How To Create Deals That Compel Readers To Buy

If you’re using email marketing to sell your products or services, you’ve probably sent emails with coupons, deals and discounts for subscribers. With the holidays approaching, you’re most likely focusing on these types of emails right now.

And you should be. MarketingCharts reported on an Epsilon study that showed subject lines with the word “coupon” in them brought in the highest open rates during the 2011 holiday season. Another study done by the National Retail Federation found that 36% of shoppers said the most important factor in deciding where to shop are the sales and discounts.

But emailing out these sales and discounts is an art. And to help you master the craft, we’ll cover what you should do to get the best results.

How To Hook Them: Subject Lines

The Epsilon study mentioned earlier indicates that using “coupon” in your subject line is a smart move during the holiday season. But the world of marketing is never that cut-and-dry. Smart Insights reported on a study on subject lines (not during the holidays) in the Ecommerce sector, and that study found that “coupon” was not effective, but “free,” “sale,” “save” and “% off” all performed well.

Bottom line: you’ll need to test to find what works for your audience. But here is some inspiration from some big brand subject lines:

Olive Garden: “Enjoy 2 for $25 Dinner for a limited time”
Papa John’s: “Hurray, 4 Days Only: Add a Second Large Pizza for $9.99! Order Now”
Newegg: “Black-November COUPONS: 13 Categories Up to 30% OFF, 20% OFF Select HDDs + MORE”
Banana Republic Factory: “TODAY ONLY: Extra 30% off ENTIRE purchase!”
Petco: “72 Hours to Save 14-40% SITEWIDE – Beat the Black Friday Rush!”

How To Appeal To Them: The Design

How you present your deal is going to have an impact on whether or not people use it. Sounds trivial, but something as small as the color of the link can make all the difference.

Here’s an example of how different design techniques can impact results:

Maryann’s Gifts sends a flyer with their latest deals. These flyers tend to get high click through rates; over 20% of the people who open the message will go on to click through. Here’s what it looks like:

Burger Boy takes a different approach. They’re sending coupons embedded with other information. They also have a good click through rate, but their coupon only gets a quarter of those clicks. 75% of readers are clicking on other links. Here’s what it looks like:

Is Burger Boy doing it all wrong? Not necessarily. People are still clicking links to see the menu and other information. “The coupon is there to get them to open the email,” says owner Ken Simmons. “Once they open the email they immediately see a great picture of our food, then click to go to the menu and place an order. I’m perfectly happy if they don’t use the coupon and just order their normal order at the regular price.”

Whether or not your coupon gets clicked might also be a question of prominence. Visual Website Optimizer reported on one business that saw a 64% increase in conversions by making an obvious button for visitors to click on.

How To Woo Them: The Content

Next, you’ll want to think about what your coupon or button should say and how much of a discount you want to offer people. Here are three major components you should focus on:

  • Set an expiration date for the sale. Expiration dates build urgency, giving subscribers the feeling that they should act now. By limiting the duration of particular sales, you’ll also allow yourself more flexibility for the types of deals you’re offering.
  • Limit the fine print. Think how annoying it is when you want to use a coupon and you have to read all the exclusions and limitations in the fine print. Or worse, you go to use the coupon and are told you can’t because of something in the fine print. If you need to say anything, make it short and sweet.
  • Give subscribers something to be excited about. Are you excited about getting $1 off a purchase? Maybe you would, but 10% off may actually sound more desirable. If the product or service in question is $10.00, these amount to the same discount. However, 10% off sounds like it will be more valuable since 10 is greater than 1. Consider this when you’re deciding how much of a discount you plan to offer.

How To Keep Their Attention: Frequency

Unbounce reported that 54% of email subscribers will unsubscribe from a mailing list because they’re getting too many emails. But how much is too much?

There’s not actually an answer to this question. Some companies have found success doing “daily deal” emails, while others have not. The real answer is: it depends on how you present it to your subscribers.

You have a few options:

  • Decide on a number and stick to it. This can be once a week, twice a week, every other week or whatever you feel comfortable with. Make it clear in the sign up process you plan to email subscribers that often.
  • Allow subscribers to pick their frequency on your web form. For example, they can opt in to a list that gets daily emails, weekly emails or monthly emails.
  • Invite subscribers to join a new list later. If you want to start off with once a week emails for everyone, you could decide to increase later and invite current subscribers to opt-in to the new list with more frequent emails.

Communication is important when it comes to frequency. The more subscribers know and the more control they have over that decision, the less likely it is they’ll unsubscribe.

How Do You Structure Your Deals?

Let us know what has worked for you and what hasn’t performed as well. And what have you seen other businesses do that you found compelling?


  1. Brian Hawkins

    12/20/2012 2:48 pm

    I guess the bottom line is pay attention to what the mega-marketers are doing since they have the budgets for extensive testing.

  2. keith

    12/20/2012 3:23 pm

    Interesting info about open rates using “Coupon” in the subject line, must be why that word’s always used by Staples

  3. Randall Magwood

    12/20/2012 7:03 pm

    I think some good copywriting will compel alot of people to buy, but I certainly like the ideas and strategies put forth in this post. Email frequency is important also because alot of people hate getting spammed everyday with a sales message – instead of an email that can actually help someone.

  4. Crystal Gouldey

    12/21/2012 8:42 am

    It’s certainly helpful to look at what big businesses are doing – they do have the resources to do extensive testing. But you can also learn from what’s working for small businesses, which is why I included those design examples in this post. Two different small businesses, two different approaches.

    I also want to note that if you use an email service provider (such as AWeber), it’s incredibly easy and fast to test your emails and sign up forms through the split testing feature.

  5. Wendell

    12/21/2012 6:00 pm

    What strikes me as being most effective are your thoughts on the color of links to get attention. I second that and will add that it’s also important what that link says or reveals to get that click. My technique is to try and make the link a long tail keyword actively being searched for; which could raise the chance of getting a click.