How to Write a Marketing Email With SUCCESS

We’ve talked about B2C email marketing best practices, tips, and strategy, but what if you don’t even know how to write a marketing email? In this article, we’ll take a step back to cover the basics of good B2C email marketing messages with our version of Chip and Dan Heath’s SUCCESs framework.

The SUCCESS Framework

The Heath Brothers explained the SUCCESs framework for effective communication in Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die. The last ‘S’ is in lower case because their framework only included six factors.

But there’s a seventh factor that’s critical to communication in email marketing, and, conveniently enough, it begins with S. The first six are:

  1. Simple
  2. Unexpected
  3. Concrete
  4. Credible
  5. Emotional
  6. Stories

We add the essential feature of good email marketing to our framework: every email should be as short as possible.

How to Write a Marketing Email With the Success Framework

You don’t have to meet all of these criteria for every email, but the more boxes you can check, the better. Here’s how to apply them when you’re writing a marketing email.

The Importance of Vivid Information

Before we get into the details of the framework, there’s one critical concept that runs throughout it. That concept is vividness.

Research shows that people are more likely to notice and recall vivid information. That makes them more likely to use the information when making judgments and drawing inferences related to the message.

Vivid information is:

  1. Emotionally relevant and engaging. Stories are more emotionally interesting when they happen to people we know or have strong feelings for. Focusing on the “needs, desires, motives, and values” of the people in the story also increases emotional interest.
  2. Concrete and imagery producing.  The more specific details you include about the people and the situation, the greater the reader will empathize with the people in the story. That leads to a more significant emotional impact.
  3. Immediate. The more immediate the information is to the person receiving it, the more involved the reader will feel. For example, information about a labor shortage in the reader’s country and industry will be more powerful than information about a labor shortage in another industry or country. And a case study about someone in the same role will be more vivid than one about someone in a different position.

Vivid information is so powerful that experts caution journalists to be careful about how they use it. It exerts a strong influence on people’s judgment. Suppose, a journalist chooses to focus on vivid information at the expense of other types of information that may be more relevant to the decision-making process. In that case, their articles may lead readers in the wrong direction.

Vividness is critical for effective email marketing, so as you incorporate the characteristics suggested by the SUCCESS framework, remember to prioritize vividness whenever possible.


You probably already know that an effective email should generally stick to one call-to-action. Similarly, it should focus on delivering a single message. As the Heath Brothers put it, “when you say three things, you say nothing.”

For each email, determine the most essential point you need to deliver and the action you want readers to take. Write the first draft, and then check to see whether you’ve included anything extraneous.

Of course, this won’t apply to all emails (e.g., newsletters that share links to industry news). But when possible, keep it simple. Prune your emails until nothing but the essential remains.


After making it through the spam filter, the first step to email engagement is getting recipients to open your email. The Heath Brothers write that breaking a pattern is the easiest way to capture your audience’s attention. That means you need an eye-catching subject line. Unexpected subject lines will be counterintuitive or surprising.

Then, keep their attention by creating curiosity gaps. Arouse readers’ curiosity by drawing their attention to something they don’t know. Then, don’t give them the rest of the information right away. Lead up to the information that fills in the gap and drive home your message along the way.


Concrete language and imagery are more accessible than abstractions. So Made to Stick recommends using “terms of human actions [and] sensory information.” For example, compared to “hang on to what you have instead of taking a risk to get something better,” the adage “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” is easier for readers to grasp.

Made to Stick cites a study called “Can the Availability Heuristic Explain Vividness Effects?” later in the book to demonstrate the importance of providing vivid information to enhance perceived credibility. But the study also found that vivid arguments are better at capturing attention.


Unsurprisingly, your emails will be more effective if people believe them. Social proof, data to back up your claims, and appeals to authority are helpful. The Heath Brothers also cite research showing that including vivid details increases the perceived credibility of a message.

The study mentioned earlier on the effect of vividness found that vivid information increases the perceived credibility of a message. Small details, like a short description of a boy’s Darth Vader toothbrush, increased the impact attorney arguments made on a journey.


As the Heath Brothers note, “[w]e are wired to feel things for people, not for abstractions.” Vivid information with a strong emotional impact is generally more persuasive, but you may need to test your messaging to determine which emotions are most effective. Some people will respond more to some emotions than others, so use website visitor identification and audience segmentation to see what works best.


Research on storytelling has found that stories engage people in a unique way. Studies in sociology, management, psychology, and marketing, suggest that “[h]umans finding stories compelling in a way that a simple presentation of the facts cannot match.”

Instead of absorbing and processing information, readers of a story experience the events described as though they are actually there. At the same time, good stories inform, persuade, and build relationships with consumers.

Storytelling by the sales force and its effect on buyer–seller exchange” presents a model for effective storytelling with three dimensions:

  1. The motive. Why are you telling the story? The primary purpose of stories identified in the study were information, persuasion, and relationship building.
  2. The characteristics of the story. What is the external context of the story? For example, when are you telling it? Who are you telling it to? What knowledge or experience do you share with the person you’re telling the story to?
  3. The buyer’s response to the story. The study found that, when the buyer is engaged in the story, it is persuasive. This was indicated by “mental simulation of product use and very low counterargumentation.” When the story was not compelling, buyers were more likely to become skeptical.

Regardless of motive, vivid information will engage consumers and avoid skepticism. But, ideally, you primarily should use storytelling to inform and build relationships. The credibility and engagement these types of stories generate will be persuasive on their own. Then, you can subtly persuade where appropriate.

As for story characteristics, one of the most important contextual considerations is timing. Participants in the study demonstrated that they appreciate different sorts of stories at different times in the customer journey. For example, one said, “If they come in for a first meeting and start sharing their success stories … I am not with them.”

So use audience segmentation based on the customer journey to send stories that are relevant to each person on your list.


Don’t drag your emails out any longer than necessary. There are many reports that cover how long the average person will spend reading an email but, suffice it to say, it’s not long. So, keep things simple and say what you need to say as briefly as possible.

Now You Know How to Write a Marketing Email That Works

With the framework above, you can begin writing memorable marketing emails that your audience will want to read. That means they’ll be more receptive to your messaging and they’ll be more likely to think of your brand when it comes time to make a purchase. That will lead to further cascading benefits as you increase brand awareness, recall, attitude, and loyalty. And all you have to do to begin to realize these benefits is write more SUCCESSful emails.