There are lots of cliches about rules existing only so they can be broken. Indeed, our new prime minister is deploying a few when she talks about rebooting the economy in ways that fly in the face of “economic orthodoxies” and rules.
But, there are some rules that just can’t be broken. One of this “golden few” is don’t send messages when you are drunk. It's a good rule to follow in your personal life, but in business it must be as close to sacrosanct as a rule can get.
Helm is a community for founders of scale-up businesses worth more than £1m, there is no selling and no ego. They were the perfect audience, in other words, to listen to Buchan as he explained how a drunk email transformed his approach to cold B2B pitch emails.
There's no need for B2B emails to be so serious
He’s all about no ego and little hard sell. Having worked in digital marketing agencies for a while, he started one with his brother. A year in it was all going well and then suddenly they lost a few key clients and he was left worrying how to meet payroll. If not heading for the rocks, it was far from plain sailing. Things were looking bad, so Buchan did what lots of us do in stressful situations - he got drunk.
Then he broke the golden rule. He started to write an email to send to all sorts of influential decision makers at some of the world’s leading brands. In it he poked fun at them a little bit, but mostly at himself and his business. He was searingly honest and irreverent.
He was saying things email marketing textbooks tell you not to say - like the fact he got their details from a list - and saying them in ways that would make the authors of those textbooks blush.
In the end he saw sense and saved the email to drafts. Then woke up, feeling a bit rough (and possibly still a bit tipsy) and sent them anyway. And here’s where the story gets interesting.
Because those emails got better results than expected. In fact, they got better results than any other cold pitch marketing emails he’d ever sent. And remember, B2B marketing was his specialist subject.
Successful B2B emails engage readers from the start
People were responding to this off-the-wall, honest and humorous approach. So he tried it again, with some variations, and found it worked again.
Hey presto, the drunk email marketing campaigns and Charm Offensive were born.
Having one golden rule, Buchan is happy to lay out parameters (if not rules) for what he has found works and what doesn’t.
A lot of the wisdom is actually derived from the wisdom of comedy. Having devoured hours of comedy on TV, read lots of books on joke writing and even tried his hand at stand-up, Buchan finds himself using all this comedic “training” in his emails and other campaigns.
A good B2B email works like stand-up comedy
He’s discovered that what works well for a comedian at a microphone, including things like opening up and being self deprecating, getting the audience on your side, using repetition and the rule of three, are tricks that Charm Offensive campaigns deploy to their advantage.
People respond to everything from an unexpected third element in a triple to a silly picture of a cute animal.
And, as Buchan admits, despite now doing this for five years, there are still plenty of people who haven’t ever received an email like this.
Better still, Buchan says this type of writing is more widely applicable than just a cold pitch email.
“I’ve come to realise you can use this style of writing to make any ask that you need to make in business. Getting new clients, getting press coverage, getting guest slots on podcasts. I’ve even got my friends job interviews and got my estate agent to fix things more quickly than they ordinarily would,” he says.
Helm members can watch Buchan’s full session in our on-demand library. Join Helm today.