If you’ve read Email Infinity, then by now you could have hundreds of new ideas for emails. But a basic idea is a long way from a well-structured message. So how do you get from one to the other?
The “Thought For The Day” Email Structure
Here in the UK, there’s a daily radio feature called Pause For Thought, where a religious leader or figure of note gets to take over the airwaves for a few minutes. They’ll share a simple thought for the day ahead – usually a story followed by a moment of reflection and a thought to take away.
It’s a simple formula that gets repeated every morning. Because it’s a highly effective way to focus the listener’s mind.
That’s why it’s loved by preachers – and anyone else who gives a daily dose of inspiration:
- The Sales Manager who wants to get reps fired up for the day.
- The Personal Trainer who wants a client to set a new personal best.
- The Football Manager who wants an extra push in the second half.
It’s a bankable formula with a simple beginning, middle and end. And that makes it a perfect way for you to structure an email:
PART 1 – HOOK
Grab the reader with a story or titbit – anything that’s likely to hold their interest.
PART 2 – REFLECTION
Draw a lesson from your story – use it to show the reader a problem or opportunity.
PART 3 – CLOSE
Give them something practical – an offer or a take-away to help them with the next step.
This simple method ticks every box. It gets them reading… rewards their attention, by informing AND entertaining… showcases your expertise… builds trust… and pushes the relationship closer to the sale.
It even gets them looking forward to the next instalment!
Let’s get specific…
Imagine you run an event planning service. A simple “Thought For The Day” email might look like this…
HOOK: Tell a cautionary tale, about an important conference that turned into a farce. Where organisers were left embarrassed by a catalogue or errors.
REFLECTION: Why did it happen? Because the organisers did it themselves, instead of calling in professionals. So they were guessing their way through it, and missing the finer details.
CLOSE: A quick tip on how to plan more effectively – with an offer of help for those who realise it’s a job for an expert.
Of course, in that example, the story relates directly to your line of business. So the whole email fits together naturally.
But you can’t do that every time. Whatever you sell, there are only so many angles from inside your own industry. So if you want to email forever, you’ll have to step outside your industry too – and find ways to tie it back to your product.
Staying with the event planners, here’s a less obvious example:
HOOK: A personal story of dealing with someone who crossed the line between “friendly” and “unprofessional”. (A taxi driver, waiter, cinema attendant, shop assistant… anyone.)
REFLECTION: When you select staff to work at your event, this is one of the biggest challenges. You have to recruit wisely, and role-play different scenarios so they always stay on the right side of the line.
CLOSE: Offer 3 basic rules for event staff to follow – with an offer of help for those who need it.
See? The thing that happens in your personal life relates back to the business. With the added advantage, they get to know you as a human being!
Still with events – other examples from your personal life could be:
HOOK: The pizza delivery guy was late, and our whole night in was ruined.
REFLECTION: The risk of unreliable caterers.
CLOSE: Offer a vetting checklist.
HOOK: We upgraded our flight, and it was amazing.
REFLECTION: Sometimes, it’s worth paying extra for luxuries.
CLOSE: Pitch the VIP experience.
HOOK: The sales rep talked at us for two hours.
REFLECTION: Everyone hates dull presentations.
CLOSE: How to put some zing into your talk or pitch.
HOOK: We got snowed in with no food in the house.
REFLECTION: Do you prepare for the unexpected?
CLOSE: Advice on contingency planning.
And beyond your personal life, there’s the world at large:
HOOK: An A-List celebrity makes the news for behaving like a prima donna.
REFLECTION: When you book a high profile speaker, should you expect a bit of attitude?
CLOSE: How to deal with their more excessive demands.
You get the idea. You find a HOOK from real life – then in the REFLECTION, you draw some kind of parallel that ties it back to business – and in the CLOSE, you wrap it up with a practical takeaway.
But… what if your idea doesn’t give you a HOOK?
Okay, here it gets a little tricky. The thing is, Email Infinity will give you a mixed bag of ideas. Pick any three from your list at random, and you’ll see…
The first idea gives you a perfect HOOK, just as in the examples above. It’s a story… a fun fact… a statistic… a piece of news… something that will grab attention and draw the reader in.
But the second idea makes a lousy HOOK – it works better as a REFLECTION. It’s an insight… a prediction… words of inspiration… something that showcases your character or wisdom.
And the third idea is different again – it works better as a CLOSE. It’s a tip… a how-to lesson… an offer… some kind of practical takeaway.
I’ll guarantee that your ideas list is a mix of these three types. And you need to turn any type into a finished email. So…
(This bit is IMPORTANT!)
Once you’ve worked through the list of triggers, go back through your ideas and class each one as either a HOOK, REFLECTION or CLOSE. Then flesh them out – transforming each idea into a structured “Thought For The Day”.
Staying with the event planning business, let’s take some triggers from Email Infinity and see how that works…
EXAMPLE 1: Trigger 56 – THE INNOCENT MELTDOWN
Let’s say this trigger gives you this idea:
“The power cut in the middle of my big presentation.”
There’s an obvious HOOK here, if you start at that moment of calamity. So you can develop this just as we’ve shown above, by rolling from the HOOK into the REFLECTION and CLOSE. Like this:
HOOK: Build the tension of addressing a full room… its an important presentation, and suddenly… BOOM! The lights go out. Disaster!
REFLECTION: Ask the question, do your contingency plans go far enough? Do you have a back-up plan for the worst possible scenario?
CLOSE: Offer some advice on how to prepare for the worst.
Easy enough! Now let’s take another…
EXAMPLE 2: Trigger 62 – THE WASTED YEARS
Imagine this trigger gives you this idea:
“My first 3 years after college, when I was drifting without purpose.”
This is a ready-made REFLECTION – a frank bit of self-disclosure that your readers will really appreciate. (The more they enjoy your emails, the more they want to know about your life.)
But you still need the HOOK and CLOSE. So here, you have to think backwards (how do you start the email?) then jump forward (how does it end?).
HOOK: Open with the big life-changing event that set you on a new path, after years of dead-end jobs and living hand to mouth.
REFLECTION: Confess here that you didn’t think about goals and how to achieve them – and as a result, you missed out on some big opportunities like XYZ.
CLOSE: Far too often, marketing is just as aimless. And events are the worst offenders – people get so caught up in the thrill of doing it, they don’t stop to think why. Talk to us and we’ll plan your event with a clear sense of purpose.
See? You trace the REFLECTION back to a HOOK, then roll it into a CLOSE.
EXAMPLE 3: Trigger 30 – THE ONE BIG SECRET
Finally, this trigger gives you this idea:
“Give each team member a distinct function at your exhibition stand.”
This is a ready-made CLOSE – a bit of practical advice to end on. So you need to roll back to find the HOOK and REFLECTION. Like this:
HOOK: Tell the story of chaos at an exhibition stand – how the team turned into a group of headless chickens, as they got overwhelmed by demand.
REFLECTION: Most companies go into exhibitions without thinking. They just place four or five people on a stand and hope for the best. Then chaos is inevitable.
CLOSE: End with your advice to give each team member a distinct function: one to lure visitors in, two to give presentations, and one to process orders. Maybe add some tips on how to choose who does what, and how the team should adapt when there’s a surge in demand.
See how that works?
Whether your starting idea works as the HOOK, REFLECTION or CLOSE, you can always build it into a Thought For The Day email.
From structure to finished email
Once you’ve shaped your idea, writing up the email is a doddle. Just let it unfold in a simple, chatty way that feels more like a catch-up with a friend than a memo to the board.
For illustration, here’s an email I sent to my list a few years ago. The original idea came from the HOOK, and it was fleshed out as follows:
HOOK: My LinkedIn account was suddenly cancelled.
REFLECTION: The danger of relying too much on one thing.
CLOSE: A word of warning – spread the risk!
SUBJECT LINE: 7 days when I didn’t exist
I was a non-entity.
A lost spirit, wandering the earth, in search of a soul.
It’s true. I passed a mirror – no reflection. Cats would hiss at me. Dogs, whimper and flee. Because for a whole week, I formally ceased to exist.
…Or so they said at LinkedIn.
Yep. After 10 years and 700 contacts, they decided “this bloke isn’t real”. And like a Roman Emperor turning his thumb, they took me offline.
…Leaving the world to think, “James Daniel never happened”.
I’ve got to tell you, it was a blow. I was out in the wilderness, condemned to start over.
As in… Ouch!
But hey, I figured – there’s an upside. (Actually, two…)
FIRST – it was a great excuse to reconnect with folks I’ve ignored for a while (you’ve got to take those chances when they come along). And…
SECOND – it raises a point I’ve been meaning to touch on:
The Perils of “All Eggs, One Basket”.
See, LinkedIn is only a small part of my business. But what if it happened to you? What if LinkedIn…or some other platform…suddenly dropped you?
Would it wreck your business?
I know many a business owner who’d go into meltdown. All their leads come via LinkedIn, or Adwords, or SEO, or Facebook. So they’re one ban… or one new algorithm… from disaster.
You know it’s true. We’ve all heard horror stories from people who went broke in a heartbeat.
I have to say though…harsh as it sounds…if a lost lead source takes anyone out of the game, they’re the architect of their own doom. Because they’ve placed their whole destiny in the hands of another business.
> It’s like only serving one customer, then panicking when they leave.
> Or relying on one employee, and hoping they don’t get hit by a bus.
> Or selling one product, and going broke when something new pops up.
It’s over-reliance. And it causes a mess that can drag you under.
For me, there’s a happy ending…
(Not that kind – behave!)
…Because last night, LinkedIn relented and switched me back on.
But the risk remains for all of us. We can get canned in an instant.
SO… if your lead funnel leans too heavily on any given source –
– SPREAD THE RISK!
Then if one channel lets you down, no problem – the others will pick up the slack.
P.S. I really hope you’ll take this to heart. I’d hate to see you go under.
If you like, give me a shout – we’ll sort this out together.
Get the idea?
A story from my life became a fully functional email, through the three-part “Thought For The Day Method:
PART 1 – HOOK: getting mightily peeved with LinkedIn after suddenly getting cancelled.
PART 2 – REFLECTION: the risk of over-reliance.
PART 3 – CLOSE: spread the risk with multiple marketing channels – with my help if you need it.
What is Email Infinity?
If you send regular emails, and you know the agony of staring at a blinking cursor, waiting for inspiration to strike…stare at this instead!
Email Infinity comes from years of geekery, of late night sessions analysing email after email.
Stuff I’d mailed to my own list. Stuff I’d written for clients. Stuff from pros and gurus. Stuff from regular SMEs.
It all went under the microscope, in a furious bid to reverse-engineer whatever “it” was that was working.
The result is 100+ proven ways to generate ideas – enough to keep anyone in emails till the end of their days.