5 Principles of Engaging With Your Subscribers and Staying Connected

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As an email marketer, your job is to bridge the gap between your words and your customers’ thoughts. Don’t try to assert your brand, philosophy, or attitude onto your reader; rather, let them engage with your ideas and products on their own terms through active design and text.

Let’s see how to do that and what active voice has to do with it.

Oxford Languages defines active voice as

a form or set of forms of a verb in which the subject is typically the person or thing performing the action and which can take a direct object (e.g. she loved him as opposed to the passive form he was loved ).

But it’s not just grammar, it can be more than that — a communication style that aims at being clear and impactful, helping to engage with your audience and stay connected. It goes beyond avoiding simple grammatical errors. It involves getting to know your audience, creating a connection with them through genuine interest, being clear in your language, and opting for graphics for the sake of user experience. Each step is important, and throughout the process, you must stay consistent to establish your voice. 

Using an active voice – both stylistically and grammatically – will help you do just that. Active voice allows you to employ the art of storytelling, build connections, and share your brand values with your customers. 

We came up with 5 principles of effective communication in email marketing. Let’s dive into details.

1. Know your audience

Whether you’re writing for business marketing, professional communication, or even personal connection, the first step is to understand who you’re communicating with. You need to know the topic interest and proficiency level of the person to whom you’re writing. At its simplest, knowing your reader is an exercise in deep-diving into who is interested in what you have to offer and why.

For example, if you own a flower shop and notice a lot of high school students coming in at the end of the year, you’ve just identified a “prom” market. To effectively communicate with that market in your email campaigns, you can then ask yourself specific questions about their habits, values, and motivations — and cater your emails to appeal directly to them.

Take a look at this newsletter:

Newsletter by XXXI
Source: Really Good Emails

It doesn’t look like your usual newsletter because it’s for designers and can afford a more avant-garde style. 

There are endless ways to go about doing this, but one tried-and-true approach is through email storytelling, a technique used to grab readers’ attention and get them emotionally involved in your product or values.

For instance, one thing marketers know about high school students is that their social bonds (or lack thereof) are highly important to their overall sense of wellbeing. If you wanted to reach your “prom” market in an email, you could ask former happy prom customers to share how it felt to have their date present them with a corsage or share another anecdote from their special day that somehow relates to the flowers from your shop.

The value of storytelling is that it allows your reader to identify with your story and engage with it in their own unique way.

You can even make a story — and a delightful one at that — out of manufacturing panties:

MeUndies promo email with storytelling
Source: Really Good Email

What to keep in mind when reaching only online customers

Things get a little more abstract when your customers exist exclusively online. That’s where a well-crafted digital marketing strategy comes in. You can use tools such as Google Analytics to gather user data about the people engaging with your business and build a buyer persona to represent them. A buyer persona is a fictitious representation depicting a business’s ideal customer, their motivations, and their challenges. The following customer data points are vital to creating a useful marketing buyer persona:

  • Socioeconomic status
  • Demographic information
  • Habits
  • Values
  • Motivations

Here’s a rudimentary image of what these data points might look like in a persona:

Buyer persona
A cartoon of a buyer persona connected through lines to other shoppers — each of whom shares similar clothing, hairstyles, and eyewear. Source: Pixabay

Although this persona is not a replica of who real customers are, the persona shares traits and similarities with each one. 

By gathering all of these data points and molding them into a facsimile of a real customer, these personas can help your business empathize with its customers. It’s a highly effective technique, even though you may not get to physically observe or engage with customers as you would with a brick-and-mortar business.

2. Connect authentically

Once you get to know your reader, it’s time to connect. Connecting with your customers’ emotions is an intimate act. They know you’re selling a product and they agree to trust you nonetheless because your stories demonstrate that you have something to offer beyond that product. You have a genuine interest in improving their lives. 

The lead nurturing stage of an email marketing campaign is all about establishing that mutual benefit and every marketing move thereafter must build upon that foundation.

Today’s customers are savvy to marketing; if you aim to fool them into buying a product they don’t want or need, you will ultimately fail. This is especially apparent in many corporate emails during June, otherwise known as Pride Month. This month is meant to showcase the history behind LGBTQ+ activists and the struggle many within the community still face today. 

Many corporations have taken advantage of this in order to earn more money during this month. To avoid this, it’s important to find genuine ways that you care for and support your audiences, including those within the LGBTQ+ community. Take this Peloton email, for example:

Peloton Pride Month support email
Source: Really Good Emails

Not only are they showing support to the community through their words, but they’re also showing their sincerity through charitable promises to several reputable LGBTQ+ non-profit organizations. In other words, actions mean more than words, so when in doubt, show these actions.

 

Avoid pitfalls

If you worry that your emails fall into an insincerity trap, create a litmus test for yourself.

Review your emails for genuine connection points to those values. If your customers value the high-quality, artisan nature of your goods but your emails primarily highlight your weekly sales because you need to move product, you aren’t speaking to the values that attracted them to you in the first place.

Your ultimate aim is to use your active voice and engaging emails to draw customers to you. If you unintentionally slap them in the face with values or products that are irrelevant to them, you’re simply demonstrating that you’ve lost touch with what’s important to them. When emotions are involved, you want to avoid this at all costs.

Having trouble connecting with your diverse audience authentically? Read our article about inclusive marketing principles and trends. There, we explore how to reflect the real world and real people in your campaigns and do it by improving their experience. Lots of real-world examples included.

3. Use clear and concise language

Next, you must dig into the actual mechanics of active language. This is where the grammar comes in, meaning differentiating from passive voice. 

Passive voice slows down and draws out sentences, which can cause confusion about whom or what performed the action. As a rule of thumb, if you catch yourself using the past-tense versions of “to be” verbs (have/had been, were/was) beside your main verb, check for passive voice.

The clear, direct messaging of an active voice allows your reader to quickly understand what you are communicating and internalize your message without getting caught up in an unnecessary bulk of words. It’s fundamentally good communication.

Here’s an example of an active voice in a real-world example:

“Cat Person” email with a picture of a cat
Source: Really Good Emails

By saying, “Choose from 19 different, nutritionist-approved recipes designed to make your cats happy and healthy,” the action lies with the reader instead of Cat Person or their recipes. 

If this were an email that had a passive voice, it would read, “Our 19 recipes are ready to be chosen after being approved by our nutritionists!” Obviously, not only does this fall into passive voice, but it also focuses more on the recipes and nutritionists, which gives less agency to the reader. 

Concise language makes reading your emails an organic process rather than one at which your customers have to work. You can think of it as ‘language minimalism’ with benefits similar to design minimalism. In your email campaigns, these two powerful forces should work hand-in-hand.

4. Design with purpose in mind

Even though your focus should stay on your active voice, design can play a part in the impression as well. The overall design of your emails should mirror the purpose-driven clarity of your text. Images and graphics should be used with intention, not just as attention-grabbers. If you’re drawn to a busy, bright, or graphic background for your email, ask yourself what it adds. Resist the urge to include a crazy background without a justification.

In this example from Shutterstock’s blog, you can see that the business, Shoreline Botanic Garden Foundation, does not shy away from graphic elements and color, but it works because they’ve chosen their design elements purposefully. The vibrant background mirrors the botanical flavor of the event they’re promoting and the call-to-action RSVP button coordinates with the overall theme.

Shoreline Botanic Garden Foundation garden party email
Source: Shutterstock

Text and design should work in tandem to propel your message. Mirror the essence of your words in the images you select. You can do this by choosing complimentary images to your text or inverting the process by selecting an image first and using it as a jumping-off point for your text.

Using the flower shop example from above, say you have a great photo of an employee arranging a bouquet. You can include that photo in your email campaign and share a short story about the specific flowers the employee chose and why. Where did the flowers come from? What made the employee choose those specific blossoms and put them together?

You can use the visual appeal of the photo to springboard into storytelling and add a call to action at the end to tie it all together. We all know that some people are more “word people” and some are “visual people” — by appealing to both audiences, you can be sure to communicate the feeling and purpose of your marketing to all your customers.

For example, if you were to make a Google search for “jogging”, you’re going to see photos of smiling people in sunlit parks. But real life is often cold, wet, hard and messy and you don’t smile when you work out. Tracksmith is not afraid to show that their products are created right for this mess and more people who find it enjoyably challenging:

Tracksmith showing off their capabilities
Source: Really Good Emails

5. Bring it to the people

Last, but not least of all, you can start sending those marketing emails and see how your customer base responds. Be sure to evaluate your customers’ reactions. If anything comes across as passive or insincere, adapt. 

Remember, your first job is to make a connection with your customers by appealing to their inner voice, that voice that reads your words in their thoughts. Simply invite them in. 

Here’s Wirecutter inviting you to provide feedback not only about them and their services but their newsletter in particular:

A feedback email by Wirecutter
Source: Really Good Emails

Wrapping up

Communication and connection are everything when it comes to email marketing. When crafting marketing emails, you need to know who you’re speaking to and how to speak to them. 

  • Know your audience. Know the interests and proficiency level of the person to whom you’re writing. Use storytelling, personal experiences and emotional appeal. 
  • Connect authentically. Don’t include hot social topics into your communication strategy just for the sake of it. To sound sincere, care about what your customers care about. 
  • Use clear and concise language. Use clear and direct messaging of an active voice to allow your reader to quickly understand what you are communicating.
  • Design with purpose in mind. Mirror the purpose-driven clarity of your text. Images and graphics should be used with intention, not just as attention-grabbers. 
  • Bring it to the people. Evaluate your customers’ reactions — ask their opinions and change, adapt, evolve.

How do you connect with your subscribers?

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