A promotional email template that worked

Promotional email best practices are important to know and often easy to follow. Getting results, however, might depend on other factors.

Here’s a promotional email template I experienced with and modified several times before getting good results.

Some elements of my success I understand and are easy to replicate.

Other factors are harder to control and sometimes harder to even confirm. Still, their analysis can give us some pointers and help improve the template.

Constraints and challenges

One of my activities is the development and selling of plugins for the Concrete5 CMS.

Concrete5 has its own marketplace and among thousands of other plugins, getting noticed is not easy.

Unlike CodeCanyon for example, Concrete5 marketplace only offers 2 promotional tools: a review system with comments and stars, and a way to offer special time-limited discounts.

Buyers are usually of 2 kinds:

  • Freelancers and agencies: those have many needs, buy often, and know what kind of plugins they need most. They also have a well-presented public profile on the Concrete5 website so it’s easy to know what kind of buyer you are dealing with.
  • Personal users: by that I mean people building and maintaining their own website. They buy once and often have no experience of what kind of plugins they could get or use. Their public profile is usually empty so no useful information to expect there.

The only way to contact buyers after a sale is to use Concrete5 internal Private Messaging system. These messages are stored on the recipient’s account and a copy is sent by email. The sender can check whether a message was opened or not if the message was opened from Concrete5. If only the email copy is read, there is no way of knowing.

Goal and strategy

My goal was simple: in order to make my plugins more visible and better ranked in searches, I needed positive reviews.

I focused on obtaining reviews for my plugin Touch Gallery, a simple photo gallery that is perfect for responsive websites and modern devices.

The plugin is priced at $15 which is a bit high for a gallery, but that’s the minimum price allowed on Concrete5 marketplace.

I decided to start sending promotional emails offering buyers a free copy of another one of my plugins Social Icons Reloaded Pro (Sir Pro) in return for a review. That plugin was, at the time, priced $30 and was not doing very well.

The idea was to get reviews for Touch Gallery and to make more people try Sir Pro. 2 birds with one stone.

I waited 24 hours after each sale before sending the buyer a message. I never actually said it should be a positive review but I work hard on my plugins and support and I didn’t expect anything negative.

Getting buyers to read the email – first attempt

For my first attempt, the email subject line was:

Get a free License to Social Icons Reloaded ProNour Akalay – Touch Gallery Promotional email

In getting people to read the email, the subject line is the most important part of the message.I will present the text of the email later on but meanwhile, needless to say, this didn’t work at all.

I will present the text of the email later on but meanwhile, needless to say, this didn’t work at all.

I sent it to 20 buyers, I didn’t get any answer. Not one!

So what’s wrong with this subject line? It is not compelling and it relies on the wrong assumption.

First, there was absolutely no reason why any of these prospects would have heard of Sir Pro. Saying “Get a free iPod” is probably a good idea but “Get a free license to Sir Pro” is meaningless. I assumed maybe the name would say it all, I was wrong.

A second mistake was the use of “Get”. That implied the prospect would have to make a special effort to get the reward.

Obviously, a not so attractive reward, coupled with an undescribed effort to provide is absolutely not compelling.

Making it clearer – second attempt

I modified the subject line to read

A 30$ gift for having bought Touch GalleryNour Akalay – Touch Gallery Promotional email

There is a huge difference between 30 extremely compelling dollars and simply $30

I removed any reference to the effort required to get the reward, I made the reward very clear, and I also made it clear why they were receiving that message.

I sent it to 40 buyers. I received 4 reviews.

I know, I could say it was a 10% conversion rate and that’s pretty good but I thought, and still think, it sucked.

Understand, I wasn’t mass-emailing 40 prospects and waiting for results. I was manually sending emails one at a time to buyers right after they bought. I had to wait for each sale before sending my message and do it by hand.

So it just felt like a terrible result.

Seriously, I was giving away $30 worth of plugin for reviewing a plugin that only cost $15. Who could resist, right? Obviously 90%.

This one was a little harder to analyze, mostly due to my own conviction that it should have worked.

Rule of thumb: don’t trust yourself to judge what is compelling or not to your prospects.

This subject line was wrong for 2 reasons.

First I made it sound not genuine at all. I made it sound like I was giving my customers a reward for having already bought my plugin and nothing else. That sounded a bit like a scam. Most would probably think I have ulterior motives—which I had—and that they were not honorable—which they were—

My second mistake was that I used a monetary reward with nothing to compare it to. $30 might sound nice to receive, but it was presented as simply that: $30.

There is a huge difference between 30 extremely compelling dollars and simply $30. These 2 amounts are in no way equal. Simply offering you $30 is not the same as offering you $30 worth of usefulness which:

  • are made easy to compare to the cost already incurred
  • will allow you to get that cost back and more
  • will provide you with a tool you probably need

A reward rarely stands on its own merit. It will always be better perceived if it is put in context and if its actual value and usefulness is made clear.

A reward is never as useful as when we know exactly what we can do with it. In my case, $30 was a very abstract reward.

Creating a sense of urgency – last attempt

A conversion rate of 50%. Now we’re talking!

For my last attempt I modified the subject line to read:

Important information about Touch GalleryNour Akalay – Touch Gallery Promotional email

I sent it to 40 customers. 16 were freelancers. 24 were personal users.

I received 20 reviews 🙂

A conversion rate of 50%. Now we’re talking!

This one sentence worked exceptionally well because I went the absolute opposite way. I decided I was working in an environment that was too constraining to make a promotional offer compelling right from the subject line.

The first powerful trick I used was leveraging the average Joe’s need for closure.

It’s like watching a TV show where each episode ends on a cliffhanger. You want to know what happens next.

It’s the same when someone starts a sentence: “do you think you could…” and then ends with “no, forget it, it doesn’t matter.”

If you’re anything like me—and like millions of people around the globe—that will drive you crazy and you will insist—nay demand—that the sentence be completed.

By stating there was something “important” without saying what it was, I created a need to know. Which leads us to the second trick I used.

By using the word “important” without explaining, I created a sense of urgency. It’s like saying “must-read”.

If you buy something and someone says there is something important to know about it, you automatically complete the idea with “before use” or “for proper use”.

It worked also well because of the personal users who are less technical and probably thought the plugin would not work without the information contained in that message.

They’re in, now What?

Getting customers to open the message was just step 1. Now I needed to convince them to write a review for Touch Gallery.

The text of the email was as follow:

Hello {first name if available},

Thank you for buying Touch Gallery.

Did you know that as a user of Touch Gallery you could get a free license to Social Icons Reloaded Pro? (aka SIR Pro)

All you have to do is leave a review of Touch Gallery letting others know how you feel about it and I will send you a license for Social Icons Reloaded Pro to use on any one of your websites.

That’s a $30 gift for a $15 investment and just a few minutes of your time.

You can leave a review on the review page

If you didn’t know, SIR Pro comes bundled with almost 100 social networks icons and lets you set up links to all your social profiles in just a few clicks.

You can keep the default values and be ready to go almost instantly or use it’s incredible flexibility and get a result fully tailored to your requirements.

Many other social links add-ons have some of SIR Pro features, but none has them all.

Once again, it’s a $30 gift for a $15 investment and just a few minutes of your time.

You can leave a review on the review page

Thank you

Nour Akalay
Nour Akalay – Touch Gallery Promotional email

I was lucky enough to get it mostly right from the beginning.

This email could certainly be improved on but it has a lot going on that made the offer compelling enough for a 50% conversion rate.

The tricks that worked

Obviously I start by thanking the customer for buying Touch Gallery since that’s why they open my message in the first place.

Make an offer

I then offer a free license to my other plugin Sir Pro.

This sentence is important and it achieves a few goals:

  • It informs the customer of the possibility of a free license. Free is always nice.
  • It also makes it an offer exclusive to users of Touch Gallery. Exclusive clubs are attractive.
  • It provides a link to the plugin’s page making it more tangible.

Explain the process

The next step is to explain how to benefit from the offer.

2 things are important here: make it as easy as possible (all you have to do) and make it clear what they get in return.

I also provide a link to make sure they know how to do what I ask and make it even easier.

Rule of thumb: Don’t let your leads guess the next step, show them, make it obvious and easy.

Sexy-up your offer by providing context

Next I create a context around the offer. I put a number on the offer, it’s valued at $30 which the customer might already know if they followed the link I provided.

I also frame this number with another number, the money they paid to get Touch Gallery which is only half what I am offering.

Finally, I contrast it with the effort required which I value at “5 minutes of your time.”

For the customer, it is awesome because the value of the gift is twice the money they paid. $30 is nice, but double anything is better even if it’s still the same amount. Double your benefits sounds better than get $15 or $30.

It also represents a minimal effort of 5 minutes.

For me, it’s good business because marginal costs on plugins are negligible so offering an expensive plugin doesn’t represent a cost. If the review I’ll get in return helps bring in more than 2 sales, it’s a bargain.

And I have the added benefit of making them try a plugin—Sir Pro—that’s struggling to sell thus making it an option for their next buy.

Have a call to action

what is asked of the customer is actually very easy and just a click away

I then ask them to leave a review by providing a link.

I do not ask if it would be ok. I do not suggest to do it.

I gently push them in that direction with a sentence that implies we already agreed that it’s the best course of action.

The sentence “you can leave a review…” is an active sentence which also reinforces the fact that what is asked of the customer is actually very easy and just a click away.

Add more information

Of course, I understand that, although the appeal of free is strong, it is not always enough. Many customers might not feel the need for a social linking plugin so I need to tell them more about it.

To be honest, the paragraph in which I explain what Sir Pro does is kind of weak. From the beginning, I have not positioned that plugin correctly and that’s still the case in this paragraph.

Along with the monetary value, however, it seems to have worked pretty well.

Rince and repeat

Finally, I use repetition both for the “little effort” of leaving a review and for the “big reward” they are to expect.

I also have the same call to action I had before.

The promotional email template

Since this article is about a promotional email example that worked, might as well make it an email template.

  1. Make an offer. Make it specific and tangible.
  2. Explain the process to benefit from the offer. The process should be easy to follow, no guess-work.
  3. Provide context and framing to make your offer feel compelling and irresistible.
  4. Also provide context and framing to make the effort required negligible.
  5. Present a call to action. It should be direct and it should make the next step seem at once natural and easy.
  6. Add more information about the offer and its benefits.
  7. Repeat the main benefit (3) using the same or different words.
  8. Repeat the call to action.

Feel free to mix and match as every situation is different.

Also note that this template (or framework) could also totally work for a landing page.

Any tip of your own, any successful mailing strategy? I’d love to add it to my bag of tricks. Please share in the comments.