Using Personality To Help Drive Engagement

My previous column, where I shared personal experiences about assumptions others have made about my wife and me without knowing us, turned out to be the second most popular column I've written for Email Insider, as measured by the number of readers' comments.


I intended the column to caution against assuming too much about your subscribers and customers. However, reader reaction confirmed my view that showing a human, personal side in email, blogs and other communications content will lead to greater engagement with your customers and subscribers.

I also believe subscribers are coming to expect corporate or commercial email to reflect this shift in tone, because they see it happening in other channels like Twitter and Facebook. It is rapidly becoming the norm:  not just a touchy-feely, nice thing to do, but a key driver of subscriber engagement and inbox recognition.



 Even if you still think Twitter is little more than a major time suck, you can't deny that high-profile corporate tweeters like Scott Monty of Ford and Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, have raised the communications bar.

These people bring their personal sides into corporate communications, using their personalities -- their personal brands -- to engage with others.  

How Personality Drives Sharing

My Email Insider column also had a greater-than-normal social component this time, too. Not only did more people use the official comment space to react to the ideas I wrote about, but they also expanded the discussion to relate their own experiences.

Others Tweeted about the column or used it to launch their own questions or comments during sessions and roundtables I led at this week's DMA conference in San Diego, for example.

Would I have gotten this same level of response had I just listed 10 general assumptions not to make about your constituencies? Probably not.

When you incorporate a human or personal side, people can internalize it to their own situations and be driven to share it with their tribes, whether loose groups of friends or co-workers or formal networks on Twitter, Facebook or the like. These people become your buzz agents, the ones to light the viral fire and keep it going.

Whose Personality Do You Choose?

This can be the hardest part of shifting your corporate communications from personality-free to personality-driven. Not every company has, or needs, a charismatic, articulate CEO at the email newsletter helm.

You need to know what your human assets are, and what your corporate personality is perceived to be.

Isabella Oliver Maternity/Isabella Oliver 365, a UK clothing retailer, often uses a very subtle, but personal voice in its emails, incorporating comments based on the personal experiences of its two co-founders.

Emails remind subscribers that, as mothers, they know how hard it is to find attractive and wearable maternity clothing. This is not a strong personality statement but a subtle acknowledgement of shared personal experience that meshes with the product line: stylish maternity wear.

Using this personal experience to underpin the email content helps distinguish it from yet another faceless commercial email offering a 20% discount and free shipping.

The message becomes "Buy our products, because we are you," not just "Buy this dress."

Finding the Right Face and Voice

Your goal is to convey the idea that your company is run by people, not by machines. How you do that depends on your own corporate image and personality. What works for another company might be a disaster for yours.

Don't assume your founders or CEO must be the face in your email messages, either. It could be a product manager, customer support person (think of Frank Eliason at Comcast and his Twitter role with @ComcastCares), ecommerce manager or whoever best fits the role.

Sometimes, an iconic image is more appropriate, too. Think Betty Crocker, Mr. Goodwrench, or the AFLAC duck. Now, you can give it a voice that befits your corporate image, and you don't have to worry about replacing it, because it won't leave your company for a better offer.

Even if you don't think your corporate culture lends itself to personality-driven emails, you can find ways to make your message less stuffy and formal. 

A buttoned-down corporate newsletter for an investment bank or accounting firm can employ a simple, direct writing style, using conversational language instead of academic speech. It doesn't have to read like a quarterly report to convey that a human, not an automatic phrase generator, produced the message.

Personality Email Examples

Which companies or publishers have email programs that best capture the corporate essence or relate to subscribers in a human, personal way?

Three of my favorite examples (all of which happen to be online retailers) of incorporating personality are Woot, Urban Outfitters and Moosejaw. What are yours? List them in the comments section below, along with any questions, comments or counter viewpoints you have on the whole subject of bringing a humanizing touch to email.

Until next time, take it up a notch!

8 comments about "Using Personality To Help Drive Engagement".
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  1. Jason Baer from Convince & Convert, October 22, 2009 at 12:54 p.m.

    Social media is about people, not about logos.

    This case study illustrates that principle perfectly.

    As someone just tweeted here at MarketingProfs Digital Mixer in Chicago: "companies are made of people. prove it."

    Nice job, Loren.

  2. Leyla Arsan from Lotus Marketing, October 22, 2009 at 1:25 p.m.

    I have a personal twitter account and I run a corporate account for a client. My personal account has FAR many more followers who are engaged in my conversation vs. my corporate account. I keep trying to personalize the corporate handle but I have not been able to find a "voice" for that handle yet!

  3. Liz Lynch from Demandware, October 22, 2009 at 1:34 p.m.

    I think Boden, a UK clothing retailer, does a nice job with this. Their e-mails are from the founder, Johnnie Boden, and in their catalogs, each photo includes info on the item and the model wearing it, like "favorite fall indulgence."

    Each clothing item also has a backstory, so the consumer can picture themselves wearing it in a particular situation and how it would make them feel.

    They are selling a lifestyle, not just clothing.

  4. Suson Bonet from Freelance Consulting, October 22, 2009 at 2:01 p.m.

    Thanks for making these points Loren!

    I've always felt that personality (and design) sell better than just features and benefits. Yes, include F.A.B., by all means, but with personality in an attractive way.

    Of course "dressing up" Twitter can be difficult, if not impossible, but by varying your icon image, you can bring in personality & design elements while you create curiosity.

    There's been a change-in-the-wind lately...and I, for one, find the new focus in email content, company blogs, magazine ads, billboards and t.v. ads enjoyable and compelling. It looks like advertisers have decided that telling people just "how bad things are" hasn't worked for them, so now they are bringing in humor, personality and a "proactive view of life".

    Here's a few of my favorite "personality companies" (not all are retailers):

    Just watch...I bet you'll soon see a company (or several) that will specialize in presenting seminars to corporate decision makers called "Infusing Personality & Humor into your Corporate Marketing Communications"!

    All I can say to companies is, "make me laugh, make me like you, make me think design matters, show me how special your products are...or go home!"


    Suson Bonet
    Integrated Marketing Strategist

  5. Loren McDonald from IBM Marketing Cloud, October 22, 2009 at 6:40 p.m.

    Susan and Liz, thanks for your comments and the examples of brands using personality in an effective manner. I will definitely sign up for their emails.

    Leyla, yes I think a lot of companies see certain employees with more Twitter followers than the company account.

    Thanks Jason - yes, that was a great comment.


  6. Lisa Fahoury from Fahoury Ink, October 23, 2009 at 8:21 a.m.

    Loren, thanks for the reminder that the same principals that connect us in person apply when communicating in any medium. At a networking event, who do you remember after the dreaded "30-second elevator pitch" round? The people who dared to show a little personality. Shouldn't every marketing communication try to do the same?

  7. L D from Discovery, October 23, 2009 at 2:17 p.m.

    This is all well and good, but do you have any BtoB examples of where injecting personality has been successful? I've never even been able to find a BtoB brand who has done social media right! thanks!

  8. Jennifer Luna from The List, October 26, 2009 at 2:38 p.m.


    I have to comment on your line:

    "make me laugh, make me like you, make me think design matters, show me how special your products are...or go home!"

    ...because I think you are right on the money with this! I recently moved from a research role in my company into a sales role where cold calling is a huge part of my day-to-day activities. NOTHING has proven more effective in my efforts than making my prospects laugh and discussing how(insert company discipline here) "design" matters.

    For example: I had to call a prospect who's last name was Ladyga. I felt it appropriate to point out to Ms. Ladyga that her last name was the coolest name ever because it is just one "ga" shy of Lady GaGa. She loved my observation and approach and things moved forward wonderfully from there.

    Great advice to anyone involved in sales and building client relationships.


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