Imagine signing up for a new service and receiving no email confirmation. Or a world without email reminders. Digital experiences that don’t include email feel incomplete – yet the email experience often gets sidelined. I can understand why. We’re all inundated with email, and most of it is junk. Why would we want our audience to receive more of it?
Despite these negative perceptions, it’s worth getting email right. Email has been staging a comeback over the last few years, making a case for itself as the best way to deliver certain types of content. A study from Adobe found that among the consumers they surveyed, time spent checking email is up 17% year-over-year, and 50% prefer interacting with brands via email, compared to social media (7%), text message (7%), or mobile app (7%). One reason for this might be that email puts control back in the hands of your readers—something that’s been lost on platforms where content is delivered via algorithm.
If you’re still not convinced, remember that a transactional email might be the first or last thing a person sees in a digital experience. Why not give those emails clear purpose and value
Here are five ways to send more meaningful emails.
1. Consider the context for every email you send.
Emails are valuable when they fit in seamlessly with the rest of an experience. Fitbit does a great job with this. Their welcome email arrives shortly after you activate your device. The banner image shows your device in the color you own, and the copy helps you take action from the device on your wrist.
Context is everything. When you send unexpected emails, you risk breaking your audience’s trust. Take this example in a report from NPR on CPAP machines:
“Schmidt's privacy concerns began the day after he registered his new CPAP unit with ResMed, its manufacturer. He opted out of receiving any further information. But he had barely wiped the sleep out of his eyes the next morning when a peppy email arrived in his inbox. It was ResMed, praising him for completing his first night of therapy. ‘Congratulations! You've earned yourself a badge!’ the email said.”
2. Make a good first impression in your reader’s inbox.
Someone will decide at a glance whether your email is valuable or junk. Give them clues right up front to let them know your email is worth reading.
Keep the subject line short and use familiar key words that can help someone find the email in their inbox later. For example, in Mad*Pow’s work in financial services, we’ve found that financial advisors prefer to get content through email rather than taking the time to seek it out on news sites or other channels. Financial advisors use their email inbox as a kind of library, searching for key words to find what they need.
Putting details, like appointment times, in the subject line can let
someone know the email is personalized to them. It can also let someone know if they need to open the email right away to take action.
Finally, use a “from” name and email address that people will recognize. Sending emails from a brand mascot or a person at your company might feel like a fun, personal touch, but subscribers or customers may not read far enough to understand who the email is from.
3. Surface relevant information in the body of the email.
Many emails serve as a prompt to go somewhere else or log in to complete an action. When possible, pull content—account balances, messages, or reminders—into the email instead of driving someone to an app or website. Some organizations are finding ways to help people take action right from their inbox. Iora Health gives patients the option to read and respond to messages from their health care team from their email inbox. If patients prefer to send messages through Iora’s secure online portal, they can choose to log in instead.
4. Catch your reader’s eye as they’re scrolling through their inbox.
Generic email templates can make your emails feel less than engaging. Illustrations or GIFs breathe life to email content and add a human touch.
For example, instead of driving people to click on a video tutorial from an email, turn key moments from the video into a series of GIFs, and insert them into the body of the email.
Choosing thoughtful images can also help you pare down the content in your email to what’s most important to your reader. Instead of stuffing an email newsletter full of links back to your website, choose a piece of content to feature, and use visuals to help show your audience why it matters.
5. Make email the entire experience.
Email is a great supporting character, but it can also be the main event.
Engage your audience with highly curated content they can read and interact with right from their inbox. Known to email marketers as drip campaigns, this kind of content is ideal for a short, focused series that may not have another home on your website. It’s a way to give people a valuable experience without asking them to subscribe indefinitely. After you have their trust and demonstrate your expertise, ask nicely if you can send other types of email.
These email series can show you how it’s done:
- The Washington Post’s Meal Plan of Action
- Note to Self’s The Privacy Paradox
- IDEO’s introduction to design thinking
Give email some extra attention
Many organizations struggle to embrace email as a medium because it requires new and different metrics to measure success. When you shift part of an experience away from your website and into email, yes, your website may get fewer page views. But you may be providing a better customer experience by meeting your readers in their inbox. Consider the goals for your content and how you might meet them by delivering that content by email.
There are all sorts of content channels and messaging apps out there, but email is not going away anytime soon. What channel does your audience prefer?
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