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FutureNow Article
Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2007

America’s Test Kitchen Shows How to Sizzle an Email

By Brian Bond
November 21st, 2007

Bridget Lancaster and Christopher KimballFor years I’ve been a fan of the America’s Test Kitchen chefs and their magazine, Cook’s Illustrated. I’m a bit of a foodie — and a pragmatist — so I love that they give their audience no-nonsense, real world advice on how to cook. And even though they have a hit TV show, they continue to publish their Cook’s Illustrated in black-and-white and illustrated in order to reduce costs so that they don’t need to run ads in the magazine. They’re authentic and passionate, and that energy feeds the relationship with fans like me.

I’m a sucker for good, experience-based marketing; the kind that draws you into an experience with a product or service. So, what’s even more impressive to me than the magazine is that they have some of the best email marketing around.

In addition to their typical, retail product-based emails, there’s one thing I love more than anything about this company: Christopher Kimball’s newsletter. Kimball is the CEO/Editor-in-Chief and, in addition to being head of the company, he runs a family farm in a small town in Vermont. For as long as I’ve been a subscriber, Kimball’s newsletter has always had a welcoming, familiar tone, describing every detail about “what’s going down on the farm.” He talks about the harvest, funny happenings around his small town, updates on things the family has cooked, links to photos, and so on. Here’s an except from a summer update:

“Two weeks ago, our family and neighbors turned out to help get Jean’s hay in [links to photos], and our strawberry crop has been terrific. Adrienne will turn out at least a couple dozen jars of strawberry jam and probably a similar number of raspberry. The 23 rows of corn were better than “knee-high by the fourth of July,” and all the potatoes are doing well and are free of potato bugs, at least so far. I hope to start digging new potatoes out of the ground by early August, steaming them, and serving them with nothing more than salt, butter, and chives. Click here to see recent photos of the farm [links to photos]”

It’s a whole email of this rich commentary, interspersed with links for recipes on the Cook’s Illustrated site and updates on the filming of their weekly show on PBS. But here’s the thing: I’m absolutely compelled to read them. What’s more is that I completely look forward to taking a 15-minute break from city life to be transported to an environment that seems so alien to me, yet I’m allowed to experience it as a resident. I pour over each link and look at every photo, but more importantly — for them, anyway — I’m driven to read the recipes. Why? I’m curious and excited to learn what made the cobbler he and his wife served at the latest community event so amazing. And that’s the point. His words draw me into the experience and persuade me to interact with the brand and its products.

Knowing when it’s more effective for your copy to have personality and create an experience, versus cutting straight to the point, is crucial. It’s about showing your audience that you know them by anticipating their interests and needs. That’s what Kimball does so well, and it works.

Want to know how Kimball does it? If you’d like to craft authentic, engaging prose that turns visitors into customers, customers into fans, and fans into advocates, join us for our upcoming Persuasive Online Copywriting seminar in Orlando. (Sorry, kids, no coyotes and freshly-picked apples, but you might find a cartoon mouse or two.) If you can’t make it to Florida, perhaps you’d like to buy the Persuasive Online Copywriting e-book or simply subscribe to Future Now’s free newsletter instead.

[Editor's Note: This is the first post from the latest addition to Future Now, our first-ever VP of Marketing, Bond... Brian Bond. It takes a brave soul to market the marketers, so if you've enjoyed the email soufflé, feel free to wave 'hello' in the comments. Welcome to the team, Brian!]

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Comments (7)

  1. Hi, Brian: it is difficult to speak about their email marketing without, well, being exposed to their email marketing.

    But this copy, even though well-written, is not optimized for scanability.

  2. Elena,

    Good point. Brian had originally used this shorter quote (check the updated version), but I chose to quote at length instead. Seems like a poor editing choice in retrospect.

    Thanks for the feedback!

    -Editor, GrokDotCom

  3. [...] America’s Test Kitchen Shows How to Sizzle an Email – Knowing when it?s more effective for your copy to have personality and create an experience, versus cutting straight to the point, is crucial. It’s about showing your audience that you know them by anticipating their interests and needs. [...]

  4. Interesting read.
    Welcome Brian. Looking forward to informative and useful articles from you, in true Grokdotcom tradition.

    Cheers!

  5. Hi,
    Great show! I watched a show very recently on how to make a strawberry and whipped ctream cake, however,I cant locate the recipe! Is there more to registering than Name, addres, email etc. I am being asked for a password!
    thansk,
    Joe

  6. There is something seriously wrong with the e-mail marketing policy at America’s Test Kitchen. I have tried to get my address removed for weeks. I have gone to the unsubscribe site on several occasions. Each time I am told my address has been removed only to have another e-mail arrive. I have e-mailed the company, but they will not even extend the courtesy of a reply. Beware of any company that is so disrespectful of its customers. I am especially surprised that PBS will have anything to do with a firm that places marketing above human dignity.

  7. Hello Brian,

    I like to read more articles from you so keep them coming. I just subscribed to the newsletter…though some of the above commentators are not pleased with the way their email marketing is being carried out.

    - Kashif

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