How to write an effective email – part I

Email is still 40 times as effective as Facebook or Twitter in acquiring new customers, be it via the classical email form, or using InMail in LinkedIn, for example. But even if we’re talking about a job application, trying to solve an issue, pitch an idea, or any other reason, email can be effective as long as it’s written for the right person. The basic rules? Have in mind the recipient’s worldview, a clear goal, and the basic principles of good email writing. In this article, we’ll talk about how to write email messages that get results, no matter what results you’re looking for.

Today pretty much everyone is overwhelmed with too much email, most of it being irrelevant and not related to your needs and wants. On top of everything, some tend to be poorly written and full of the most basic grammar errors.

That is why we need to be mindful of showing respect when sending any email out: be clear about the reason and be sure the recipient will find it valuable. The email needs to be concise, so it respects people’s time, and well written. Poor email not only shows disrespect but will shed a negative light upon yourself and the organization you’re representing, helping you build the wrong kind of reputation.

Starting strong: writing subject lines that pull people in

The reasons people open emails based on the subject lines fall into one of the categories below. Make sure you write a subject line that does one of the things below, so you increase your chances for it to be opened:

  • Must read because of essential information “Location details for the 4 pm meeting” 
  • Want-to-read because of the writer – it’s all about the credibility, the role, or familiarity of the sender
  • Want-to-read because you need the information or it may be valuable “Free tools to measure your email open rate”
  • Want-to-read because it looks like a good deal “Lowest iPad price in history”
  • Want-to-read because it sounds exciting or fun “10 funny comics about quarantining with your family”
  • Want-to-read because it makes me curious “NASA TV to air landing of astronauts”
  • Want-to-read because I’m in the market for that new thing “All [insert thing]: 20% off and free shipping”

When thinking about the best subject line you could write, follow these three rules:

  1. Figure out why the recipient should care, or what’s in it for him/her
  2. Work on the shortest and most concise way of saying it
  3. Put the leading and most important words as far left as possible (begin with those words in the subject line). As people read email on their phones, the subject line will be trimmed, so the recipient needs to stand at least a chance to get your message instantly regardless of the device used.

You can also revisit the subject line once you’re done writing the body of the email to make sure it’s still the most relevant one. Same if you’re replying to a long thread of emails, in case a new subject line would make more sense to how the conversation swift focus over time.

Using the appropriate salutation

If you know the person, it’s best to start the message with the person’s name, adding a Mr./Miss./Mrs. if using just the surname doesn’t feel comfortable. Adding a greeting always helps, just try to be consistent in your approach “Hi…”, “Hello…”, “Dear…” or even “Greetings…” will do, avoid anything that will make you sound too pretentious.

For group email, when you address the group, you can try something like “Dear users,” “Hi team,” or “Dear followers,” while using something like “folks” might be too much on the fine line between familiar and grating. When sending to a list, avoid addressing with “Dear customer” as people expect you to know their names today, in the world of permission marketing.

Kick-off with a strong email lead

The first sentences of your email are the ones that will convince the reader to delete the message or keep reading. That’s why the opening lines need to briefly explain what the email is about, give the reader a reason to care, and present the core of what you want.

The faster you can get to the point, the better. But never sacrifice on courtesy, politeness, or giving context if that is needed.

Writing a good opening line gets more manageable if you’re clear on the goal you want to achieve and your audience you aim to target.

Are you clear about what you want?

Every email and any written communication you engage in is a building block for your future, reputation, and establishing relationships. Email seems to be a convenient way to reach out and get things done. From arranging a meeting, receive or deliver information, ask or answer questions, request help, and so on, you need to be clear on what is that you want to achieve. What is your goal?

Just to take an example, when you receive a customer complaint, if your goal is just to make it go away, your email can be something on the lines:

“We are sorry for your dissatisfaction. Being the only complaint we ever received about this, we’d recommend you take another look at the instructions manual.”

On the other hand, if your job is to follow the procedure and make sure you’re safe, your reply could be:

“We are sorry to hear it doesn’t work. Please ship it back to us, and we’ll have it fixed within the next month.”

There are though some businesses and some people that have a different kind of goal in such instances, like keeping the customers happy, and their reply may sound a bit different:

“We are sorry to hear the product didn’t work as you’d hoped. We’re shipping a new one right away, and I’m sure you’ll be happy with it. But if not, please reach back to me, here is my number…”

Quite a difference, no? Same thing you can achieve through your communication via email, should you have your goal very clear.

Do you know what matters to your audience?

Now, this is a tricky one, and it does require a bit of work into making sure you know your audience, and what matters to them, so you can craft your message to be useful.

Just imagine, when you talk to someone face to face, you can adjust your message, tone of voice, and body language based on the live feedback you receive. The same thing is not possible via email, as you don’t get any visual or live feedback. Knowing what matters to your audience will make the difference in having your message read, replied to, or actioned upon.

Take a few moments to think about your audience, and you’ll find significant clues about what matters to them, how to address them, and further on, how to work successfully with them. Think demographics, psychographics, positioning, and personality traits.

To understand how this works is best to think of an example. Let’s say you want to invite your boss, Emma, to a meeting where you want to pitch a new project. First, be clear on your goals, they can be to:

  • Obtain Emma’s buy-in
  • Get feedback on possible roadblocks, timeline, other dependencies, project weaknesses
  • Get the project budget and resources approved
  • And of course, demonstrate your value to the company (should always be a goal)

Emma is extremely busy, and she’s also new in the role; therefore, she needs to prove her ability to live up to the expectations. Her profile could look like this:

  • Demographics: first woman to hold that job; she’s pretty young for the role, so the pressure she must feel is very high. Puts in over 60-hours of work weekly
  • Psychographics: an early technology adopter
  • Positioning: she will not approve new projects if she thinks they are too risky for her position right now. But will eagerly onboard something that will add value to the business and make her look good towards her boss, colleagues and other superiors in the business
  • Personality/communication style: she likes evidence, statistics, proven ways of working while she’s ok with a certain level of risk. Due to time constraints, she prefers a brief ask, clear proof of why and what, and likes to take a quick decision once she feels she has enough information. Her goal is to prove herself and boost the numbers of her department.

Based on her profiling, it’s quite clear what you need to do to get her buy-in. We’ll continue the example throughout part II of the article, make sure you continue the reading.