How to Create Emails People Actually Want to Spend Time With

How to Create Emails People Actually Want to Spend Time With

“Are you social or anti-social?”

“Would you like your OS to have a male or female voice?”

“How would you describe your relationship with your mother?”

In the movie Her, Theodore Twombly — played by Joaquin Phoenix — sets up his futuristic and intuitive operating system by answering just three questions. He tries to expand on his answers, only to have the OS cut him off, having apparently learned all it needs to know.

At first, he’s skeptical. But “Samatha” proves his doubts wrong, with personality to boot.

As Theodore and Samantha’s relationship progresses, however, a conflict emerges:

  • Has she has been programmed just for him? Or for people like him? Or just for people in general?
  • Could Samantha, the OS, bond this deeply with anyone?
  • Is this relationship between a person and an OS any less real than one between two people?

Running an online business, you have thousands of customers, and millions of prospects. You are one Samantha to many people at a time, and with time, each person should feel like you are catering to them specifically.

One-on-one might seem impossible, but that’s what every customer wants.

By rethinking email, you can change how your store communicates and how you develop your relationships with your customers. From the introduction to the long-term slump … every part of a relationship — even one between a brand and a person — requires communication.

How We Met: The Welcome Sequence

New subscribers don’t know much about your brand yet, and they might not have decided if it’s worth their time at all. That’s make the first email from you a very sensitive time, where they can be intrigued or put off by their initial impression.

This can include people who have subscribed to your newsletter but not purchased anything and brand new buyers that could become repeat customers.

D&B Supply seems like an easy sign up, until you click and realize the site needs a full name and zip code in addition to an email. You don’t need that additional information to start emailing a subscriber, and asking for it may make them think twice about signing up at what may be a very early stage of getting to know you. Don’t come on too strong.

D&B Supply jokingly refers to themselves as “the cool kids” and encourages you to join their “totally awesome” newsletter. That’s where a sign up sequence can be simple but effective in establishing the tone of your site. It can be friendly but professional, tongue in cheek or very proper, depending on what best appeals to your customer base. But the consistency is important, and no matter what direction you lean, it’s moving away from the inhuman, impersonal brand communication you’re trying to avoid.

Zappos goes for a fun, self-mocking tone in trying to reel in subscribers for their weekly “shameless plug,” while Talbots rewards a subscriber by making them feel like they’re part of an inner circle.

The most obvious way to encourage a subscriber to stick around and shop is with a deal, right off the bat. In their first email to a new signup, Express offers them a promo code for 20% off their next purchase. That’s not a terrible start, but promo codes won’t keep subscribers around. Make sure to engage them with other benefits, like membership-only VIP flash sales.

Best Made’s welcome email has a message from its founder and CEO, Peter Buchanan-Smith, sharing how the company started and how the newsletter will improve your life. By immediately showing its roots, and how it’s come so far from them, Best Made is offering new subscribers a glimpse into its personality. It’s still short and sweet — and follows it up with some product teases.

Getting to Know Each Other: The Receipt Sequence

Think of all the emails you get in a day. How many do you actually read? Probably no more than a handful…

So what sets those ones apart?

It has to be important information to stop you in your tracks when you’re on the go. And few things are more important that the money you’ve spent.

Emails receipts have an open rate of 70.9%, as opposed to regular email marketing campaigns, which are only opened 17.19% of the time. If customers are more likely to open up receipts, it’s an opportunity to express something greater than just a receipt — like thanking them for shopping with you.

Some stores, such as Aldo, keep it simple: clean design, brief summary of the order, the requisite links to their website.

But if your store and your customers share a community and common values, you can also bring that up. For example, Society6 reminds the buyer that they’re supporting the individual artists through their marketplace, adding more of a worthy cause to the already-made purchase (and any future purchases).

Leverage the joy of anticipation. Previewing upcoming sales would also give your customer something to look forward to.

Emails can be a great time to offer the customer more and upsell them. It’s also an excellent opportunity to attach related items, or ask the customer to review their product.

Uber’s share code, personalized to each customer to pass onto their friends and family, is attached to every ride receipt that customers receive.

The rest of Society6’s receipt includes an offer, but a temporary one, to encourage the customer to shop again soon, or risk losing this opportunity. The receipt finishes with ads for more products, but also a referral link, social media accounts, and return information.

This is all pretty routine stuff, but they’ve executed on it with a visual flair that matches their website, and makes a buyer linger over their itemized receipt.

Amazon keeps receipts quick and easy, but still manages to take on some related items after shipping and tracking info, allowing customers to explore more of a good thing.

Don’t Let Them Get Away: The Abandoned Cart Sequence

So close, and yet so far.

No matter how you’ve optimized your checkout, chances are some visitors will still abandon carts.

If you collect their email address, you likely already use abandoned cart emails to reconnect with these high intent visitors. But that message can simply notify them…

Or, it can offer further incentive to revisit their cart, as Bonobos does with a time-sensitive 30% off sitewide code.

Abandoned carts are also an opportunity to make the visitor feel specifically addressed and let your brand’s voice shine through, like Rebel Circus does with their bold tone.

You’ll notice most abandoned cart emails are simple, because their main purpose is to remind.

When you consider how much money your ecommerce site loses from incomplete transactions, sending an easy email is a no brainer. If you haven’t already implemented it, to use everyone’s least favorite metaphor, it’s the perfect kind of “low-hanging fruit.” (Excuse me while I wash my mouth with soap.)

Aldo and Toms both nudge the visitor, but also remind them that the products won’t be in stock forever. They highlight the options to complete the abandoned order, making it easy for the customer to pick up where they left off.

Any relationship is hard to keep up without face time. But by reaching out to your customer at the right time (the sooner the better), you increase the chance that they’ll come running back, eager to complete the purchase. Even when it doesn’t result in a sale for you, you’ve reached out, shown them you’re paying attention, and made it as personal as you could.

And if all else fails, make it adorable, like BarkBox does.

Going Steady: Regular Newsletters (That Don’t Suck)

Communication is an important part of any relationship, and a way that people continue to grow and learn about each other. The right kind of newsletter can keep your customers up to date with the regular goings on, and keeps you fresh in their minds.

By keeping your newsletters regular, consistent, and simple and clean, your customers will look forward to hearing from you. Look at how David’s Tea does their email. They sprinkle a product preview, a discount sign up with an inclusive message, and free shipping and sample notices all in a very short, simple and attractive email.

And though it’s easy to focus on the newest and flashiest, particularly in technology and marketing, remember to let the person know more about you. Carry a conversation and get to know each other better (e.g., through feedback), instead of always yelling about what is the newest and flashiest bit.

By being aware of the differences in your customer base, you can send special updates to your initial batch of customers to thank you for supporting you from the beginning.

You can also check in on the ones that haven’t shopped with you in a while, like UberEATS does below, reminding them from the very subject line that you’ve noticed they’ve been gone and you’d love to have them back.

The subject line is then followed up a handy discount, with a time limit on it, in the hopes that it will make them curious again.

Aerie ties their email in with website updates. In the full version, you see that their model, also a dancer and actress, is not only featured, but also posted her favourite items on Aerie’s site. It’s not just a list of links or products, but a variety of visual and text the reader can interact with.

Newsletters ideally lead back to your ecommerce site in as many ways as possible. Best Buy features the content in their online flyer. They pull out key items, which you can see more of in a flyer, and use that content in many places at once.

Final Thoughts

While your business may not have the capabilities of a fictional artificial intelligence OS (Samantha can read a book in 0.02 seconds), you do have a very non-fiction opportunity to communicate with all your customers.

As you get to know them better through their transactions (and survey responses or usability tests), you’ll be able to better hone in on what they want from you, and how you can support them.

About the Author

Herbert Lui is the creative director of Wonder Shuttle. He was a staff writer for Lifehacker, and his writing has appeared in The Globe and Mail, the New York Observer, and Fast Company.