Steal Like an Email Copywriter

Shannan Seely in RIT t-shirt

Get inspiration from your inbox to reignite your enthusiasm for writing emails

This article is filled with gratitude to the office staff at the Parent and Family Programs at Rochester Institute of Technology. Here’s the story …

We moved our oldest daughter, Claire, to the college dorm last month. She’s enrolled at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in Rochester, NY. And I feel like she was prepared, and we were prepared because of the Parent and Family Programs staff.

Well, true, Claire was organized. She kept her parents on track, but RIT was a positive influence.

Let me explain.

Initially, my husband and I scoffed at the emails we were receiving from RIT. Oh, this message is meant for helicopter parents. Adults who monitor their teenagers 24 / 7. Parents who are resisting the transition of their parenting role. Less micromanagement, more shifting responsibilities to their child.

Their boy or girl is a young adult, whether the parents are ready or not. Eventually, their child will need to do his or her own laundry.  

But then we – okay, actually me, because I’m the one who reads the emails – came across information I didn’t know.

The message recommended checking your health insurance to determine what coverage your student will have when they move to Rochester. Some health insurance plans have limited out-of-network coverage. Turned out, she needed in-state health insurance coverage for her out-of-state college student status. And the emails informed us about the options.

Thanks to the emails from RIT Parent and Family Programs, we learned this before she started college. My husband signed her up with the appropriate insurance. Yayy! Peace of mind. For her. For us.

I’m in the Parents of RIT Club

I continued to feel the emails were useful. Stuff I wanted to know. I felt like the emails were written to me personally. But I know I was one of thousands of subscribers.

Write as if you’re emailing one good friend, because that’s how people will get to know you, like you, and trust you. Henneke Duistermaat

How did the staff make me feel like they were writing exclusively to me? And why does this matter? Because you can learn from RIT’s emails. Even if you’re in healthcare, pharma or business-to-business. Because RIT completely looks at the reader experience. (I know, I know, they are a high-tech design school. But bear with me.)

You can do what they do. And your subscribers will be grateful.

At first glance, this email looks basic. And it is. But basic is effective.

RIT Students on Campus newsletter
RIT Prepare Your Student

Have you joined an email list only to be disappointed? The email messages did not align with what you expected. A waste, really. You thought, they say I’ll get this, but I end up receiving junk I don’t want.

RIT emails exceeded my expectations. And that’s why I’m bragging about these emails.

What do Rochester Institute of Technology’s emails do well?

1. The copywriter starts with a purpose and sticks to it

She studied what the parent was trying to accomplish. For me, my objective was to support Claire this summer to successfully start at RIT. And not go crazy.

Then the copywriter collaborated with the marketing team. They discussed how much the parent knows. What do they not know? What level of understanding did they have? And what did they want to know, need to know, to get to their destination? Perhaps the parents’ destination was to become fully aware of RIT programs and resources for their child.

Never underestimate the persuasion of a clear email message. Basic is so fascinating. Shannan Seely

In other words, what does success look like in this email sequence? And yes, I’m saying sequence. Writing one email and waiting to plan the next is not a good idea. Instead, think through what you need to communicate and determine the messages to get you there. Writing the email sequence in its entirety before you send one.

The time frame was April to September, but the email frequency was not set on a schedule. RIT sent more emails as the move-in day drew closer.

2. The copywriter gives a quick preview

When you open the email, you see a branded header, title of the email, and then a handy table of contents:

In this message
Introducing the key topics of the email | Source: rit.edu

The introduction is a guide. You can skim the email and lock your eyes on the info pertinent to you. About 18,668 students enrolled in Fall 2020. That’s about 37,336 parents and / or guardians. Who could expect the body of an email to be relevant to every parent?

3. The copywriter features advice from parents

Proof from an independent source is influential. And do we want to know what the president of the university thinks about preparing to enter college? Heck no! RIT staff knows parents care more about what other parents think, so they include other parents’ opinions. It’s a twist on the testimonial.

Advice from a current RIT | Source: rit.edu

Who do I look to for advice? Friends who have experienced sending their children to college, particularly out-of-state.

This is also effective because the reader expects RIT staff to be a little biased. After all, their renumeration is determined by how much we believe RIT is a value for our children. So the parents are more likely to believe other parents’ sharing their opinions as being honest.

For testimonials, I’d usually recommend including a full name, picture and where the person lives. In this case, a picture may highlight what you don’t have in common — a parent from New York City vs. a parent from Tonganoxie (population 5,573). That’s why an anonymous opinion is powerful here.

You sense you’re in the same club – Parents of RIT Students.

4. The copywriter answers the parents’ questions

Have you asked yourself why someone signed up for your emails? For me, I agreed to have RIT appear in my inbox because I have question that need answers. And RIT understands. For example, see an email excerpt below:

RIT Financial aid info
Information on virtual sessions | Source: rit.edu

The message is value because the copy covers the topics in a concise, clear design. The reader is guided to choose the virtual session and then register to satisfy her curiosity

5. The copywriter writes clear calls to action

Like all universities, RIT has many subjects you can learn about it. But if the copywriter talked about everything RIT is about, I’d be overwhelmed, and frankly, I don’t want to know. So another reader-friendly practice they do is clear calls to action.  

RIT call to action email
Clear calls to action | Source: rit.edu

Each email has a few buttons in the content, and a few hyperlinks. Streamlined. Intentional. And the call to action is for you to contact them for the information you need.

Hopefully, you’ve learned a few ideas from RIT. And you didn’t even have to pay tuition to get this education. So delve into your inbox. Steal like an email copywriter.

What emails inspire you to write better messages to your customers?

> Want your emails to be read?

Stop guessing and get useful info from an experienced copywriter who knows how. I cover copywriting, marketing communications, and psychology. And only share practical tips. Like this blog post. Sign up for Shannan’s S.U.N. (Simply Useful Newsletter)

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