4 Ways Email Marketing is Like Theater

Email marketing is a world full of intelligent, detail-oriented, analytical folks — none of whom thought they’d end up in email marketing. Take me, for example. I graduated college, set out into the world bearing a BFA in Dramaturgy and ultimately became an email marketer. (Drama-what? Dramaturgy.)

Instead of monologues, auditions and Shakespeare, I’m now focused on pre-header text, A/B testing and bulletproof buttons. While I can’t honestly say that my semester in Stage Make-up is often relevant in my day-to-day job, it does make for some great #tbt posts on Instagram.

However, many core tenets of theater training are actually quite applicable to my current leading role: that of the email marketer. After all, theater artists and email marketers ultimately have the same goal. We both communicate with people; persuade them; convince them; and make them perhaps consider something they hadn’t previously considered.

To give my BFA some well-deserved exercise, here are four key lessons email marketers can take from the world of theater:

Accept being rejected — a lot. Few careers deal with rejection as much acting. Actors audition for role after role after role…after role after role. An actor walks into a room, makes himself extremely vulnerable for a one-minute monologue in front of a few strangers, walks out, and typically never hears anything from them. The next day, he picks up and does it again until he finds the audition that works out. If you’re going to be successful in email marketing, you must be prepared to deal with extreme rejection. You’re going to send out emails you absolutely love…and your subscribers will hate them. They won’t open. They won’t click. They might unsubscribe. In the face of such rejection, you must press on and try again until you find the message that resonates. You can’t be successful at email marketing without being willing to fail.

Mistakes happen, but the show must go on. Once the curtain goes up for the first act, the play carries on and nothing short of a natural disaster can stop it. Mistakes invariably happen in most performances — lines are flubbed, cues are missed. As this is simply the nature of live entertainment, actors and technicians are trained to adapt on the fly. Similarly, in email marketing, mistakes are bound to happen. You will inevitably send an email that says “Hi %%FirstName%%.” However, the show must go on. Most mistakes in email marketing don’t warrant a correction or an apology, but when they do, address the problem quickly and honestly, in a tone that is true to your brand. Then…pick up and move on.

Every word in a play is there for a reason. In Day One of “Intro to Acting,” acting students learn that playwrights don’t write a single word that doesn’t further the action or motivation of a character. Actors are trained to assign an action verb to every single line to establish the goal of their character in that moment. There’s no line in a play that has no motivation; lines are there “to persuade” or “to trick” or “to educate” and so on. Email marketers should practice a similar economy with their copy. If there are words in your email that don’t directly build toward your call-to-action, get rid of them. Otherwise, you are distracting your readers from what you are trying to communicate.

Theater, at its core, is about understanding human psychology. To be effective in theater, you have to connect to people completely unlike yourself. You have to imagine the world from their perspective and bring their stories to life. To be effective in email, you have to remember that email is a one-to-one communication platform between two humans. You are one human sending a message to another human about something you hope they will find relevant and useful for their lives. You aren’t just sending to an email address; you’re sending to another person with thoughts, feelings and emotions. If you lose sight of that, you will be ineffective in your role as an email marketer. You must communicate on a human level, and relate to each person and their individual needs and preferences.

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