Email marketing best practices: Be conversational

EMail Marketing Best Practices

If you Google the phrase ’email marketing best practices,’ there are about 9.3M results. (Jesus Christ, no one will ever find this article.) I also got about four ads via Google for email marketing best practices, from American Express to Adobe. Alrighty then!

Here’s the problem with this email marketing best practices concept, though: almost all of these 9.3M results and ad buys off that keyword are completely and total horse-crap hogwash. Most people do email marketing very poorly, if they do it all. As of late 2014, email marketing was the most effective channel for marketers. A couple of days ago, an industry survey of marketers seemed to indicate the same thing.

This is logical on face: email gets you right in front of a person, whereas social media means you need to “game” or “beat” an algorithm to be seen. (Or, you know, buy an ad.) Email marketing also tends to be more cost-effective than more ‘traditional’ marketing approaches. At the last place I worked, the CMO constantly yelped and bellowed about ‘margins’ on email marketing. Again, it makes financial sense — but we had 10 people in the email marketing department/team, and in her eyes they were essentially margin-centric dollar signs. That’s less than stellar from a humanity standpoint.

There’s one thing I’ve never understood about email marketing best practices, though.

Back to the BS on email marketing best practices

Again, most of these articles are going to tell you stuff like “Have captivating images!” Or “Personalize your messaging!” Or my all-time fave: “Have a good subject line!” (That’s the literal definition of a “no-shit” comment.)

Much of this comes from the culture that has sprung up around digital marketing. Because digital scaled really fast — Facebook hit 500M users in six years — there was a lot of confusion around how exactly to maximize it for the bottom line. Some companies got it, some companies ignored it, and many hired “content marketing experts” or “marketing consultants.”

I’ve worked with these people, and I’m friends with many of these people. I can tell you without a doubt that a large percentage of them are totally full of shit. They are basically peddling answers/solutions to people who don’t know any better and want to “out-source” their digital work. Remember: per research, most CMOs have no clue about digital marketing. CMOs set marketing team agendas. That’s why the consultants get paid. The CMO wants to get that off his/her plate while he/she focuses on the real revenue grabs. The goal, of course, is to impress the CEO and get the CMO bumped up somewhere. That, in turn, explains the average CMO tenure being pretty short.

Most of modern-era marketing is people copying each other anyway, and that’s why you get the same trite advice rolled out on email marketing best practices all over the web.

Email marketing best practices: Build a relationship 

Probably because of concerns around ‘professionalism,’ most email marketing I get has one of two distinct voices:

  • Extremely boring and dry
  • Looser and more casual, but clearly trying to sell you something

The first type of example sucks. It usually comes from a company that has no idea about email marketing best practices and probably hasn’t emailed you in four months. So they’re all like “Hey Bobby, we’ve been so busy but we haven’t forgotten about you Bobby!” It’s miserable to read and I could care less. I delete these within 10 seconds or less.


The second type is better, but as you get further down the email, you’re like “Ugh, here we go…” One of the worst at this is my man David Burkus. Also my man Jeff Goins. The tone is there, but at the end it’s just a sale. Nothing more, nothing less. You can make a strong argument that email marketing really is just a sale, and that’s fine.

I think about it differently. I think you’re building a relationship with someone and eventually you can sell ’em something. Insert “one-night stand vs. long-term relationship” analogy here.

How about email marketing best practices around being conversational?

Every email marketing deal I’ve ever done/written tries to be conversational. I feel like that’s how people speak and that’s what they respond to better. I know that companies love to screech about “professional tone” and “being on-brand,” but let’s be honest here. Despite whatever ROI numbers you have on email marketing, the fact is that people get inundated all day with emails from brands and companies. You need a way to stand out. Since almost everyone sounds dry/boring and/or salesy, why couldn’t conversational be an approach?

This goes back to my points above. We way over-complicate marketing in 2016. We make it all about “campaigns” and “power branding” when it’s much simpler than that. Marketing is about telling stories that relate back to people’s emotions. That’s it. Do that at relative ‘scale’ and you’ll win customers and sell things.

We breathlessly analyze our “positioning” and “brand value” because that makes us feel more adult and like good little worker bees. In short, it increases our relevance and probably makes us feel a little high. 

So we pursue that. And when we talk about building relationships in marketing, we assign some ridiculous buzzword (“relationship marketing”) to it, and couch it in more buzzwords.

Email marketing best practices? Simple. Be yourself. Tell your story. Be funny. Convey value. Have a conversation.

Conversational email marketing best practices: Examples

Here’s one.

Here’s a second.

Here’s a third.

And here’s a fourth.

They all have relative degrees of bullshit — “Write interesting content!” (thanks) — but all are good resources.

Any other thoughts on this topic of email marketing best practices and how marketing gets confused about what that means?

Ted Bauer

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