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Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2010 at 8:01 am

How To Loosen Up the Tone of Marketing Emails

By Brendan Regan
January 6th, 2010

My inbox is a battlefield.  It’s where the chosen few companies/brands that I allow into my consciousness battle it out for my attention, my clicks, my time, and my credit card.

I scan the list of unread messages in waves: First, I pick off the obvious junk messages.  Then, I scan the “From” fields and subject lines to make sure I at least recognize who these messages are from and that they’re “legitimate.”  If anything looks questionable, it’s deleted in a few seconds.  Sound brutal?  It is, but that’s the reality in many consumers’ minds, and we consumers get more savvy and suspicious each day!  I do not envy the jobs of email marketers, and those who are successful deserve high salaries and our respect :)

This post won’t cover the importance of optimizing your “From” fields and your subject lines in order to maximize open rates.  That should be obvious, and it’s been covered plenty over the years.  Let’s instead assume that you’ve made it into a prospect’s inbox, you’ve passed their suspicious screening process, and you’ve enticed them to open your message.

Now, besides meeting the expectations that the subject line set, what else can you do to optimize the content of your emails? A few tactics are: having good “images blocked” layout, strongly worded calls to action, and clear incentives.

Another often overlooked optimization you can work on is your copy, particularly the “tone” or “voice” aspect. As I regularly read marketing emails, I’m amazed how boring they all sound.  Who is writing these?  Who are they writing to?  They read like the copy was written by a committee of marketers, not a person who’s excited and passionate about what they sell.  If you write your emails to “everyone,” you will resonate with no one.

I did receive a decently-written marketing email before the Holidays, and the tone was so audience-appropriate that I saved it.  Let’s go through the various elements and see what lessons there are, from beginning to end:

1. The Salutation: The email was addressed to the “[Brand] Fam,” and while it would be worth doing some testing, I think it worked for a couple reasons.  The decision not to use my name actually worked because I’m savvy enough to know that type of weak first-name “personalization” isn’t genuine.  The shortening of “Family” to “Fam” works because the company sells hip, urban clothing and accessories, so it begins to set an appropriately informal tone.

2. 1st paragraph: The first paragraph covers the “why you’re receiving this communication” requirement:

I wanted to hit you up because I see that you haven’t shopped at [website] in a while.  I know the economy has been messed up and that may be one of the reasons you haven’t shopped recently.

This is a reasonable explanation for the communication, delivered in a genuinely “street” tone.  While the real truth may be that they segmented their database and I ended up in the “hasn’t bought in last 90 days” batch, I don’t think about it when I read good copy.  And, whether this tone is carefully crafted by an expert copywriter, or an honest missive from the young CEO, it doesn’t really matter, because the tone of the copy has gotten me to lower my guard and engage in the marketing conversation.

3. Offer: While somewhat predictable, the next paragraph of the email offered me a 20% off coupon code.  While offers should be carefully optimized, I like that the offer came early in the copy to clear out those who can be easily persuaded to purchase using an incentive.  Assuming I’m not in a buying mood just yet, let’s read on…

4. Body copy: Assuming that those who read past the coupon code were Humanistics or Methodicals, or needed additional persuasion, the rest of the copy hits a couple points:

But if there are any other reasons I want to know!  We pride ourselves on our connection to our customers and if you had any problems, issues, or aren’t seeing what you like just hit me up on my email and cell # is below.  Actually, hit for any reason if you have ideas or just want to chop it up.

We have literally thousands of berserk new styles that have dropped on the site in the last week for both men and women…it is never too early to do a little holiday shopping or buy yourself something nice…you deserve it!!!!

The first paragraph is great for Humanistic shoppers, and establishes personality through use of the first person as well as credibility.  And the tone continues to be informal and hip, yet consistent.  The next paragraph entices the Spontaneous profile with the ‘new styles in the last week’ hook, and goes on to mention both gift shopping as well as shopping-for-self.  Basically, telling me it’s OK to shop for myself even though the Holidays were coming up…smart!

5. Secondary call to action: Those who didn’t click on the coupon code primary call to action still needed a nudge towards the site, so the email goes on to provide secondary calls to action for those who kept reading below the fold (or beyond the preview pane).  The links pointed to “new arrivals” landing pages for men and women.

6. Closing: The email ends with the name of the founder of the website/brand, a cellphone number, a personal Twitter address, and a personal Facebook address.  My critique here is that the “sender” should have clearly identified himself at the beginning of the email, which may have added credibility and gotten more people to stay engaged and read the good copy.  But, it’s still impressive that the founder has signed this email and included some pretty “personal” contact information.

So despite some grammatical issues (which only add to the personal tone of the email in this case), it’s a pretty persuasive email from a lot of different angles.  And, even if I don’t convert based on this marketing touch point, the company built its brand equity for later with personal communication, style, and voice.

I hope you found this inspirational.  Let us know if you would like help optimizing email marketing campaigns.  Or, if you feel your emails are strong, perhaps you need to optimize your email campaign landing pages and checkout?

Add Your Comments

Comments (35)

  1. I agree with sending emails to everyone, they do not look personal and are easy to ignore.

  2. I got a great e-shot today that just looked like an email from a work colleague sent using Outlook. No stoopid graphics or font-itis. Maybe it was sent using Outlook.

    It certainly got further with me than the normal over-polished efforts.

    Maybe a mixture of unstyled and styles would work even better.

  3. I’ve never thought to write an email based on profiles like “Humanistic” or “Spontaneous.” I’ll have to be more conscious of this next time I send an email to my followers. Thanks for the tip!

  4. You’re so right. Most of my emails are deleted immediately, and the few that stay…well, they fight for my attention in the first 5 minutes.

  5. very true. I get so much spam in my mailbox, it really takes something specical for me to actually look at an email for more than 5 seconds.

  6. I always just check the mail which I never expect.. but never follow the links …. I just ignore them

  7. Great post again,brendan. I love this case study. email marketing is the second most effecient online channel. Tone and voice of copies are very important to engage readers, to make your copy close to you. Thanks again.

  8. I think the first paragraph tone is the most important part in any email marketing campaign and at least 2 action call will be fine. The last paragraph will be all about credibility of the product and company.thank your for sharing your wonderful thoughts about email marketing.

  9. i agree with you

  10. Liked this post. Wonderful.

  11. nice post.. very informative..

    But I personally dont look at those links coming from unauthorised email address

  12. [...] Source:How To Loosen Up the Tone of Marketing Emails Share and Enjoy: [...]

  13. I record public shows we attend and cut the positive encounters together to one file.

    Before writing to that specific audience (we are in over 10 different markets) I watch that file to tune in and adapt the language. It also gives me ideas on what to write.

    I also compile a file with all the bad footage. This one I watch after finishing my text. It’s a safety measure to make sure I don’t send stuff out that didn’t work face to face.


  14. Great. I helps me a lot to improve my business e-mails from now on.

  15. Conversational tone is key I think. If something is too over the top and too much of a “once in a lifetime opportunity” then I just click delete.

  16. hah you are right on. It seems like a need an sofware or something to weed out the amount of spam I get in my inbox daily.

  17. Brendan it seems like it would be very worthwhile to know if you have become an “approved sender”, do you know if there is any way to tell this? I suspect that comparing whether a graphic was downloaded (immediately or even later) or not might be one way to check. This is probably well discussed already and if so, I apologize but would appreciate your insights. It seems important.

  18. yes it’s true that most of the e-mail are automatically deleted. but, you’ve delt with an important isuue, but never should we ignore the importance of e-mail Marketing.
    best regards,

  19. #

    yes,I agree with sending emails to everyone, they do not look personal and are easy to ignore, nice to you

  20. i have read the complete post and also read the comments and i found post quite helping but i am not clear with the point, how can i close the emials for marketing, if any one can answer.

  21. I tried it myself , and I got great results using the e-mail marketing, it really works when it is done by experts

  22. huh? Where is my comment? :(
    ok. once again.

    i hate to get emails from firms which are spam my email inbox.
    indifferent where I check my mails or which software I use I get everyday such a damn spam mail. do you know how I can stop it?

    advert like: “you need via-gra” or “you are se-xy”
    I dont need them.

  23. Hanna: You need a spam filter. Your ISP may offer this service, or there are programs that will do this for you.

    In both instances, they read your emails, and, using a set of rules, move things likely to be spam to another folder for review, leaving your inbox clear(er).

    No spam filter is 100% effective, either blocking a legitimate message, or allowing spam through, but most can be tuned to your needs with whitelists and adjustable thresholds.

    I’m sure others will have reccomendations, but on my network I use an Untangle server running a version of the famous SpamAssassin. For a home user, your ISP may have an optional one, or look at AVG or Norton, who offer packages with spam and virus filtering.

  24. [...] full post on Conversion Rate Optimization & Marketing Blog | FutureNow, Inc Enjoyed this article?WebsiteWordpress [...]

  25. Well, there is no way to get rid of spam. But sometimes, a bad publicity to that company is good welcome. Call them spamers, may lose some clients

  26. Great post. No spam filter is 100% effective, either blocking a legitimate message, or allowing spam through, but most can be tuned to your needs with whitelists and adjustable thresholds.

  27. I’ve tried almost all of the spam filters out there. But none of them is working effectively.

  28. “Another often overlooked optimization you can work on is your copy, particularly the “tone” or “voice” aspect.”
    I could not agree more! Over and over again I see emails that send messages that sound automated, boring, and sometimes with an obnoxious sounding tone. Marketers have to be sure that their tone of voice will be well received to who their target audience is and to make their emails accordingly. Thank you for this informative article!

  29. This is some great information. I have been a little apprehensive about incorporating email into my marketing because of lack of knowledge. This definitely helps.

  30. Great tips.. I always wonder why emails programs have not evolved to make things easier for us. I mean, even the most advanced email programs like Gmail only display the subject line along with a few words of the email. Why can’t there be a system where I can see the entire textual content of the email just by placing my cursor on the subject line? So I do not need to click to read the email. This will certainly save a whole lot of time and spam won’t bother me as much as it does now. This will also ensure that people read more of the emails instead of deleting a mail simply because the subject line looked spammy.

  31. If I may chop it up, the example email comes of as extremely contrived to me. All the “Hit me up” stuff comes off as pandering, because as “street” as it is, it’s still a marketing email. I read this as a cautionary tale – trying to sound cool in a marketing email is dangerous. If you don’t hit it just right, it’s cringe-worthy.

  32. I think the fact that people get so many marketing emails as spam really causes people to pass over something before they have had a chance to look at it. The key i feel is to try and make it as targeted and personal to the individual, otherwise people are just not interested.

  33. I follow the same steps. Scan first for obvious junk, then I look for if I am in a group message, then I am left with the ones just for me! It is brutal but worth keeping your system clean; ensuring you respond to what is important and helping you manage your time effectively.

  34. I get so many daily email from places I have purchased or subscribed to. I think that a major factor in deciding which emails to auto-delete and one to actually rwad is the frequency.

    If you are blasting daily emails with “great” offers, then it loses any effect.

    Save your blasts for once a week or more to see any real affect…. IMO

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