It was the email that changed Jon Buchan’s life, but underneath the disruptive humour, was there more than meets the eye?
In short, yes. Yes there was. You can click away now and make further good use of your precious time. Or you can read on below. I’ll try to be fairly interesting.
So, what’s it all about?
Jon Buchan is a genius. He’s a grizzled pro who’s been through the rigmaroles of running an agency and come out the other side completely smelling of roses. He’s done this through a very deep, yet instinctive, understanding of marketing and appealing to people.
The turning point in his career was when he created an email that used disarming candour and humour to stand out amid the crowded mumbling of an average busy inbox. It did incredibly well – so well in fact that he won loads of work and then started a new business helping others to harness the same techniques to do the same.
I’ll admit, I tried it myself – some of you reading this may well have received an email from me based on his template. And accompanied by a strangely-costumed animal to boot.
Just in case you haven’t heard Jon Buchan’s story, it goes something like this… He’d been running his own agency for a few years, but word-of-mouth referrals had completely dried up. One night, feeling desperate, he got perilously drunk and wrote what he thought was a completely absurd cold email to drum up meetings with new prospects. He was still tipsy enough in the morning to think it was a good idea to actually send it to the senior marketing directors at several big brands.
To his amazement, it worked. He found himself getting meetings and winning people over in the offices of household brands we’d all love to work with. BOOM. The rest is history.
If you haven’t already seen his message, here it is. (OK, so this is actually in letter form. This was when he took it to the next level and sent a hard copy by post to prospects and then followed up with an email. The subject line for that was ‘Sorry for the ferret in the post’, and got an 80% open rate).
The text reads:
“You won’t have heard of me. (Hi, I’m Jon!). I got your details from a list *gasp*. But hey, that means you’re list-worthy; that’s gotta be something, right? 😉
OK, let’s get down to brass tacks. I’m writing to you from the office of Render Positive, a highly creative marketing and advertising agency I run with my brother Gary, and a team of 20 people far more talented than me.
For over five years, we’ve run our amazing agency – and we absolutely love it. It’s a wonderful feeling to know we’re not ripping clients off and producing the best work of our lives.
We’re looking to win new clients over to our side and away from those evil (ok, maybe not evil… but not as good) other agencies.
If you let me have a chat with you about your digital marketing or advertising, spectacular content creation, or bedroom tidying needs – I will buy you lunch/coffee/tequila shots and promise to be somewhat entertaining. If you’re lucky, I may even wear a top hat. First off, I’d love to provide you with some ideas you are free to steal.
I have included a sticker containing a picture of a ferret that has been dressed up. According to the internet, his name is Colin. I trust this will charm you into submission.
I’ll be in touch on email when you least expect it… Dun Dunn Dunnn!
I await you profanity-filled response.
Have a splendid day,
(This was just one of his letters – he customised them according to each recipient, I suspect sometimes adding more detail on their work and results, if relevant).
How it works on two levels.
First of all, its big success is down to making an impact. Jon used a witty approach to disrupt the usual thought patterns around emails. Stark informality and disarming humour got people to take notice. His aim was to get a reaction, and then tell the story.
But most people don’t consider what happened next in the email. Once the claxon of humour had got the reader’s attention, Jon also used all of Robert Cialdini’s persuasion principles to help win the prospect over. Does anyone need a reminder of what they are? Oh, OK, then:
Being the first to give and making sure it’s personalised and unexpected
An initial small, trivial commitment paves the way for a larger one later
AKA social proof – showing what others like them are already doing
Signalling what makes you a credible and knowledgeable
Showing areas of similarity to others and also giving compliments
Pointing out what is unique and what they stand to lose
Let’s run through Jon’s email/letter and see how each manifests there…
Possibly the most obvious of the persuasion techniques used here. At the end of the message, he includes a picture of a cute animal dressed up in an outfit. A little gift they wouldn’t have expected, and so may want to reciprocate in some way – perhaps with a reply… He also mentions he has some ideas they are free to steal, setting himself up for some more goodwill.
In his message, Jon asks them for a quick meeting. That’s it. And he’ll even bribe them for it as well. What’s also present, but not stated up front, is the hashtag with the picture – inviting people to post the photo for fun on social media. If he can get that little commitment, he’s got a toe in the door.
What are others like the recipient already doing? They’re not getting ripped off, and they are benefitting from Jon and his team’s best work. I’m sure he’d be able to provide samples upon request. But that would be a bit ‘normal’ in this context.
He doesn’t use blatant tactics like showcasing awards or detailing specific results, but his knowledge, status and credibility are on display throughout this entire message. Nobody but someone with the greatest confidence and understanding of their field would be able to use this level of humour and a familiarity of tone. By so drastically breaking the mould, he’s showing the recipient how he’s a master at his craft.
He slips in a witty compliment right at the start – “…you’re list-worthy; that’s got to mean something, right?” – also providing a knowing nod towards a necessary evil any fellow marketer can’t do without: the mailing list. He also uses lines like: “OK, let’s get down to brass tacks” and “away from those evil (ok, maybe not evil… but not as good) other agencies” – which all the time work to build rapport with the reader.
Again, Jon doesn’t use blatant tactics like time restrictions or limited places, but what’s profoundly obvious is there is only one of him to go round. Only Jon has the guts to use humour in a cold email, refer to petty tasks like bedroom cleaning and suggest wearing a top hat.
It’s easy for newer copywriters to see his template as a kind of Holy Grail for winning over new clients. But when Jon Buchan wrote that email, he was already an experienced professional with many years of crafting copy under his belt. Consciously or not, he knew what he was doing. Even with his genius sense of humour to help out, there were some solid persuasion forces at play (albeit slightly in disguise).
My key takeaway from the drunk cold email was that shrewd wit and disarming openness will attract attention, but it takes more than that alone to create a truly effective email. Yes, humour works, but underneath lie some solid persuasion techniques.
However, the impact of Jon Buchan’s humorous and candid approach was absolutely vital. The recipients had to open his email before they could be persuaded. And, in his drunkenness, he managed to shatter conventions and expectations with a surgical precision unmatched by the sober.
As he always says: “Write to people, not ‘professionals’.” Nice one, Jon.
If you want to find out more about Jon Buchan, his Charm Offensive business, templates and Facebook group, here are some handy links:
This Reddit article where he breaks down his approach is also an excellent read.
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