It’s easy to assume that emails sent by marketing automation software will sound robotic, tonelessly blasting perfect but boring copy that’s irrelevant to most of its recipients. As Ardath Albee points out in a recent blog post, a robotic email campaign is one that is “more about timing than context,” and does “nothing to stimulate dialogue.” Fellow marketers — it doesn’t have to be that way!
Well-planned emails can sound authentic and personable, almost like a real conversation.
I say “almost,” because mind-reading isn’t built into marketing automation yet. (I’m joking.) Seriously, though, automation software gives marketers the freedom to craft nurture streams specific to each major communication scenario they face. This significantly increases their chances of making each email a relevant experience for their recipient.
So let’s get down to business. How do you write emails that feel authentic, even if they’re automated?
If your first attempts at writing automated nurture emails feel stiff or canned, turn to social media for inspiration. When you write for professional purposes in a social network, your language typically becomes more personal, more focused on interaction, while still polished.
Here are some of my favorite tips for writing emails that feel like real conversations, even though they’re designed for marketing automation nurture streams. As you review them, notice how writing for social media has enriched my understanding of writing emails. I’ll share four tips here, and more in my post next month.
1) Use a real sender
This is a familiar tactic for many companies now, but bears mentioning because it’s the foundation of an authentic, personable email experience for your recipients. Every company is made of real employees who can be found on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and other social sites. Your customers already engage with your employees in social networks, so using your employees’ names in automated emails seamlessly transitions relationships from social media to more traditional forms of interaction.
2) Write subject lines inspired by your recipients’ daily lives
Volumes have been written on effective subject lines, which I won’t duplicate here. Here’s a classic writing tip that will get you off to a good start with your subject lines: Visualize what the other subject lines in your recipient’s in-box may look like. Then consider what your recipients may be thinking about when they see your email.
Email subject lines sound authentic when they reflect the sender’s awareness of the recipient’s priorities and problems. Master the art of visualizing someone’s in-box, and you’ll be on your way to subject lines that sound natural, relevant or even funny.
For an excellent illustration of how email subject lines compete in your target’s mailbox, see “The Art of the E-Mail Subject Line.” By the way, newsfeeds in social networking sites also resemble crowded in-boxes. I believe that participation in social media has helped many of us write better subject lines, because we’re getting used to competing for attention and crafting tweets or updates that are relevant to the concerns of busy followers.
3) Avoid emails that are too long
Good email writers are like skilled networkers at a cocktail party – they say enough to be fascinating and stop before becoming a bore. We all get that, however, mimicking the feat in an email can be challenging. Many of us in marketing are expected to write emails about complex topics. This requires editing the copy so that it’s accurate, short and personable.
When faced with the need to summarize complicated ideas, I sometimes pretend I’m speaking to my recipient in person: “Hi Jerry! You mentioned to me that you are interested in XYZ. I happen to have a whitepaper on the topic that might be helpful to you. The two major points are…”
Even though I don’t write exactly as I speak, writing down my “conversation” will help me express the complex topic in a brief, natural way. Then I just polish my copy.
Here again, social media can help. For example, what key idea would you pick if you had to restrict your topic to 140 characters? Figure that out, and you may have discovered how to write an authentic and refreshingly brief email, even for a tough topic.
4) Use the right amount of formality in your tone
Emails that sound authentic strike the right balance between casual and serious tone. That “sweet spot” varies by industry. To find some good role models, review the major social media influencers in your market and find the ones with the best combination of clarity and engagement. Then ask yourself,
- How formal are they? What words do use — or avoid?
- How do they keep their followers interested in complex or dry topics?
- How do they project their own personalities, while still sounding professional?
These answers will help you write emails that sound professional, authoritative and also warm.
5) Show your expertise – with social flair
An effective lead nurture email reflects your company’s expertise and understanding of your customers. If you’re stumped trying to figure out how to make an email sound both expert and personable, try writing it as a blog post first, then convert the post to an email. (For whatever reason, I find many blog posts combine authority with approachability.)
Video is another medium to use when brainstorming email copy. Try writing a super-quick YouTube video script on the same topic as your email. You may discover great ideas for compelling email copy that, like blog posts, sound both expert and personable.
6) Use social media for topic ideas
Marketing automation software allows marketers to create “nurture streams.” Each nurture stream consists of a series of emails released over a period of time. Each email series can then be followed by additional series, as needed. As a result, an email writer may face the challenge of creating copy for 10 to 20 emails … or more.
Coming up with that many topics to write about can be challenging. To speed up the process, hang out in the social media channels where your email recipients like to chat. Ask yourself:
What do they like to talk about? What do they worry about? What sets their blood to boiling? What are their jokes, jargon and joys?
Look for topics that connect seamlessly with the social media conversations your email targets are already having. The result could be a lot of innovative ideas for nurture streams.
7) Use social criteria to help segment your database
Segmenting your database is a classic marketing tactic, since effective email marketing generally requires that you tailor your messages to the needs of smaller groups.
If you’re comfortable with social media, but find “database segmentation” to be a rather ponderous task, use your imagination:
- If your CRM were a series of Google+ circles, what would those circles be? These circles may be “segments.”
- If your marketing automation tool records which content your prospects consume in your social channels, what can you learn from their preferences? Social media might provide insights into common interests, problems or usage scenarios that help inform your segmentation criteria.