1. Email Marketing

10 marketing maxims from the best copywriters in the world

Animated GIF of Gary Bencivenga and Clayton Makepeace for their 10 marketing maxims

In March 2020, the copywriting community lost a giant: Clayton Makepeace.

A year later, one of his mentees, the wonderful Carline Anglade-Cole, held a tribute in his honor. She invited dozens of Clayton’s collaborators — writers, marketers, and publishers — to give a short speech about the legendary copywriter. 

And to everyone’s surprise (and delight) one of those people was the great Gary Bencivenga, universally known as America’s best direct-response copywriter. He came out of retirement for the event. It was the master’s first public appearance in over a decade.

“As I think about Clayton,” said Gary, “he and I loved to talk shop.”

After years of studying and transcribing Gary’s work, I was hearing his voice for the first time. It was soft and measured, even. I turned up the volume. 

“And we enjoyed most sharing the words of the great advertising masters,” he said. “In Clayton’s honor — and to help guide the aspiring copywriters Clayton helped and loved so much — I’m going to go over the 10 Maxims that he and I shared and loved the most about copywriting.”

I’ve transcribed the maxims below.

I’ve also taken some time to tie each one back to email marketing, something EmailOctopus can help you with. 

OK. Let’s jump in:

Maxim 1: “Make your advertising itself valuable.”

And Clayton executed this so beautifully. He enlivened the copy with irresistibly fascinating and valuable content, shared right in the ad itself. This will almost always boost your readership and response. 


The best promotional emails are inherently valuable. 

“People don’t read ads,” said Howard Gossage, “they read what interests them — and sometimes that’s an ad.” Gary & Clayton agree. Your email should sell, yes. But it should do so in an entertaining or informative way, a consequential way. 


Maxim 2: “Aim your headlines and subject lines at the heavy users.”

Every market has a red-hot core of ‘most-active’ buyers. 20% of investors buy 80% of the newsletters. 20% of beer drinkers drink 80% of the beer, and so on. It’s like that in virtually every market. The percentages go up and down a bit, but every market has the core that drives the maximum heat of response. 

Know who these heavy users are, what they want the most, then show them how to get it. Very often, their drives will be much different than the occasional user. You want to bring along that heavy user — your “political base” if you’re in politics. 


“Never write for anyone,” the saying goes, “always write for someone.” 

When writing an email, your “someone” is a single person from the “red-hot core” of your market. Identify this someone — it could be someone you know personally or, perhaps, it’s an avatar with a made up name and attributes and personality. 

Either way, writing for someone within your red-hot core will make all the difference.

Maxim 3: “It’s easier and much less costly to keep a customer than to acquire a new one.” 

Marketers reap their richest rewards when they lavish value and attention on existing customers — as well as the new ones. 


One way to live this maxim if you run a newsletter: 

Step 1: segment your most active subscribers into a cohort, a separate list. 

Step 2: call it your “True Fans” list. 

Step 3: let your True Fans know they’re now in an exclusive community, privy to content and opportunities others aren’t — all because they’ve been loyal, engaged fans. 

This strategy will help you retain more subscribers over time. 

Maxim 4: “A gifted product is mightier than a gifted pen.

Rosser Reeves said that. Another famous copywriter, Bill Burnbach, explained it this way: “The magic is in the product, not in the copywriter’s pen. Advertising doesn’t create a product advantage. It can only convey it. No matter how skilful you are, you cannot invent a product advantage that doesn’t exist.”

So, if you’re a copywriter, realize that you are a jockey. The product is your horse. If you want to win more races, by all means, hone your skills. But also learn how to spot and get assigned to faster horses. That’s a big part of building your career success and financial independence. 

Bonus: you’ll also feel better, much better, when you sell the finest product — a product you can proudly recommend to your family and best friends. And your writing will show it. 


Write your emails in plain-text first – make it great – then add design and HTML elements. 

Because a beautiful, elegant HTML email won’t pull a high response rate if the offer isn’t compelling. Nail the messaging first. 

Maxim 5: “Advertising is multiplied salesmanship.”

Now, if you wanna get rich in advertising, remember this maxim. 

Salespeople in other fields can close only one sale at a time — and they are rewarded accordingly. But a superstar direct-response copywriter like Clayton, using just words and images, could close a thousand sales at once. Or a hundred thousand. Find clients who will let you share in such remarkably leveraged results. 


Make each email you send — whether it’s to hundreds or thousands or even millions of people — sound personal, almost intimate. 

Like any good ad, every email you send should appeal to the masses while only speaking to one person. 

Maxim 6: “Great ads are built on deep research.”

The best copywriters are tenacious researchers. Like miners, they dig, drill, and ship until they have carloads of ore. John Caples advises to gather seven times more information than we can use. 


Again, emails are ads. So Caples’ 7X research rule applies, too. 

It’s not “just” an email. It’s an opportunity. And the more research you do before pressing SEND — about the market, about the audience — the better. 

Maxim 7: “Develop a process.”

I suggest the following: 

First research your product and market, especially those high-volume users. Imagine that you are a prospect and seek incontestable answers to three questions: 

1. Why is this product superior to all the solutions available?

2. Why should I believe you?

3. Why should I act now?

Only after you unearth excellent questions from your client should you start even thinking about how to write and organize your copy. Start with possible headlines and try a number of them on for size and feel. Then move on to your first paragraph, and so on. 

Then keep writing, organizing, and most importantly, rewriting until your copy sings. 


My process for writing a direct-response email? I start by breaking it up into five elements, each with its own job, its own purpose: 

1. The “From” line = trust

2. The “Subject” line = curiosity

3. The “Hook” copy = interest

4. The “Body” copy = desire

5. The “CTA” copy = action

Then I fill it in. 

Maxim 8: “Polish your skills daily.”

Even the greatest musicians practise every day. Consider your craft not just your source of income but a partner for life, always there for you, a faithful love of your life. 

This is my 54th year as a copywriter and I love writing copy for our own products. 


Most people will welcome a daily email from you — even if you’re selling something — as long as every email is entertaining or illuminating or informative. 

Daily emails will eventually sell, so long as they’re valuable (i.e., entertaining or informative) to folks who aren’t ready to buy.

Maxim 9: “Collect maxims like this that summarize your growing knowledge.” 

From any source, whether it’s a blog post or your mentor or your copy chief, collect your favorite, most illuminating and motivating maxims about your craft. Review them daily. 

Trust me, the next time you face the twin terrors of a looming deadline and a blank screen, you will not remember bookshelves of advice. That’s when your methodical process as well as your favorite copywriting maxims will come to your rescue. They will steer you, like the constellations of a starry night at sea, on a reliable course to become the star that you are meant to be. 

There are no small roles, only small actors. Likewise, there are no small copy assignments. 


When it comes to quality of my emails, this maxim — written on an old Post-it note, yellow and frayed, hanging on the edge of my monitor — has helped me more than most: 


Write that email again, folks. Many times over. Because your first draft will almost always be your worst draft. 

Maxim 10: “Compete with the immortals.” 

That’s how David Ogilvy challenged copywriters. 

Clayton rose to that challenge throughout his career. And I’m sure that Clayton would love you to compete with the immortals, as he is now among them. 


For me, Ben Settle is an email “immortal” — a genius of the craft. I’ve learned so much from him over the years. 

Follow him, read him, study what he does day in and day out… and you will, too.

About the author

Eddie Shleyner is a direct response copywriter, content marketer and the founder of Very Good Copy.

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