Injecting Personality Into Form Language

Is there a better way to get people to sign up for your emails than using a form that looks like it was created by the Census Bureau? And is there a better way to assure readers of your good intentions than placing inches of tiny grey type in the legal section of the email?

Yes -- definitely. Some perfectly serious brands are using people-friendly language and fun forms that make it a pleasure to engage with them. Here are just a few samples.

Sign on the dotted line

Most sign-up forms are practical, yes, but fun and enticing? No! A sign-up page should have the same branding experience as the rest of your communications, which may mean that you can have fun with the form itself. Jeremy Keith, a Web developer in England, came up with a registration page for his site, Huffduffer, that works like a Mad-Libs game:


"I would like to use Huffduffer. I want my username to be ________ and I want my password to be ___________. My email address is ________. By the way, my name is __________."




You can see a sample here. Other companies have been using Jeremy's narrative form idea, and tests have shown that conversion increased across the board by 25% to 40%. There's no reason a similar form couldn't be used for email registrations.

Another favorite of mine is the email sign-up page for, an organizing Web site. The sign-up form is a postcard graphic with handwriting fonts, which comes across as friendly and personal. The message area explains what you get when you sign up (very important) and the address side offers spaces for your contact information and publication selections. View the page here.

Please read the fine print

Ah, the footer on your emails -- all that FTC-mandated stuff in the light grey Lilliputian font that defies the sharpest eyes to read it. Perhaps we think if we obscure the stuff in the footer, no one will worry about the way we handle the privacy of their information, no one will contact customer service with a problem, and no one will bother us with changes to their subscription.

And yet, could there be a better way to utilize that real estate on the email page? Texas Children's Hospital turned a negative into a positive by labeling its email footer with the helpful-sounding words, "Email Admin Center." The text in the footer is the usual CAN-SPAM compliance, email preference and privacy links, yet giving it a name makes the reader think of it as a toolbox -- suddenly, it's a customer-oriented feature. has done away with the footer entirely, incorporating informative modules right into its e-newsletter for About Us, Contact Us, and Unsubscribe. What does that say about how important Toddle thinks that information is? 

In terms of privacy policies, companies need to step up and make this information readily accessible to their public. A link to a Web page with 4,000 words of legal mumbo-jumbo may not be considered sufficient notice to the consumer to protect you in court. Best practices today include using plain English to give consumers the big picture, and breaking up the full privacy policy into sections to make it easy to grasp.

I would like to give a prize to Ben Chestnut, co-founder and CEO of MailChimp. He recently sent users a masterful email detailing the company's updated privacy policy and terms of use. It was so much fun to read, I couldn't believe it was a mere system alert. I will quote just a bit, to give you the flavor: "First and foremost, we haven't changed the fact that we never rent, sell, or give away your list to anybody. That would be evil. Instead, we're trying to reduce evil (the email kind), but we really want to make that more transparent. ..."

Fun is engaging. So is writing that sounds like one human being speaking to another. Either approach can take the sting out of a boring or unpleasant necessity. Try lightening up your communications and see if it works for you.

1 comment about "Injecting Personality Into Form Language".
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  1. Frances Dugan from Permanent General Companies, Inc., June 21, 2010 at 5:32 p.m.

    Nice post, Cynthia. Campaign Monitor does a great job of using people-friendly language as well. Just one example - the CAN-SPAM postal address in the footer of their newsletter is different in each edition.

    "The Campaign Monitor chopper has landed at 404/3-5 Stapleton Ave, Sydney, Australia."

    Or, "Campaign Monitor is locked and loaded at 404/3-5 Stapleton Ave, Sydney, Australia."

    Injecting personality into your emails or forms is always a good idea. Just be sure that you are consistent - no one wants to sign up via a fun form only to receive boring, corporate-speak emails.

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