Use a Genuine, Personal,
Engaging Voice in Your Emails

Email is a uniquely personal medium. It always has been.

Look over the shoulder of your favorite aunt and see how she uses her email. She’ll get messages from friends and family. Maybe some family photos, too. Maybe she’ll get mail from some groups she has joined.

She’ll read her email and laugh, smile … maybe even cry when she gets some bad news from an old friend.

The key point is that someone’s email inbox is their own, personal space.

That’s why we all hate spam so much, because it invades a space which we consider to be personal and private.

When someone visits your website, they are arriving at YOUR place. It’s your site. Your rules.

But when you send an email to someone, you are entering THEIR place.

Remember this.

We all hate spam because it is uninvited, and also because it is so darned loud and pushy. We don’t like pushy messages in our inboxes trying to get us to buy stuff. That kind of message doesn’t belong in a private place that is principally for friends and family.

Does this mean you are doomed when you try to sell via email?

Not at all.

But you do have to write according to the nature of the medium. You have to respect the fact that you are entering into a place people consider to be their own and personal.

What Does This Mean in Practice?

First, it means you will do well to write in a way that matches the tone and content of the messages people like to receive in their email.

As an example, a large clothing retailer, LL Bean, used to send out promotional emails which simply showed images of clothing, with short bullet text and an invitation to click through to their site.

It worked OK, but not great. People had opted into receiving the emails, but over time appeared to grow tired of a relentless diet of pictures of shirts and pants.

So the company took another approach. They added a short story about various places, areas and people close to where they had their main office. The stories weren’t long, but they were interesting and well-written.

Their subscribers started to look forward to these emails. They enjoyed the stories … and they began to start clicking the product links at the end more frequently.

What LL Bean did here was tap into the true nature of email. It’s a place where we like to read stories. Our friends tell us stories, as do family members. LL Bean just became another trusted friend sending stories, even if they were a different kind of friend.

Be Careful With Your Tone of Voice

Plenty of online marketers have figured out that a personal tone of voice works well with email. But many of those people and companies take it too far.

Maybe you know the kind of email I mean. They say stuff like, “Hey, Nick – me and my good friend [add name of serial-infoproduct-entrepreneur] had a couple of tequilas last night, and he told me about this unbelievable deal. You gotta read this! Trust me!”

These marketers write like over-enthusiastic college buddies. It often works well, for a while. But in time, this best-buddy writing approach grows tiresome. As a subscriber, you “wake up” one day and think to yourself, “Wait a minute, this guy may write as if he’s my buddy, but he’s not. He doesn’t even know who I am. He just wants me to buy stuff.”

The difference between the LL Bean approach and the best-buddy approach is that the first is genuine, and the second is not.

LL Bean wrote engaging stories about landmarks and characters in their community. It was genuine. They were real stories. But the best-buddy writers dress themselves up as something they are not. It’s all a fabrication.

You can fool people some of the time. But it won’t last.

So How DO You Sell With Your Emails?

The answer to this question will almost always relate back to the expectations you set when a subscriber first signed up.

If you invited someone to receive emails with hot deals and new product announcements – then you are in a good position to do exactly that. (But don’t forget the lesson learned by LL Bean.)

If you invited people to sign up for tips, help and useful information – that is what you should send them. And be careful how you present any sales pitches. Because your subscribers did not sign up for them.

So, first establish your own plan for your emails. Then make sure your emails match the expectations set by your invitation.

And then write in a genuine, personal and engaging style that matches the “inbox environment,” and doesn’t conflict with your reader’s expectations.

A Word About Reputation

In email marketing, reputation is everything.

If your past 10 emails have been lousy, then it doesn’t matter if the one you send today is the best ever. People won’t even open the email because they have learned from experience that your emails are a waste of their time.

And keep in mind that people’s inboxes are getting busier and busier, and more and more cluttered.

So let me rephrase that earlier paragraph:

“If your emails are ordinary and unremarkable, then it doesn’t matter how mind-blowing the one you send today may be. People won’t open today’s email, because they have learned from experience that your emails are a waste of their time.”

Writers, editors and marketers don’t pay nearly enough attention to the quality of the emails they send out.

Yes, it is a cluttered and busy environment.

Yes, your emails have to be excellent.

And yes, the number of people who open your email today is not dependent on the quality of your subject line – it is dependent on the reputation you have built with that reader over the past few months.

Concluding Rant …

Use your imagination and come up with an email strategy that is remarkable, fascinating and engaging on a personal level.

Write in a way that matches the email environment. But be genuine. Be real. Be honest.

And even if your emails are focused on product or service sales, add a little extra interest in there. Tell a story. Add some subscriber feedback. Include some customer photos. Run a contest. Include a quiz. Offer prizes.

Make it personal and interactive. That’s what email is all about.

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

At last, a professional organization that caters to the needs of direct-response industry writers. Find out how membership can change the course of your career. Learn More »


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Published: October 22, 2008

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