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Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2010 at 9:13 am

The Balancing Act of Email Content and Tone

By Whitney Wilding
November 30th, 2010

Ever since Brendan Regan’s January post featuring an example of effective use of tone in email marketing, I have paid close attention to the tone of the emails I get from companies. With the holidays upon us, I have had plenty of opportunities to critique email tone. One email I received stood out from the pack, and not in a good way. It was a confirmation for an online order from Moosejaw, a distributor of outdoor sportswear and gear. Its casual tone seemed inappropriate for an order confirmation and caused me to feel disinterested in a message that might otherwise have had success at turning me into a repeat customer, had it been delivered in another email down the road.

So, why did the email miss the mark? Let’s break down its elements to see how it contrasts to Brendan’s good example.

The salutation: have one, and make sure its tone is consistent with the tone of the rest of the email.

This email has no real salutation, but begins with “Your Order Has Been Placed” – not altogether a problem for an order confirmation, but it has a formal and impersonal tone contrasting sharply to the rest of the copy.

The first paragraph: remember the top priority of the email, and put joking aside to get straight to the point.

Rather than delivering the information that is relevant to me (my confirmation information), the first paragraph is full of copy about relatively zilch:

“Way to go. You’ve won the best email receipt we’ve sent out all day. We recommend either printing this receipt and framing it in your foyer or using it as a screensaver. It would probably also be nice for you to forward it around to a couple of friends or even an enemy or two.”

I imagine that this copy is intended to create a personal feel with the satirical tone. However, as a consumer flooded with emails, at this point in the conversation I just want to review my order and I am not interested in joking around yet. I’m also not sure it’s particularly humorous to suggest that I forward access to my order details to anyone, particularly an enemy.

By this point in the email, I am really anxious to see my confirmation information, but there is yet another paragraph following the first, with more tongue-in-cheek humor pushing the company’s agenda:

“If you’re bored, check us out on Facebook and on Twitter. Our CFO said that he doesn’t understand why anyone would use Twitter. He also thinks that a narwhal is a made-up animal. Please don’t tell anyone about it.”

Where are my confirmation details?  Is this tone even appropriate for a confirmation email?

The offer: include details, or a link to the details

The offer paragraph also opens up with an attempt at self deprecating humor, in a tone similar to the earlier paragraphs, although I’m not sure how the content relates to the offer they make:

“No chance you’re still reading this but if you are, we’re posting pictures of folks using the products on the product pages at Moosejaw.com.

While Moosejaw does provide me an incentive of earning reward points, I’m having difficulty seeing how that translates into value for me, and no additional explanation with details is provided. A link to learn about the reward program, sending people back to details on their site, would more than likely benefit them here.

Chose your tone wisely, and prioritize relevant copy

Despite my criticism of this copy, it did manage to grab my attention and set itself apart from other emails I received. It’s not necessarily the tone of the email that is the major offender here; its that copy whose main goal is to set tone pushes the high priority information further down the page. A good marketing optimization program could salvage this email so it is able to meet both the goal of the customer (confirm and track my order), and the goal of the business (drive more business). After all, I have purchased from them once already, so the chances I’d be interested in ordering again are in this business’s favor. Just don’t alienate me by putting your goals ahead of mine. Give me relevant information up front, and save the funny business for later.

Standing out among the crowd can be a tricky balancing act. Just be sure that you don’t lose site of the needs’ of your customers by focusing too much on trying to grab their attention.

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Comments (19)

  1. I agree, based on my own experience, it is very important to be specific and describe exactly what will follow, especially in confirmation e-mail.

  2. Nice article, it’s a tough balance between being unique and being pragmatic.Personally I barely read a confirmation, just look for basic facts then file.

  3. Idea: Let others in your position be your inspiration. You can monitor the other newsletters in your field to get ideas you can adapt and apply to your own email publication.

  4. It sounds like their attempts at self-deprecating humor backfired completely.

    I agree with your assessment and can see how this email could be a big turnoff.

    Just curious . . . did you email them back to share your feedback? If I was doing something like that [hopefully it would never be that bad], I’d definitely want to hear back from our customers if they thought it was harming business.

  5. There is a time and a place for unique and witty e-mails… but in an order confirmation e-mail is probably not the best idea. As you said, it’s important to put the reader’s goals ahead of the company’s.

  6. “Just don’t alienate me by putting your goals ahead of mine. Give me relevant information up front, and save the funny business for later.”

    lol, I think they have plenty form of emails..but this one landed on wrong person..

    I think it would be better if you say something to them regarding their recent emails, after all you put as example for your article..

    just my two cents..

    Deny Rusdiansyah

  7. With so many spam emails, putting your info across can be a challenge. I agree that tile and 1st paragraph are the most important, but also giving relevant and easy to reach info.

  8. Talk about an email with low self esteem. I’m going to remember putting whatever Im offering in my emails at the beginning now

  9. Well, It’s not necessarily the tone of the email that is the major offender here.

  10. Their jokes are not even funny. I hate it when there’s a lot of unwanted content in an email. Emails that are straight to the point are what drives me to read on and not those with fancy lines that have no connection to the product whatsoever.
    Great post!

  11. I am smiling while going through your post. I don’t what’s happening with them, but where was that coming from?

  12. No a days every e-mail is a spam. with no actual information

  13. It’s hard to believe someone would even be allowed to have that type on tone in any company e-mail. How incredibly unprofessional!

  14. I can completely understand this. Many marketing people seem to think that if they are just funny and casual enough, the customer will do their job for them and market the company on the whole social web. What they don’t seem to understand: The customer wants to know “what’s in for me?” The answer to that shouldn’t be nothing.

  15. Nice article, it’s a tough balance between being unique and being pragmatic.Personally I barely read a confirmation, just look for basic facts then file.

  16. Whoa! The email you received is indeed not flattering and I agree with all you’ve said. Companies should first consider it’s customer’s needs. A much formal and customer focused email – that’s what Moosejaw missed.

  17. Nice posting and it is necessary
    that whatever we have written is focus on our discussion

  18. Great Post! I like this idea of straight to the point email. Since I’m into business, I really don’t like spam message but sometimes I can’t avoid it. But lucky for me because I still got my email content correctly.

  19. Talk about an email with low self esteem. I’m going to remember putting whatever Im offering in my emails at the beginning now

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