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What Hemingway Can Teach You About Email Marketing

It’s fair to say Nobel Prize-winning novelist Ernest Hemingway didn’t do a tremendous amount of email marketing in his time, considering he was born in the 19th century and died in 1961. He wasn’t even a marketer, moving from journalism to author and more or less mastering both during his life.

Still, his instincts for crafting effective emails may have been more honed than anyone would have thought. His “Iceberg Theory” on writing wasn’t always his most popular storytelling philosophy; its critics said it contributed to him seeming distant and uncaring for his own characters through a lack of telling their full story. But there’s a lot that the crafty email marketer can take away from it if they look closely:

If a writer of prose knows enough of what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water.

“But I’m not writing prose. I’m writing emails,” you might say. But that’s where you may be missing your chance to connect with your reader. People love stories. People want to be entertained. Teased. Intrigued. You are a storyteller, so don’t sell yourself short. You may not be Hemingway, but you sure can learn from the guy.

What does this philosophy have to do with email marketing?

Emails need to be short. To the point. Don’t use five words when four will do. Find a way to grab ahold of your reader as quickly as possible. Once you’ve used a great subject line to grab their attention and get them to open your email, you have mere seconds to convince them to take some further action. You’re not just looking for opens, right? You need to lead them to your clear and concise call to action. How are you going to do that? The Iceberg Theory is how. Here are the takeaways:

  • Do more with less

    Sure, you want to inform your readers, but you can’t tell the reader everything in a short email. Omission is good. It gives them a reason to click through to your site. It leaves them with questions you should be ready to answer, and lets them feel like you have more to say.

  • Good writing says more than is apparent

    This is where having an experienced content writer on your team comes into play. If you’re passionate, knowledgeable, and engaging in the email content you write, the reader will understand more than what you explicitly state. Show instead of telling whenever possible, and be efficient with your words.

  • Don’t look desperate

    The iceberg looks calm and still to us because we can only see the tiny bit that peeks above the water. But, well below the surface, it’s constantly moving – slowly, but still. Some have been recorded at faster than 2 miles per hour. If we could see the full iceberg, we’d see it fighting against currents and cutting through seabeds. Likewise, if you try to dump all your information into an email, it’s going to look like you’re trying too hard to sell. Let your readers see a taste. Make your emails look effortless, even though you know they’re not. Write like there’s a full iceberg your readers aren’t seeing, but make them want to.

So, yes, Hemingway may seem like an unlikely muse for the email marketer, given that the Internet itself would have been a foreign concept to him as he lounged on a beach in Key West banging out another story on a typewriter. But never underestimate the power of great writing to help you stand out in a sea of email marketing icebergs.

Jeff Haws

With 20 years of experience in journalism and writing, Jeff brings an expertise in producing impactful content, audience identification, and how to write in a way people will want to read. He’s focused on helping businesses better understand who it is they’re talking to, and how to help them reach those people via the power of words.