Is Your Email Content Tone Deaf?

Will Slack Replace Email?There is a seemingly infinite combination of levers to pull when it comes to email optimization. From inbox placement and call-to-action buttons, to subject line tests and enhanced segmentation, there is no shortage of opportunities. In this post, I want to focus on one undervalued area that many marketers gloss over: tone and communication style.

How you communicate with your subscribers can have a major impact on their brand perception and affinity. If the experience is disjointed or your communication strategy doesn’t align with the expectations you’ve set, your emails may be met with skepticism or disapproval. If your tone and communication style fails to leverage the voice and appeal of the brand, your emails have to work much harder to achieve the same result. If messaging misses the mark and is off-putting for subscribers, they may be more likely to unsubscribe or even mark messages as spam.

These perceptions can have serious implications for the performance of your program and the ROI it commands. A tone that resonates is more likely to drive opens and clicks, and contribute to a longer subscriber relationship and increased lifetime value. In addition, subscribers are less likely to report messages as spam or disengage, two factors that can have a direct effect on deliverability.

It can be difficult to find quantitative evidence that your tone is the primary culprit. If two or more of the factors listed below are present, it would be worthwhile to conduct an assessment of your content and tone.

  • Unsubscribe rates: The average unsubscribe rate across verticals is 0.11 percent (according to Experian’s Quarterly Benchmark Report). If your unsubscribe rate is significantly higher than this or has increased following updates to your email program, this may be a sign of misalignment. You can review how unsubscribes can impact program performance using Return Path’s Unsubscribe Calculator.
  • Complaint rates: If your email program’s complaint rate is above 0.3 percent, this may be an indicator that your messaging tone may need some calibration. If you’re unsure of how to track complaints or are interested in learning more about this key metric, I recommend taking a look at The Marketer’s Guide to Subscriber Complaints.
  • Underwhelming engagement rates: It’s not a good sign if your brand is falling short of industry benchmarks for opens and clicks.
  • Social media venting: Are your brand’s social media marketing managers constantly putting out fires with dissatisfied customers? Could the tone and approach in the email channel be contributing to a misalignment of expectations?
  • Direct replies from subscribers: Are you aware of instances where subscribers have replied to an email for the express purpose of voicing concerns or expressing offense at the email’s content? While this does not happen often, it is a strong indicator that your messaging strategy and tone needs a tune-up. Not actively monitoring reply-to addresses? Now is the time to look into that.


As a Senior Email Strategist with Return Path, Casey specializes in driving increased engagement and boosting deliverability. Casey has a healthy fixation with helping marketers realize the potential of their email programs by addressing human needs, building better relationships, and ultimately driving improved results for the business. Her nine years of experience and obsession with evolving the email space helped land her a spot on ExpertSender’s list of “25 Email Geeks to Help You Get Your Geek On.”


Publish date: July 5, 2017 https://dev.adweek.com/performance-marketing/is-your-email-content-tone-deaf/ © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT
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