Beginnings and Endings

By James Ellis

There are really only two hard parts to writing effective marketing pieces. If you’re thinking about your email, web pages, or direct mailings, it doesn’t matter.

Sadly, these two things are the beginnings and endings. Do those properly, and you barely need a middle.

The job of the beginning is to get your target interested. The job of the ending is to tell the target what to do next. Yes, it really is that simple. If I was running your marketing department, i’d rather have killer beginnings and endings rather than all the great middle content you can stuff in a web page.

Yes, the beginnings and endings are just that important. Think about it. Once you’ve got someone interested, the only thing that can happen is that you can either close the deal and convert them, or you can say something stupid or unappealing and lose them. Why take that chance? Once you’ve got them interested, tell them what to do next. Don’t waste your target’s time (trust me, they will appreciate it) and get to the point.

Please note that I never said how long the beginnings or endings need to be. The perfect email isn’t necessarily just a subject line and a call to action link. But if you can get their attention in ten words, and the link is the offer, what else is there to talk about?

The beginning isn’t just the subject line and pre-header, but those are part of the beginning. The beginning isn’t limited to the structure of the medium (subject line in emails, headlines in web sites, etc), but whatever it takes to achieve the goal: gain interest.

The beginning of Moby Dick isn’t “Call me Ishmael.” It’s a hundred thousand words that explain the relationship between a man and a white whale, or really the nature of obsession. All those words are needed to get our attention because simply saying “An old sea captain lost a leg to a whale and wants revenge” is not attention-getting; it’s an idea in need of supporting detail.

On the other hand, what else do I need to know beyond “50% off all our most popular products” except what to do next?

It doesn’t matter if you use emotion, loss aversion, numbers, relationship reminders, or sensational quotes. Just be intentional about getting their attention.

So once you have their attention, you need to do something with it. Don’t tease, don’t dawdle, don’t wait. Get to the next step. Click the link, call for an appointment, sign up for a subscription, whatever it is, just get to the point.

It’s crucial that you make sure that the beginning aligns with the ending. If you get my interest by saying “Free beer and pizza” the ending can’t be “Sign up for a subscription” because I won’t understand why they go together. I’ll smell something fishy and bolt.

This is the basis of all good marketing. Making it more complicated than that just clouds the issue. Nail your beginning and ending. The rest takes care of itself.

Author’s Bio: James Ellis is a digital strategist, mad scientist, lover, fighter, drummer and blogger living in Chicago. You can reach out to him or just argue with his premise at

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