Here’s the big reason why most emails don’t work…


People get tons of messages in their email trying to sell them a wide range of products and services. For many of us, our default setting when receiving emails from sources other than friends and family is to simply delete.

Many marketers make the mistake of focusing on sales at the expense of customer engagement — and that’s where the 9-word email comes in handy.

The origin of the 9-word email

The 9-word email was developed for a re-engagement campaign for the real estate industry by Dean Jackson. It’s a simple email that takes almost no time to put together, yet it’s far more effective than the overwhelming majority of emails you see marketers churning out.

In its original iteration, the 9-word email featured a subject line with just the recipient’s name and a body with a one-line question. It looked something like this:


That’s it.

The point of the email was to ask a relevant, engaging question that would get a reply.

Note that the wording here is significant. The email above is very different from one that reads as follows:


This second version highlights an overused tactic—the blatant sell. The first email is also trying to sell you something, but there is a big difference. The first email works to nurture a need, the second jumps straight to the solution, and that is why it fails.

The first email works because it’s:

  • Not pushy
  • More conversational
  • Focused on the need

As result, it’s much more likely to solicit a reply.

Remember, replies are one factor that keep your emails out of your recipients’ Spam and Promotions folders. This is because Google/Hotmail/Yahoo reason that if you reply to a friend or colleague, they are not likely to be sending you a promotion.

Here’s another example, this time for a recruitment email:


Again, notice how nuanced the language is. This question is far different from one that reads like this:


The second version omits the word “still,” and in doing so sends a completely different message. The second version is trying to sell a service, while the first version is engaging (or re-engaging) the reader and, again, nurturing a need.

You can also customize this type of email based on dynamic inputs so that it’s even more personalized and relevant. For example, if you’re a recruitment firm with a former client in banking, you could send an email that reads:


If the recipient of an email like this is even remotely interested in pursuing a new job opportunity, he’s highly likely to respond.

Let’s now delve into why exactly this email works so well…

The WhatsApp Effect

WhatsApp is an instant messaging tool that makes it easy for all types of mobile phone users to communicate via text message.  In April of 2015, WhatsApp reached 800 million users, and in 2014, Facebook paid $19 billion to acquire it.

Why is this significant? It demonstrates a shift in the way people are communicating today.

Remember, mobile phones were originally made for calling purposes, and text messages were an afterthought. Now, people texts as much as they call, if not more so—especially younger users. Text messages are typically short and to the point, as compared to emails which are longer.

Whatever email you’re creating, make sure you don’t forget the WhatsApp Effect.

Commitment and Consistency

You’ll often see promotions on Facebook or similar outlets along the lines of: Why do you like [product name]? Tell us and enter our competition.


The underlying idea here is that if you make a commitment, you will be consistent with that commitment. So if you stumble upon this competition and take the time to say something positive about the product or service in question, you’ll be more likely to use that product or service again.

The way we apply this to email marketing is that if you get a reply, that’s a commitment. So when you respond to the reply, the recipient is more likely to be consistent with the prior commitment.

So when you go to compose your marketing emails, here’s an effective derivation of the 9-word email in the context of promoting a marketing seminar.


This email does a great job of getting the recipient interested. Notice how details are intentionally omitted? That’s because we’re trying to be respectful. We’re not hitting the recipient over the head with a hard sell. We’re not overloading him with information. We’re simply engaging, or piquing his interest.

Here’s one reply that I got…


And here’s another…


These replies are all small commitments which the sender is likely to be consistent with. Even if they do not attend the upcoming seminar, they are likely to be interested in future sessions.

As an added bonus, you’ve got a more direct path into the recipient’s inbox rather than his promotional or spam folder—so even if that recipient doesn’t end up attending your next seminar, your follow-up emails will still get through to him, thus increasing your chances of getting that commitment in the future.

So, the next time you launch an email marketing campaign, stop to think about how you can get someone to reply to your email instead of immediately going in for the kill.

If you found this post useful, and you’re located in Melbourne Australia, come to our next seminar on online marketing.

4 thoughts on “Here’s the big reason why most emails don’t work…

  1. Great post! Being that this email is intended to sound very personal and non salesy, which email service would you recommend? In my experience, most autoresponder services though give you the ability to send out mass emails, lack the personalization, but a service like gmail, although personal, lacks the ability to send out mass emails privately. Any suggestions?


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