Don’t Be A Robot: How To Write Email Copy Like A Human

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When we receive an email in our inboxes, we view it as a two-way method of communication. You email, I respond. Yet when it comes to many email marketing campaigns, it doesn’t feel that way to subscribers. Instead, they see marketing message after marketing message with little personal connection (and no, [first_name] doesn’t count).

“Thinking about the recipient as being one person, not just a mass of people or a customer segment, is enormously helpful because it allows me to write in a more natural voice.”—Ann Handley

If you want to take advantage of the personal, 1:1 nature of email, then you’ll have to start making your email copy more human.

Make Your Copy Readable

One way to know if your writing is human? Test the readability level of your copy. The most popular test, known as Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease test, can be found in Microsoft Word and calculates how easy your content is to read on a scale of 0-100. That means:

  • A score of 90-100 will be easily understood by an 11-year-old student
  • A score of 60-70 will be easily understood by 13-15 year old students
  • A score of 0-30 will be better understood by university graduates

Making something more “readable” shouldn’t mean you shy away from tricky topics or weighty subjects. Rather than dumbing something down, it refers to the accessibility of the text. Your sweet spot is somewhere between 60 and 70 to capture a general audience.

And before you say that literature is nothing like marketing, take a look at this research from Contently. It’s easy to think that famous authors might be less readable than “classic” literature, but actually, it’s the opposite:

Source: https://contently.com/strategist/2015/01/28/this-surprising-reading-level-analysis-will-change-the-way-you-write/
Source: Contently.

The best writing is the most readable. And with email, you have very little time to get your point across. Make your copy as readable as possible to create the strongest human connection.

Some easy ways to make your copy more readable come from formatting and structure, like:

  • Adding headers or subheaders
  • Building in white space between elements
  • Using a simple, one-column email structure

You can also boost readability by editing your copy to be direct and to the point.

Try:

  • Mixing up your sentence structure. If you have a very long, complex sentence with lots of punctuation, try to make your next sentence shorter and simpler. Add some variety.
  • Using active voice. A good way to check for active voice is to measure your use of helping verbs or “to be” verbs, like was, will, is, are, am, etc. Instead of, “Our product will help you…” try “Our product helps you…” Simple tweaks make a big difference.
  • Losing all the jargon. Every brand has their own acronyms and industry terms that make sense—to them. When you write for humans, you have to keep in mind that just because it makes sense to you, doesn’t mean it will to everyone else. Jargon isn’t just bad, it’s overused and meaningless for your subscribers. How many things out there are “disruptive,” “the Uber for X,” or “#1?” Don’t be that guy.

You can use free tools like Unbounce’s Dejargonator, the Hemingway App, or this readability scoring app to help get a sense of how accessible you’ve made your copy.

Adjust Your Tone

Being more human means changing the way you write emails. It doesn’t matter if you have a traditional brand or a quirky and hip one, making your tone friendly, inviting, and engaging works for everyone.

How do you do that?

Imagine yourself at your local coffee shop catching up with an old friend. They can’t remember what your company does, and they’re in a completely different industry. But they’re pretty smart, so when you give your company’s pitch, you speak casually and lay it out as simply as you can.

Now, explain what you do as you would to that friend, but in your emails. You wouldn’t bombard her with promotions or awards. You’d explain the product, what it is, and how it would help make a certain person’s life better, maybe with some examples. That’s exactly how you should write.

Somewhere in the transition between talking about what you do over coffee to writing copy, our language often becomes formal or advertising-like. As writers, we freeze up and forget that the people on the other side of our screens are just like us: people.

Write like there’s one person across from you at the table in your emails and you’re well on your way to writing more like a human.

Use Emails To Teach, Not Sell

Email is a personal medium. Constantly beating the “sell, sell, sell” drum won’t do you much good. That makes you seem like a robot, not a human. In fact, it probably alienates your subscribers more than it encourages them to buy. Sending email after email with the same sale shows that all you care about is selling, not about your customer. After all, you wouldn’t tell the same story over and over again to your friend at the coffee shop!

And even if all you care about is selling (we all have to hit our numbers), addressing your subscriber in a way that makes them feel like a number isn’t going to work. Use your email marketing skills to teach instead.

Why do they need what you’re selling? What problem in their lives does it solve? What else do they need to know before they’re ready to buy? Place your customer in the context of the funnel. Is it likely they’re ready to look at a pricing page if they don’t know the first thing about your product?

This example from Sephora does an excellent job of focusing on the customer and her needs. This kind of personalization isn’t intrusive and it’s timed perfectly. (As the customer in question, I can tell you: I ran out of BareMinerals foundation the morning I received this email—so yes, it was extremely timely and relevant.)

Screen Shot 2016-08-23 at 3.49.32 PM

Email is a great opportunity to teach your subscribers why they need your product, solution, or service, and how you can help them. Depending on the commitment your product requires, it might just be that your subscribers need more time—and more information.

Start Experimenting

Ultimately, making your emails more human and friendly requires you to re-think how you write. Put yourself in the shoes of your subscriber. To get it right, you’ll have to experiment! Testing is essential in helping brands to strike the right tone for their audience.

Think about your audience and try out:

  • Whether plain text emails work better than HTML emails
  • Whether using a ‘from name’ of a person works better than using the company name
  • Using subscriber data to send them more personalized emails at different times
  • Asking your subscribers for honest product feedback (no survey, just email)
  • Relaxing your tone in your next email to make it more friendly and casual

No matter what you test (and test…and test…and test!) it’s all about your audience. How can you make your emails more human and relatable to them?

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