, advertorials, video scripts like for YouTube ads, Facebook ads, pretty much anything you can think of—just depending on what the situation calls for.

Rob Marsh: I think there’s a lot of people who look at the financial industry and think that everybody talks about how it’s the most profitable one out there. I’m not sure that’s always true because any niche can be profitable if you have contacts, you’re doing the right work, but there’s a lot of people who do make pretty good money writing in the financial world. Will you tell us, if somebody were coming to you saying, “hey, Donnie, I want to work for a financial newsletter, how do I break in? How do I get there?” What would you do if you were trying to break in there today?

Donnie Bryant: The first thing, and I do get this question a lot, the first thing that I always recommend that people do is go and study the game. Sign up for the email list and click on all the ads from A Motley Fool or Agora Financial, companies like that, because you have to know how they operate if you want to have any prayer to become a writer for them. You have to see how they write, the kind of things that they write about, the style that they write in, and understand why. So the first thing I always say is you have to go study what they do. Watch the whole 60-minute sales video. You got to sit and watch it. And some of them are very fun, so they don’t make it drudgery for you to do that. But you begin to do that and study and try to understand why they work. 

I think the second thing that makes a lot of sense is to begin to connect with other people who are financial copywriters. A large percentage of these companies these days are hiring in-house writers. So you’ve got a team of people. They’re not freelancers. They’re not necessarily all over the place. But you can still find them online. They’re on LinkedIn, they’re on Facebook, and they’re talking about copywriting, and they’re in the copywriting groups. And so if you can find some of those individuals and talk to them, it gives you an opportunity to understand the workings of those organizations, and then also knowing someone who’s in the company, they can let you know about opportunities, put in a good word for you. That’s happened for me more than once, being connected to even just regular copywriters, but you can connect with higher up people in the organizations as well. 

And then going to events is a great way. AWAI Bootcamp, for example. You’ll meet publishers there, financial marketing summit. I’m just naming names. I don’t want to leave anybody out or overly promote anybody. But when you go to places like that, you’ll be able to connect with the people who make decisions, the people in that space. And it also helps you to learn and grow very quickly. 

And then outreach. You have to be creative, because a lot of people are reaching out to these people. The publishers and the decision makers act like Agora. Everybody wants to work for Agora. You need a creative outreach. Joe Schriefer talks about getting weird things in the mail. Somebody sent him a gold coin or something. You can’t ignore that. Now we’ve got to have a conversation. I know another guy who recorded an interview with AI. talking about a future hypothetical situation. You send a flash drive via FedEx. OK, I got to listen to it. You show how engaging, creative you can be. And that gets your foot in the door. And then you got to show up with confidence when you’re having those conversations. It’s easy to be intimidated. But if you shrink back and seem like you’re nervous, that decreases the chances that you’ll win the gig because the person who’s talking to you wonders if you really have the chops, if you’re showing up like you’re nervous.

Rob Marsh: Yeah, and while we’re talking about having the chops, what kinds of samples or previous experience would you bring to the table there, too? Because obviously, you’ve got this Catch-22. You’re trying to break in in order to get the experience, but you need some experience in order to break in. So how do you overcome that problem?

Donnie Bryant: I’m glad you asked that question. These days, it seems like most of the publishers, if you’re not already established, they start you off on the short form stuff anyway. Ads, like space ads, emails, yeah, the shorter form things. That’s where they want to see you begin. And a lot of times, they bring in new writers in-house. Your first day, you’re not going to write the video sales letter. You’re not going to do that. But they put you in on smaller, short form email writing and things like that. So you can just write them, you know, not so much on spec, but mock one up. I’m going to write one so you can see how I would approach this. And you should do it for existing promotions. I see that you’re promoting this trading service. Here’s some additional angles that you could use, additional ways of presenting the idea. And when a promotion works, they need a million emails. And they need a million ads. So if you write good ones and send them as a sample, they might hire you and buy them from you right now, immediately. That’s a good place to start. So you kind of have to do it on your own. I don’t see a lot of people just saying, hey, write something and send it to me. You had to take the initiative. But that’s where you would start, emails, probably, space ads, maybe even advertorials for the 800-word range, maybe 1,000-word range. Some of the companies still use advertorials for lead gen. Not so much lead gen, but top of funnel.

Rob Marsh: Yeah. OK, so starting out with small stuff, email. You mentioned earlier that email is one of your favorite things to write. I’m going to tease it right now. You’ve written a book about subject lines and emails. So let’s talk about email marketing. And before we started recording, I mentioned to you, I feel like there’s been this change around email over the last year. Maybe it’s since the pandemic. I don’t know. But where companies seem to realize they need more of it, there’s more opportunity around writing emails for copywriters. Again, you obviously have this book about how you break through. What’s going on with email, and why should we be doing more of it?

Donnie Bryant: I think that you identified one of the key factors. During the pandemic, We all started thinking about things differently. Well, most people started thinking about things differently. I need to be able to sell online. And even for the individuals who aren’t, they’re already online anyway. But seeing how the world now collapsed, we had to figure out a different way to get in touch with people. And social is not always the most productive place to put your words. They go into a black hole. 2% of your audience sees it unless you pay for an ad and not everyone is ready to do that. So I think there was an awareness shift. 

I think there’s also a lot of training, a lot of copywriters are saying this is the easiest way to become a copywriter, get into email. And so there’s a lot of awareness on the service side in terms of copywriters coming into the game are now talking about email and pushing email as a service that they can provide. And so we’re seeing an awareness Awareness from the entrepreneurs and the businesses, there’s also an influx of copywriters who want to write email. That’s like the easiest way to start. But I think also, what I mentioned a second ago, social media is inconsistent, and it’s increasingly difficult to have consistent visibility unless you’re paying for it on social media. Then you’re in paid ads territory. And so email, as long as you can get it delivered, has a much higher percentage chance of being read by opted-in individuals. And so I think that there’s kind of a confluence of those factors.

Rob Marsh: Okay. And when it comes to email, obviously, like you said, there’s a variety of factors that impact our ability to get through. One is, you know, who the sender is, that kind of stuff. Obviously, you know, catching attention. So subject line, that kind of thing. And then there’s the email itself. Can you break down for us how you think about, you know, as you’re working with a client, how do you think through, you know, the strategy behind the emails that you’re sending? And yeah, let’s go deep on subject lines while we go through here.

Donnie Bryant: This is one of my favorite things. Well, I want to point out that you said something super important that everyone doesn’t think about. And it’s part of my book. Even though the book is called Subject Line Science, as a preliminary foundational reality, the most important factor is not the subject line, but it’s who the sender is. And so we all have to be conscious of how we bring people onto our list. who we present ourselves to be. And the connection between the lead generation or the acquisition of names onto the list, we had to be cognizant of how we bring people on and the reasons behind why they signed up. 

And then our messaging, how it connects to that reason. Because a lot of times, we’ll bring people on for what seems like a very exciting trend. AI is everywhere, right? And it should be. But if you say, you know, 10 super prompts that will make your AI perfect. And then you deliver on the lead magnet. But then your emails are talking about other things. You quickly disengage. That’s just an example. But I think a lot of times we kind of do that. We want a lead magnet that’s sexy. And it’s the most exciting topic that anyone’s talking about. But that’s not necessarily what we’re ready to deliver long term. 

And so we bring people onto the list. It’s kind of not an intentional bait and switch, but we bring them on for what ends up being the wrong reasons. They really want to know about AI. We presented ourselves as AI experts or our email newsletter as an email newsletter or AI newsletter. And then it turns out, I really want to talk about something else. 

So the first thing is what you said, establishing ourselves as a person who, people know, our subscribers know, I’m a person who sends valuable, relevant content. And then they’ll open anything. They’ll open anything. And we’ve all seen that, where we send a subject line that is kind of mediocre, but it’s, you know, it’s just what I got for today. And you’re surprised by the open rate. It’s not necessarily because it was a great subject line. It’s because people want to hear from Rob. They want to hear from Kira. They want to hear from whoever. So that’s the first part. 

As we begin to develop the strategy, though, it’s important to, again, really understand what you ultimately want to accomplish with the people on that list. Where do you want to take them? What’s the journey we’re taking them on? What are their feelings about that? What do they already believe? When people come onto your list, they have certain beliefs. They may be correct, or they may be incorrect. I won’t say that. They may be your beliefs that you want them to hold, or they may be ones that are detrimental. And so you had to think through, how do we connect where they are currently so that we can bring them where they need to be on a belief level, and on an emotional level, and then on a practical level? What’s the situation that they’re in that they want to improve upon? In whatever way you do that. For the health experts, we want to help you get fit. Or for the financial people, how do we help you build a nest egg so you can retire and feel great about that? So what’s the journey? So you have to factor all those things in as you begin to think about what the strategy should be. 

I like to think about the strategy from lead gen through forever, because how you bring people on, again, really impacts everything that happens afterwards. So that includes the lead gen, the ad, and the lead magnet, and the welcome sequence. When we bring them into our world, how do we do that? And then after you’ve kind of set the stage there, then emails take the journey further, or take them to the ultimate destination. So it’s really understanding them primarily. Everything else you can retrofit. Whatever you’re selling, it attaches to their current situation and then also their dreams and desires and their fears and frustrations and their pains and their problems. How do we get them from that place to where they want to go using our service or our product? 

I say it like this, really what people want is they want to accomplish their dreams with what they already have with just a little bit of help from you. They don’t really want to change their life that much. They want to change outcomes. They don’t want to change their routines, not most people. We’re taking them from where they are. and bringing them to where they want to be with minimal disruption of life and maximum enjoyment of the things that they’re already enjoying.

Rob Marsh: Yeah, I think that’s actually really important. You think about even our own personal behavior, right? Most of us want to stay within this comfort zone. Or we’re like, maybe I can step outside of my comfort zone, but I only want to go one or two steps. I am not willing to jump off the cliff, or I’m not taking on something totally new. And I think you’re hitting on something really important here, because a lot of us do it when we email, we’re asking people to take pretty massive steps, you know, not just, “hey, here’s a $2,000 program to spend your money on.” But also time commitments, moving from something that they’re comfortable doing into something that is really uncomfortable. This is why we all want the magic pill, the silver bullet, because we want it easy. And I think at some level, we understand everybody wants it easy. But then how do you sell those big steps to somebody if we only want to take a step or two outside of the comfort zone?

Donnie Bryant: It’s a great point. And a lot of that comes back to the offer. We need to make offers that are better. As we’re creating our own stuff, you can do whatever you want. With a client, you may or may not have influence over what their offer is, in terms of the actual deliverable. But you want to work on projects where people don’t have to jump through hoops to begin feeling some sort of progress. And of course, you gradually move them. You’re comfortable taking one step at a time. So depending on the kind of program it is, you may be able to gradualize them into the big change. But you’re right. If you make it obvious—you have to give up ice cream if you want to be fit. I was planning on having ice cream tonight. So I don’t want to do this—we had to figure out other ways. 

You want to be honest, of course. You don’t want to tell people that you can eat whatever you want and then find out you can eat whatever you want from this restricted list of eight things that include barley and flaxseed and wheat germ and cucumber. We want to be honest. Again, we want to frame things in a way that people can see themselves doing it. If you can’t visualize yourself taking the steps, or you can’t visualize yourself accomplishing the final outcome that you’re thinking about, the copy can’t connect. They don’t even believe it in their own mind for them to say, oh, this is great. They would probably say, yeah, that’s for somebody else.

Rob Marsh: Yeah, that’s a good point. Okay, so I wonder if you’re able to do this, can we actually talk about a real campaign, maybe something that’s out there in life, but talk about sort of start to finish, the different elements, your thinking on it, how you put it together. I know I’m sort of throwing that at you out of the blue, and sometimes clients don’t want you sharing that stuff, but hopefully there’s something that we can talk through. So really make this tangible for anybody who’s listening.

Donnie Bryant: Sure. I can give some pretty good details about a recent campaign without giving away everything. It’s not a super complex campaign. Obviously, sometimes we’re doing 20 message campaigns. There’s more steps that you have to go through. It really depends on what you’re attempting to accomplish. But a recent campaign that I worked on—it’s for a financial newsletter and we were promoting, well, you know, as we were recording recently, we’ve heard nuclear fusion, you know, with AI, we’re starting to figure out how you can create energy, actually create positive energy from nuclear fusion. Whereas in the past, it would take more energy to make the fusion reaction happen than you would get out of it. So it didn’t make sense, but scientists are working on it. And then with AI now, we’re discovering. You actually can make fusion energy positive. I don’t know if that’s the right term. You can make more energy from it than you’re putting in. And so now there’s actually companies that are beginning to really develop this technology. We’re probably 10 years away from it being really feasible, but whatever. As an investment opportunity, it’s exciting. 

But to our previous point, it’s kind of long term. I don’t want to invest today in something that may pay off in 10 years. I need to at least begin to start seeing something happening now. So this is the opportunity. The thing we’re trying to sell is a nuclear-based report. And so you kind of have to work backwards. Where are our readers at right now? They’re a little nervous about nuclear energy. This is something that we’ve just found. They’re a little nervous about nuclear energy. Because Fukushima was not that long ago. We can remember that. We remember Three Mile Island and Chernobyl never goes away. There’s six leg dogs out there in Russia somewhere. And we’re a little uneasy about it. But the fact of the matter is, all around America, nuclear power is a significant source of energy. And then around the world, they’ve just committed to really ramping this up for the reason of clean energy, because carbon fuels are poisoning the planet. I’ve gone way off in the deep end. 

Rob Marsh: That’s okay. We’re tracking, so we’re good. 

Donnie Bryant: Okay. You have to consider all these things before you start writing where people are at. They’re a little nervous about nuclear energy. They’re unsure. So we have to give some education and reassurance. Also, they’re not necessarily confident, at least not instantly, that this is going to be an immediate payoff as an investment. And it’s not. So understanding these things… you work backwards. 

Nuclear is a bigger topic than just fusion. Fusion is kind of top of mind because it’s in the news. But nuclear fission, the reactors we have now, well, they’re even developing new technology for that. There the companies that are working on these are there’s two things Uranium is that like all not all-time highs but super high prices so you can see profits happening right now. Over the last two years you could have doubled your money on this So we work our way back backwards. Here’s it one of the most exciting opportunities. 

So this is email 1 in this sequence. One of the most exciting opportunities in the market is something no one is talking about. Here’s a chart, over the last two years, you could have more than doubled your money. It’s close to triple your money on a couple of these stocks. It’s not AI, but AI is related. It’s not crypto, much safer than that. But it’s actually embedded in American society today and it’s going to become even bigger.

Email one is very short. Because it’s designed to send people to a sales page. So it’s basically that. You could have doubled your money. And guess what? The future is looking even better. So email one kind of sets it up, hands it off to the sales page. But the sales page explains the big picture. Everything that’s happening. Uranium is going up. There’s new reaction technology, which is beginning to come into play right now. And Fusion, in the near future, will be a viable option because of AI. So that’s what’s happening on the sales page. 

Email 2, then what we did was to maintain high curiosity. So here’s how I think about campaigns. The longer campaign is, the more you have to break it down. But in the initial few emails, I really like to be high on curiosity. All I really want to do is get them to the sales page. 

And as you get a little deeper in the campaign, you add more specifics to the emails. Because if they haven’t clicked yet, they’re not going to click. And if they have clicked but haven’t bought yet, they need more information. And you really don’t want to just try, OK, get them to the sales page again. You just want to further show them why this opportunity is massive. And then when you get even closer to the end, you get even more detail, and then you go into urgency. That’s kind of how I set it up.

But in this case, email 2 is still curiosity. Turns out, I don’t know if many people knew this, but Amazon just bought a nuclear powered data center.

Rob Marsh: I did not know that.

Donnie Bryant: Yeah, new to me. They finalized the deal in March. So in Pennsylvania, there’s a nuclear reactor that Amazon now uses to power its business. By the way, Amazon as a company uses more electricity than the whole country of Ireland. The whole country. So what do you think it’s doing? It’s buying nuclear because this is the power source of the future. Find out more about how you can profit from that. It’s really that. The subject line that compliance wouldn’t let me use was, Amazon just bought its first nuke.

Rob Marsh: That’s a good line.

Donnie Bryant: We settled on Amazon just went nuclear or something like that, which is true. It’s an allusion to the stock going straight up. The stock isn’t going to go straight up. But Amazon is still a great buy, no matter what. And we’re not even recommending Amazon. But I really like the idea of the curiosity play. They just bought their first nuke. Jeff Bezos is, I always knew he was a little crazy, but he’s buying nukes now. We’re in trouble. So anyway, curiosity. 

Carrying on a little bit more, then in the next one, email 3, do a little bit more about the specifics. We can show you uranium prices are going crazy and here’s why. We can show you that companies, like Rolls-Royce, the car company, makes nuclear reactors now. Or I don’t know if now is correct. They’re working on new reactor technology. And so real companies that you know are doing exciting new work. And guess what? In December, countries around the world, like 26 countries, committed to tripling their investment in nuclear energy. What do you think that’s going to do to these stocks? So again, we’re building more information. 

So the curiosity gets you to the sales page in the first couple. And then in the next few, we just do specifics like that. Uranium prices. There’s 200 different companies working on this new reactor technology. Which ones are going to win? Well, you could guess. Or you could get research from somebody who’s in the field doing this. And the Amazon thing. Anyway, we’re layering on details. Because we want you to be somewhat convinced. 

Like I said, the first few are curiosity where you’re going to be convinced on the sales page. But for people who haven’t bought yet, we’re going to do some of the convincing in the emails, the next two or three emails. After that, we just go into an urgency thing. This report is only going to be available until Sunday. Our editor has picked this and that stock in the past. They’ve done 1,000% or whatever. And we believe these next picks could be just as profitable. It’s up for you to decide. You’ve got until Sunday. So we do that through the next three emails. And that’s it. It performed well. It could have performed better, but we also ran over Easter weekend. So I think that had something to do with the numbers.

Rob Marsh: So let me recap this, to make sure I understand it, because I I really like the deep dive. This isn’t something that we do a lot on the podcast, at least for me, as I’m envisioning. It’s really helpful. But early on, curiosity is the number one thing. You’re just trying to get the click to the sales page. 

Donnie Bryant: Right. 

Rob Marsh: So that’s the first, say, three to five emails. After that, if they haven’t clicked, they probably won’t. So now you’re shifting to the audience of people who did click previously, but now they just need more information to bring them back, to get them re-excited, to reconnect with them. Then finally, if that hasn’t worked, urgency is the play. And that’s going to take you through a sequence of maybe 15 or 20 emails as you go through. Did I get that right?

Donnie Bryant: Yeah, that’s right. I think that applies across anywhere where you have a good sales page, I would use that kind of a framework. If your sales page is not very well developed or you’re not really sure it’s going to perform well, you may want to do some of the selling more early on, do more selling in the emails versus just curiosity. But after a few curiosity emails—Amazon just bought its first Nuke. You can only do that a few times before people know what you’re doing. So that’s why I use the curiosity factor while I can. Curiosity is always going to be a factor, but pure curiosity for the first few emails. And then the deeper, more detailed and adding some of the selling into the body of the email happens in the middle phase. So yeah.

Rob Marsh: Okay. I like it. Let’s talk about subject lines in particular and your approach, you know, what you teach in the book. Obviously we’re going to link to the book in the show notes and hopefully people will decide to pick it up. But I have a feeling that my subject lines that I send out, maybe one out of 10 is solid, really good. And the other seven or eight, maybe even nine, I’m just like, yeah, I probably should’ve spent some more time thinking about that one. So how do I fix this problem that I’ve got?

Donnie Bryant: Number one, you’re probably being harder on yourself than you ought to be.

Rob Marsh: Maybe so. But let’s assume that I am not very good at subject lines and I could use some improvement.

Donnie Bryant: By the way, I was just remarking to my mastermind, imagine the pressure that you feel when you wrote a book about subject lines. And now I got to send an email out. Yeah, exactly. I can’t mail it in because then Donnie’s disproving his whole book. So I feel additional pressure. But I love subject lines. I love to do crazy things with subject lines. But again, you can’t always do crazy things. You shouldn’t always do crazy things. But you always need to have something that people are going to either be curious about. Like I said, curiosity is pretty much always in play.  Even if you’re saying, even if you’re leaning into a different appeal, they’re still curious to know more about what you’re talking about. 30% off, select items. I’m curious which items it is. There’s still curiosity because I’d like to say 30%. The main appeal is the discount, but they’re curious if they can get the discount on the thing that they want. So curiosity is always going to be in play. 

Okay, so in the book there, I have 11, I call them made-you-look ideas. So it’s really 11 different ways that I think of—and there’s probably more—11 different ways that I think of to get people to open your email. And I suggest cycling through, not cycling in a methodical way, but burying the different appeal that you use because If people think they know what you’re going to say in an email, I’m not going to waste my time opening that because I know what Donnie’s going to say. I’ve seen this before. So you want to vary things and use different appeals. So I think a lot of people lean too heavily on one style. And if you pay attention over time, you’ll likely see diminishing returns on if you’re always doing emails that sound like it’s from a friend. You know, hey Donnie, and that’s the whole subject line. That’ll work great, but not if you do it every time. Right? Like, OK, what do you want, Donnie? What do you want? You’re not my friend, and I’m not going to fall for that. But the same thing is true for, you know, 20 ways to make more money, 35 ways to increase your income, you know, how I doubled my income last year. And so it’s like, that sort of appeal, it’s really cool. But if you do it too many times, people will say, I’ve seen this before. Hey, Donnie is one. How I doubled my income in 2024, that’d be another one. And so varying them keeps it fresh in the inbox. Being predictable is dangerous. So anyway, there’s 11. 

So some of them are like story. I love using—you can tease a story in a subject line. I’m going to tell you one that is one of my favorites. Homeless folks need Netflix too. That was for my list. It wasn’t for a client. I don’t know if any client would let me do that. But it was a true story about a relative of mine who didn’t have a place to live, but had the four-screen Netflix account. There’s a lesson in there. But when you read the subject line like that, you say, there’s got to be a story here. And you want to know what’s going on in the story. Another one that I wrote, again, from my list. I always talk about this, and it’s probably corporate clients who would never hire me because I say this, but the subject line was: dot, dot, dot, and they left the cocaine.

Rob Marsh: That is a great line.

Donnie Bryant: And the email isn’t even about cocaine. There’s cocaine in the email, but it’s really about something else. I would tell you the story, but it’s long. But the idea there is when you see that subject line, you know there’s an interesting story inside. So I’m not recommending that you have to talk about salacious things like cocaine. But, you know, implying a story that lets people automatically engage with stories. They want to hear how things play out. They want to see the dramatic narrative arc happen. And so when you can do that in the subject line, And it takes practice, but when you begin to do that, where you can imply that there’s a story, people automatically want to know the rest of the story. That’s why movie trailers work. You see a trailer, and then you know, I want to see the rest of the movie. And so that’s one thing. 

Now, again, you probably don’t want to do that every time, but that’s a good one to have in the arsenal. Another one, which I call the Tootsie Roll Center of Selling, or the Tootsie Roll Center of Persuasion, which is insecurity. Now, I’m not talking about making people feel bad, but realizing that your audience, your list, there are things that they feel insecure about in their own lives. So, like, if you said, the real reason nobody opens your emails, Rob, or this is the real reason no one opens your emails, and you would say, If this is true, now it’s not true for you. But you say, yeah, I think my emails aren’t getting opened like they should. And so internally, you have that insecurity. But also, there’s an offer of solution or a resolution inside. I’m going to go get relief from this insecurity. So to use that occasionally to point out, make people check in with themselves, I am coming up short in that area. Because it’s personally relevant to you, it’s hard to ignore that. If it’s important and it’s relevant, like, yeah, well, I really do need to know why people aren’t opening my emails. And then you open that email so you can find out what the real reason is. So again, this is something that you wouldn’t use all the time. And we’re not trying to make people feel bad. But we realize it. your audience has things that they feel bad about. Because they just want to be better. We all want to be better in areas of our lives. 

I remember seeing one, I didn’t write this, but it was like, it was something like, four signs your wife hates you. And, you know, if you’re married, if you’re not married, you’re on the wrong list. But if you’re married, and your spouse has been acting a little funny lately, and you think it’s probably your fault. just that flash of insecurity in your own mind, maybe she is starting to think about leaving me. And you gotta open the email to find out how I can identify if this is really where I’m at and how can I fix that. So insecurity is another one. 

Again, don’t use it all the time, but occasionally, it’s, you know, pleasure, pain, the variety of emotions. is a great way of keeping people engaged and making sure that they never feel like I can ignore this email. I can safely ignore what this email is going to contain because I believe I already know it. We don’t want them to feel that way. So that’s just a couple of examples.

Rob Marsh: Yeah, I think I’m sort of thinking through these. To me, the piece that draws it all together is there’s really a test that every time we write a subject line that we should be asking or putting our subject line through, and the question is, does it make me ask what’s next? Or some variation of, I need to know more, click to open. And as you’re talking, I click over to my inbox, and I’m seeing a whole lot of subject lines that I actually don’t really need to know anything more than what’s there. I won’t say who the sender is, but here’s one: the time is now. Yeah, that, you know, I can’t imagine somebody thinking, I’ve got to click on that and find out, well, what does that even mean? It doesn’t have the hook to get me to say, okay, the time is now for what, right? And so it feels like there’s something missing.

Donnie Bryant: I think I was walking downtown in Chicago, I’m in Chicago. And there was a sign that said free, all it said was free. Somebody’s trying to sell something and free is a cool appeal like you said if there’s a hook but if you’re giving away free vasectomies I’m not ready for that just yet. I’m not ready for that yet. Actually, now maybe I am.

Rob Marsh: If you’re a woman, half of the audience isn’t ready for that ever, right? Or maybe they are for their partner. So that’s maybe not entirely true. But yeah, I can see the problem there for sure.

Donnie Bryant: If you said free chocolate, now 90% of people are interested in at least finding out what kind of free chocolate you got there. So just like you said, it’s time. And actually, I remember seeing one. I won’t say who it was either. And I think the subject line was: it’s time. The body of the email said, don’t you agree? Click here. This is a very smart marketer. And maybe he got great clicks. I don’t know. But my thought was, I have no idea what you’re talking about. And you haven’t given me a reason to click. How can I agree? I don’t know what you’re saying. You know how curiosity works. I don’t know if you’ve seen this, but people cannot ignore when curiosity is sparked in their mind. I remember reading a study, a clinical study, where people were given the option, I could talk all day and I won’t, but given the option, they were shown a magic trick. And you could wait five minutes and I’ll tell you, it’s not exactly correct, but it’s something like you can wait five minutes and I’ll tell you what the secret was. I’ll tell you now, but you got to accept an electrical shock.” And a surprising number of people said, yeah, shock me, I want to know now.

Rob Marsh: There’s a similar study where they put people, subjects into a room with pens that would shock you if you click them. Some of the pens are marked with a green sticker, they’re safe. Some of the pens are marked with a red sticker, they’re definitely going to shock you. And some of them are marked with a yellow sticker and you don’t know if they’re safe or not. And subjects are just left with the pens on the table while the experimenter is like, I’ll be back in a few minutes. And they watch and people click the yellow pens, because they can’t stand not knowing if it’s going to shock them or not. There’s no positive payoff here. All of the risk is this thing is going to shock me or it’s not and because they’ve got to know they still click. It’s amazing to me how well that works. And this is probably something that all of us as copywriters need to work on, but how do we dial up that curiosity muscle so that we can get people interested in our stuff?

Donnie Bryant: I’m glad you said that because it is a muscle. And I think We develop it over time by practice, by testing our own, you know, when you’re sending something out, test and see what seems to work. But also, you know who’s great at creating curiosity? Comedians. If you listen to comedians, how do they set up the joke? How do they bring you to the edge of the punchline? And you’ve got to know, if they started choking and didn’t finish, you wouldn’t be able to sleep at night. How do they do that? And so as we study our craft, but also I think you can study comedians and things like that, how do they generate curiosity? Because the human mind works the same across all these planes. And comedy has a lot to teach us as communicators. And so, yeah, that’s a muscle that we have to develop and we should intentionally be working on that. And I think curiosity is just great for conversation too. You know, you want to be a good comment analyst. Figure out how to keep people curious so they don’t tune out. They don’t pick up their phone and start, you know, scrolling for something. That means you’re boring them.

Rob Marsh: Yeah. You know, as you talk about this, some of the stuff that I love reading. So magicians have the same issue as comedians, right? Like you’ve got to take people through this trick. There are actually books about how do you develop the patter of a magic show. And it talks about building the ebb and flow of how you catch people’s attention. And magicians in some ways have to do it even more because while they’re talking, they’re directing your attention one way so that they can pull off the trick by doing things other ways. And so this is maybe like a high level persuasion secret. But check out some of the books about how you put together, not just how you do magic, but how you put together an act. Yeah, because that is really, you know, there’s some really high level stuff there.

Donnie Bryant: 100%. And I couldn’t agree more. I have Derren Brown on my bookshelf. Derren Brown. There’s a couple others up there. Now we spoiled it. Now everyone will have our secret advantage. But it’s a great point—comedians and magicians. I also think, great musicians also, you know, the way that they build anticipation, storytellers, all these things are we can use to build the muscle, like as you described it of how do I build and maintain curiosity across, you know, 100 200 300 500 10,000 words.

Rob Marsh: So what else should I be asking about email? What are some of the other things that we need to be doing better as writers so that we’re delivering for our clients or even on our own lists and getting people to open, to engage, possibly to purchase if whatever we have to offer them will help?

Donnie Bryant: I’ll tell you something that’s interesting, and I cover it in the book. I haven’t dialed in the science part of this, but there’s unmistakable, that’s the right word, unmistakable correlation between subject line and sales in a way that most people don’t understand or appreciate, even notice. Some of your listeners will, but I’ve seen examples where across an A, B split test of emails, where the subject line is the only variable. So the body of the email is the same. Landing page or sales page is the same. Buy page is the same. Send time is the same. The audience, big audience, so it’s statistically significant numbers. Everything is split in the middle. We don’t have any reason to think there’s a distinct difference between the two. And the subject line is the only thing being different. And one subject line almost tripled the sales. I’m talking about sales. Even though I think the open rate was a little lower. The click rate was—I can’t remember what the click rate was. It’s in the book. And the sales were essentially triple. The subject line sets the tone for everything that happens afterwards. The subject line gets people curious or gets them, I’ll just open this and see what happens, see what it is. It gets them into an empowered mood or frame of mind or puts them into a place of fear. 

And fear is useful if you use it right. It’s one of the 11 secrets in the book. It’s not a secret, but one of the 11 methods. But if you put someone in a place of disempowerment, they don’t buy. They freak. And we don’t want that. And it carries through. You would think, once the open happens, people are basically in the same place. It’s not true. Also, you would think, once people click from the email to the sales page, most people are in the same place. But it’s not necessarily true. People can still be, I’m in a different frame of mind clicking through. And we can prove it from the math. When you go back and look at your own campaigns, your clients’ campaigns, you’ll see it. Where you do A-B split tests of subject lines, conversion rate, final conversion rate to order is different. So it can be different, and wildly so. And so I don’t know how to. tell you exactly how to manipulate that, or to exist through that. 

But what I do advise is for you to pay attention to your tests, pay attention to how your list responds to different things, and be intentional about how you test different appeals. And watch the numbers, and you will see we always have to be testing, and always have to analyze what’s happening. Because the thing that matters in the end is how many people purchase the thing that we’re trying to sell. Or if we’re just pushing people to content, how many people click to consume the content? And the subject line absolutely impacts whatever the final action that you want them to take is. So we just have to look and try to adjust as we go. What is the optimal presentation that we can make, starting in the subject line, that makes people want to consume in the right frame of mind to take the action that will help them and help us to accomplish our goals?

Rob Marsh: Yeah, you’ve given me a lot to think about as we email our list almost daily. Obviously, we’ve got a lot of email copywriters who listen to the podcast and do the work. So there’s a lot of really good stuff here. So Donnie, let’s say somebody’s been listening, like, OK, I’ve got to get my hands on Donnie’s book. Where do they go? And where do they go to get on your list as well?

Donnie Bryant: OK. Well, the book is that if you go to, no hyphens or anything, just subject line science. It’ll take you to Amazon where you can buy the Kindle version or a paperback. 

Sometimes, depending on the day, I’m ahead of Dan Kennedy’s books, which he’s probably sold way more in life. But on Kindle on any given day, sometimes I’m hanging out with him. I could see Alex Hormozy from where I was yesterday. I could see him. I was like, in one category, I was like number 12. Anyway, that sounds braggadocious. I’m having fun and I’m enjoying this. I’m not editing that out at all.

Rob Marsh: I think that’s a good place to be. I hope whatever book I end up writing next is up there as well.

Donnie Bryant: I wrote the book in three weeks. From the first word in the Google doc to the designer making the version that’s Kindle and Amazon ready. Three weeks. You’ve got it in you, too. You’re just sitting there and committing to doing it. Actually, it was my mastermind. I said, I can write that book in, I said, two weeks. And they said, prove it. Go ahead and prove it. Oh, okay. I got two weeks now. It took me three. Sometimes we get in our own way. But the book is on Amazon, If you go to my website, which is, you can sign up for my list. There’s not much on the website. It looks like a blog. It basically is a blog, but you can sign up for my email list there.

Rob Marsh: And I see you on LinkedIn quite a bit, sharing content there. I was going to ask about how you’re promoting yourself today, but I see you doing that there. And if we had more time, we could go maybe more deeply into your thoughts there. But what you shared about email, I think, has been, at least for me, a good reminder of how much more thought needs to be going into things like, where are my readers right now, belief wise? And how do we get them to where we need them to go, whether that’s in today’s email, or, you know, a month from now? Yeah, it’s a lot of good stuff to think about.

Donnie Bryant: Yeah, well, I hope I get excited and kind of go off on tangents. I hope there was there was some pull outable nuggets.

Rob Marsh: There’s definitely some gold there for me. So thanks, Donnie, for for sharing so much about your business.

Donnie Bryant: My pleasure. I appreciate the opportunity.

Rob Marsh: That’s the end of our interview with Donnie Bryant. I want to emphasize just two things that we talked about through this entire interview. And I think it’s probably worth going back and really listening to how Donnie was thinking through a specific campaign, the messaging, the questions that he’s asking, because as he was reviewing that copy, as we were talking through, you could kind of see how the thinking happens. where the reader has a particular belief and we know that we need to move them to a different belief and sort of seeing him step through that. The way that Donnie broke down the behaviors that you’re looking for as a writer or as a marketer when it comes to email, I think it was a bit of a masterclass in email strategy. And if you combine what he shared with our interview a couple of weeks ago with Eman Ismail and even last week with Daniel Throssell, you are going to be in a much better position to call yourself an email strategist as you hunt for the clients who need help with their emails. But aside from thinking about the beliefs that your reader has and how you need to shift those beliefs over the course of a campaign, understanding the actual behaviors they’re taking is also important. 

And I really liked that Donnie mentioned this stuff. Early on, those first one to four emails, you’re trying to get the click. It really is all about curiosity. You may not be selling a whole lot. You may not even mention a lot of detail about the program because you just want them to click to that sales page. And like Donnie said, this is assuming that the sales page is dialed in and it’s really good. Later on, if they haven’t clicked, they’re probably not going to click, certainly not based off of the curiosity. And so it requires a little bit of shift in strategy again. In fact, you might even move those non-clickers to a different campaign to see if you can get them interested in something else. 

And if they did click, but they didn’t buy, they’ve obviously shown some interest, but they need something else to get them to the point where they are ready to buy, whether that’s a shift in an additional belief, whether that’s a reason to act now, any of that. And so those next several emails are all about providing that kind of information so that you are doing that. belief shifting and creating reasons for them to act now. And then finally, the last few emails are all about getting them off the couch. If they’ve clicked through the sales page more than once, you know they’re interested. They just need that reason to act now. So you’re focused on urgency and thinking through where those different behaviors happen in your sequence is an important part of strategizing the messaging for your email sequence. 

What matters in email—we talked a little bit about this, the sender name and the trust that you build as a sender. There’s a famous email case study that talks about how effective the one word subject line, hey, was for the Obama campaign way back when he was running for president. Lots of people saw that and they saw the open rates that were going on with that particular email and the donations that came from that particular subject line. And they talked about how this personal message, this hey, and it was just three letters, H-E-Y, coming from Barack Obama directly. was the kind of thing that we should be doing with all of our emails. But the thing is, the magic wasn’t necessarily in the word, hey, it was the fact that the sender was Barack Obama. And for the people who signed up to be on his list, there’s a really high level of trust already. So when that subject line hit their inboxes, it felt like a personal communication from President Obama. It wasn’t necessarily the subject line itself. It was the combination of those two things. 

If you try using, hey yourself, you know, in the subject line of say, an email that you’re sending, or if you saw that subject line in an email that you got, maybe it was the third email you got today from The Gap, and it just says, hey, it’s not gonna hit the same. Or if you’re getting it from Chase Bank or somewhere else, it’s not gonna be the same because you don’t have the same level of trust and belief in those senders. So sender trust matters a lot. 

Think about who opens up the emails you send or whose emails that you open up without fail. That list probably includes your mom and your dad. If you’ve got a good relationship with them, you’re always going to open up what they send. It probably includes your siblings, your best friend, probably your boss. These are people that you either trust or you have a close relationship with for some reason. And it’s less about the subject line or even the content of the email. It’s just, you know, that this person that you have this relationship with is sending you something. So you’re going to open it and check it out. That’s the goal. That’s the relationship that you want to build with everyone that you’re mailing on your list. And if you’re doing it for your clients, that’s the goal that you’re helping them with. You want them to build that exact relationship with the people on their list. 

Okay. This is probably enough for today. Thanks again to Donnie Bryant for joining us to talk about his business, emails, subject lines, and more. Be sure to check out his book at I have it on good authority that our friend Parris Lampropoulos said it was a great book, and Parris would know. He’s widely regarded as one of the most successful, maybe even the best copywriter who’s actually writing copy today. You can find Donnie also at his website, And like I mentioned, he’s on LinkedIn quite a bit. 

That’s the end of this episode of the Copywriter Club podcast. If you enjoyed this interview, please share it with a friend or an associate, another copywriter or content writer who won’t just enjoy it, might actually learn from it. You can always leave us a review if you’re impressed with what was shared. Wherever you listen to podcasts, we love to see them show up at Apple Podcasts. 


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