The Art of Emotional Honesty in Email Marketing

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People are emotional. The best email marketing is, too.

We like to think we’re logical creatures, but at the end of the day we respond with our hearts and instincts. On some level, we all make our purchasing decisions emotionally. That’s why we as marketers often say we tell stories – and why the best of us actually do.

We live in a data-driven and analytics-saturated world. But whenever we send out information – whether it’s an email, advertisement, or tweet – we need to remember that people aren’t responding to robots. They’re responding to other people. And people create deep, respectful, and powerful connections through emotions.

Great marketing elicits emotions by tapping into deep truths, and then using those truths to nudge people toward a purchase. Sometimes the best way to conjure emotion is to step back from the data and think like an artist.

Marketing can rise to the level of art when it associates the product with something greater than itself. If our companies can speak to audiences with integrity, we can be more than just what we do. We can be the bearers of emotional honesty.

Create email worth framing

There’s so much room for beauty in the digital world. But, right now, it’s often an ugly place. Email can be one of the worst offenders.

People outside the marketing profession – and experienced marketing professionals themselves – might think of email as a clinical or technical process of acquiring more customers. But beyond all the automation, data, and technology, email is as people-focused as everything else. Like all marketing, email is an emotional endeavor.

It’s not email’s fault that it can be ugly. It grew up in the digital Wild West, where marketing practitioners wrote the rules as they went along and flaunted them in equal measure. But look at the great ads of the 1950s and 1960s: Some are worthy of framing on the wall. Can you imagine ever printing out an email to help decorate your living room? It seems crazy, but why can’t we aspire to that?

The 20th century produced some great commercial art. There was gorgeous illustration and snappy copy – and the industry allowed artists and writers to make a living. Email can have that, too. In fact, Internet service providers like Gmail are effectively asking for more of it, as their algorithms reward email marketers who engage their readers. In other words, they want marketers to send emails that people actually want to receive.

Respect your readers

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not talking about emotional manipulation or lying. As marketers, our aims are never purely artistic, so we should be honest about the fact we’re trying to sell something. But we can promise (and deliver) really valuable content in exchange for the time and attention we’re requesting.

After all, the design of each individual email is a fundamental part of the user experience.

“We should take the same considerations into account when designing email communications as we do when designing the rest of the product,” says UX designer Brandon Hyman. It’s hard to argue with that.

Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs contains a great story about respecting one’s users:

“If it could save a person’s life, would you find a way to shave ten seconds off the boot time?” he asked. Kenyon allowed that he probably could. Jobs went to a whiteboard and showed that if there were five million people using the Mac, and it took ten seconds extra to turn it on every day, that added up to three hundred million or so hours per year that people would save, which was the equivalent of at least one hundred lifetimes saved per year.”

Email marketers should think in the same terms. We should take a hard look at everything we’re asking our readers do – even the split second it takes to delete an email they should never have gotten in the first place.

When people do read our emails, let’s make sure we’re making real connections with them. We have to understand that as email marketers, we are communicating through devices that are altering lives, relationships, and communities. Everything we send is asking for – and taking – time, attention, and energy. If we’re going to ask for that, let’s make sure our emails are worth reading.

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