Thursday, May 10, 2007

Show a human side in your emails

+ How human are you in your email communications? Email Insider doesn't think most retailers come across as very human in their emails. He defines "human" as using a person with a name telling subscribers something.
By my estimation, about one in six major online retailers tracked via RetailEmail.Blogspot regularly has a person with a name telling subscribers something. That was my threshold for being human -- the person needed to have a name that was mentioned in the email. So models don't count, and copy that sounds very conversational doesn't count, either.

There's an even smaller group of retailers that almost always has a human voice in its emails. That group consists of the Sportsman's Guide, which always carries a folksy message from Gary Olen, the founder of The Sportsman's Guide; TigerDirect, whose emails are signed by Carl Fiorentino, the very enthusiastic president of; and Crutchfield, whose emails are signed by Bill Crutchfield and regularly feature pictures of staff members with products.

Do you need to show a human face in every email? I don't think so, but I do think that giving readers some face time every once in a while helps them bond with your brand. Need some ideas on how do to this? Here are a few.

1. Let your product experts make picks and give advice. Someone on your team has product expertise and insight that readers will find interesting and useful. For example, Tom Rosenbauer, the marketing director of Orvis Rod & Tackle, is a 10-time author and fly-fishing expert. In an April 13 email with the subject line "Rosenbauer's tips and top picks," Rosenbauer talks about his favorite rods, new gear that he likes and gives a little advice about saltwater fly fishing. Similarly, Neiman Marcus' fashion director, Ken Downing, issues his Runway Reports from various major fashion shows around the world, and HSN taps its hosts to inject some personality into its emails.

2. Call in outside experts and celebrities. For instance, Spiegel likes to have guest stylists recommend and comment on outfits constructed from Spiegel's assortment. In an April 28 email with the subject line "Stylist Advice: The Secrets to Creating Your Own Look + 20% Savings!" the retailer had celebrity stylist Wayne Scot Lukas made recommendations. (Wayne Scot Lukas also showed up in a March 29 HSN email.) American Eagle Outfitters has brought in celebrity talent for its recent GradSpeak series, which features inspirational graduation speech-like letters from people like The Rock, Bethany Hamilton and Matt Leinart.

3. Tap consumer-generated content. As the MySpace/YouTube generation grows in financial power, retailers will need to reach out to consumers more for content and brand participation. Zappos, which publishes its Daily Shoe Digest newsletter based entirely on material written by its passionate customers, is already doing this. American Eagle has been active here as well, setting up to connect with its young target audience using video clips, photos and a blog that cover its spring break parties and concerts in Cancun and Acapulco. The company is using its email newsletter to make sure that subscribers know about this special site.

Although many major online retailers are adopting this way of thinking, there are still quite a few that would rather hide behind their product assortments and continue to engage in faceless mass marketing. I think that will change by necessity.

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