If we want to get the most out of email, we need to make it personal. If every message we send sounds like it was spat out of a template, it’s going to be hard to hold anyone’s attention. The problem is, so many broadcast emails read this way. And it’s killing engagement.
There are two reasons for this:
There’s a silver lining to this sorry state of affairs: those who break this trend tend to be the ones who stand out from the crowd. The bar is low. But we can raise it.
Here are 12 things our team identified that we needed to do consistently in order to connect with supporters and stop sounding like robots.
First things first. If you’re sending your broadcasts from your ‘organization’, rather than an actual person, making a personal connection with your supporter is going to be tough. Organizations become more ‘real’ when supporters can see that they’re made up of real people. See why more and more organizations are introducing individual senders. Remember to help your supporter join the dots by including your organization’s name in addition to your sender’s name in the ‘from name’ field.
If you want your reader to feel connected, you need to sound like a person. Your supporter is a real person, too. Picture them across the table from you. Lean in. Be warm. Candid. Don’t be afraid to use wit or humor. Above all, be genuine—and be honest with yourself. If it feels forced to you, it will sound forced to your supporters.
If you can afford to, send broadcasts from an address you can receive replies to. You’ll gain valuable feedback about what does and doesn’t resonate with your audience.
Some tough love here. We need to stop talking about ourselves. Even when seeking donations. Human psychology tells us that if we want someone to be interested in us, we should show an interest in them. This works for broadcast communication, too. Connect to your supporter by making them the hero of your story. They’ll pay closer attention and you’ll win favor simply for being the link between them and what they care about.
Show that you respect your supporter enough to know they’re an individual. Opening with “Dear valued supporter,” is the fastest way to make your supporter feel de-valued! Consider repeating a first name near the end of your message to remind your reader you’re still focussed on them.
“Thank you, %firstName%, for refusing to turn your back on the animals.”
How you address your supporter matters a lot—and not just in that first line. Make you and your supporter part of the conversation by using: “you”, “me”, and ”I”. These are the pronouns that help build connection.
Consider the difference between:
We’re so grateful to our supporters.
I’m so grateful to you.
Make yourself harder to ignore by being real. Add a friendly photo of you in your signature block. Find opportunities to tell stories through your personal lens, with personal anecdotes and reactions.
“I’ll never forget the first time I saw...”
“The thought of this happening to other animals keeps me up at night...”
“I shut my eyes and I see hers...”
If you’re asking your reader to take a new or challenging action, consider breaking down the ‘us/them’ dynamic by sharing your experience of engaging in the same action.
Take advantage of the fact that emails can be written from anywhere with an internet connection (so, everywhere). Don’t let your reader imagine you sitting at an office desk every time they hear from you. Look for opportunities like this where presence and location can invite your reader into your world.
“I just received the first pictures from our investigators on the ground in Indonesia...”
“I’m writing to you from the steps of the Federal Court, where...”
“We’re live at the national live export rally and I wanted to share an incredible thing that just happened...”
Use segmentation to reflect something you know about your reader. For example, if you’re writing to monthly donors, mention the impact of their regular gift. If you’re segmenting to people who’ve taken a specific action, reflect on that specific action. And if they haven’t taken a priority action yet, you can even drop hints that you know that, too.
It might seem counterintuitive—you’re not expecting a response, after all. However, dropping in the odd rhetorical question here and there is a great way to involve your reader in your narrative while building connection and cementing shared values.
“How would you feel if...”
“Can you believe it?”
“Will you stand with us today?”
“Can you help us reach our goal?”
Avoid the rookie mistake of using ‘broadcasting’ language such as “I’m writing to you all today because...”, “As some of you may know...”. You’re not at a podium! You’re in someone’s lounge room. ‘Broadcasting’ language breaks trust with readers who want to feel personally connected and hurts your engagement through diffusion of responsibility.
Your voice is an attention-seeking superpower. When we get a sense for someone’s personality, we naturally feel closer to them, and tune in to their voice. What is your voice? Is it insightful and thought-provoking? Cutting and direct? Familiar and knowing? Would you ever poke fun at your opposition? Or do you always see the best in others? Do you reference pop culture? Do you use slang or abbreviations? No? You get the idea.
Different tones can benefit different audiences and situations. Perhaps there’s a range of identities within your organization that can bring different voices to your broadcasts at the right time.
Organizational voice sets boundaries for what your organization will and won’t say. That’s important. But it shouldn’t mean that all your senders need to sound exactly the same. Find balance. Flexible organizational voices afford scope for some human personality, too.
There’s a simple test you can use to know if you’re taking advantage of email personalization. Try this: ignore your salutation and signature block for just a moment. If your email text could just as comfortably sit on a web page, you can afford to personalize your message more.
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