There is a seemingly infinite combination of levers to pull when it comes to email optimization. From inbox placement and call-to-action buttons, to subject line tests and enhanced segmentation, there is no shortage of opportunities. In this post, I want to focus on one undervalued area that many marketers gloss over: tone and communication style.
How you communicate with your subscribers can have a major impact on their brand perception and affinity. If the experience is disjointed or your communication strategy doesn’t align with the expectations you’ve set, your emails may be met with skepticism or disapproval. If your tone and communication style fails to leverage the voice and appeal of the brand, your emails have to work much harder to achieve the same result. If messaging misses the mark and is off-putting for subscribers, they may be more likely to unsubscribe or even mark messages as spam.
These perceptions can have serious implications for the performance of your program and the ROI it commands. A tone that resonates is more likely to drive opens and clicks, and contribute to a longer subscriber relationship and increased lifetime value. In addition, subscribers are less likely to report messages as spam or disengage, two factors that can have a direct effect on deliverability.
It can be difficult to find quantitative evidence that your tone is the primary culprit. If two or more of the factors listed below are present, it would be worthwhile to conduct an assessment of your content and tone.
- Unsubscribe rates: The average unsubscribe rate across verticals is 0.11 percent (according to Experian’s Quarterly Benchmark Report). If your unsubscribe rate is significantly higher than this or has increased following updates to your email program, this may be a sign of misalignment. You can review how unsubscribes can impact program performance using Return Path’s Unsubscribe Calculator.
- Complaint rates: If your email program’s complaint rate is above 0.3 percent, this may be an indicator that your messaging tone may need some calibration. If you’re unsure of how to track complaints or are interested in learning more about this key metric, I recommend taking a look at The Marketer’s Guide to Subscriber Complaints.
- Underwhelming engagement rates: It’s not a good sign if your brand is falling short of industry benchmarks for opens and clicks.
- Social media venting: Are your brand’s social media marketing managers constantly putting out fires with dissatisfied customers? Could the tone and approach in the email channel be contributing to a misalignment of expectations?
- Direct replies from subscribers: Are you aware of instances where subscribers have replied to an email for the express purpose of voicing concerns or expressing offense at the email’s content? While this does not happen often, it is a strong indicator that your messaging strategy and tone needs a tune-up. Not actively monitoring reply-to addresses? Now is the time to look into that.
If you think there may be an issue, there are several steps you can take to help calibrate the tone and create a stronger, more positive brand perception.
Know your audience and ensure that your content speaks their language, addresses their concerns and highlights the benefits that are most appealing to them. Consider reaching out to others in the marketing department to see if research has been completed on demographics, buyer/user personas and target markets.
Embody the spirit of the brand and leverage the voice and tone that has been cultivated for your target audience. This comes with the caveat that the existing voice and brand persona has been well-crafted and has proven effective. If this work has not been done and the brand is still inventing itself, the development of standards and guidelines should be on the roadmap.
Keep it real. Consumers across all verticals are more savvy and connected than ever before. Ensure that your tone and communication style helps set sufficient expectations with your audience in regards to your products, services and transactional processes. If “quick,” “easy” and “simple” are staples in your brand’s lexicon, be sure that your customers and clients would describe your brand using those terms as well.
Don't exist in a vacuum. Ensure that the tone for your email program is cohesive with that of the website and social platforms. Consider auditing the voice across channels to ensure that the transition is seamless for your audience.
Diversify content without deviating too drastically. Repetition and reinforcement can improve information retention, but it can also cause your audience to tune out. Keep content interesting by varying the message and approach but avoid extreme departures from the established voice and personality of the brand.
Strategically ratchet up language and tone to compel the audience to take action. If your messaging strategy comes on too strong at the onset, you may be putting subscribers off. Consider using your email content to establish value and subscriber trust before turning up the heat with urgency and language designed to challenge your audience.
As a Senior Email Strategist with Return Path, Casey specializes in driving increased engagement and boosting deliverability. Casey has a healthy fixation with helping marketers realize the potential of their email programs by addressing human needs, building better relationships, and ultimately driving improved results for the business. Her nine years of experience and obsession with evolving the email space helped land her a spot on ExpertSender’s list of “25 Email Geeks to Help You Get Your Geek On.”