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!