5 Tips for Creating Human-Friendly Email

Download Now: Free Marketing Plan Template
Joel Traugott
Joel Traugott



The world your average prospect finds themselves in is awash in marketing messages. Banner ads, mail, work email, text messages, TV ads, billboards, and marketing email have become a dull roar in most people’s lives that they learn to tune out.

It’s been suggested that of the 3,000 or so brand exposures the average person sees per day, they only truly remember around four of them.

What this means for us as email and content marketers is that there is a very high bar to stand out and be someone who is able to delight their audience and create the patterns and habits of engagement. Whether revenue driven or social, it’s never been harder to get people to act.

If the above is true, what can we do?

I would posit that there is a very low hanging fruit available to us right now as Inbound Marketers and that is revisiting our user experience. If we can understand and harness the way people think, act and consume content to create low friction high reward experiences, we’ll be one big step closer to being one of the 4 brands that they remember their contact with in a positive way and buy from when the decision moment comes.

Tip #1: Be Social

Marketers need to be social. Help people remember that there are people on the other side of the message, and those people have values, supporters and humility. If your audience sees you as more than a From address, you’ve taken a big step toward winning them.

Social Proof

Social proof is a technique where we include testimonials, reviews and other 3rd party views on our business in our marketing communication. Just as many of us check Yelp reviews before going somewhere to eat, more and more people are also looking for reviews of businesses they engage with before making a decision.

By seeing review excerpts, customer blurbs or your yelp rating in the content, you provide a sense of support and safety for your readers. This can help remove the nerves of uncertainty for your leads. More certainty equals more conversions.

social proof grammarly.png

Stand For Something

Every business has something they stand for. TOMS shoe company stands for children in poverty with their 1:1 program, for every pair of shoes TOMS sell, they donate one pair to a child who needs shoes. Spagnuolo Plumbing, a local plumber in Boston, he stands for reliable work and open ended support. Whether you’ve thought about it or not, your business also has something it stands for.

Part of our marketing persona should absolutely be what we stand for. The reasons are twofold. First, if we clearly understand the why of what we do we can much better tell the story of our business. Second, if our audience sees and believes in what we stand for, they will get to decide if they stand for the same things. If the answer to that is yes, you’ve got a massive opportunity to create a great customer and promoter.

Play Devil's Advocate

No one likes the guy who only sees one side of the story. Your marketing will receive that same scrutiny. To nip that in the bud, you should play Devil’s Advocate to yourself every so often in your email content. Raise an objection, poke a little fun at yourself, these moments humanize your brand and make it easier for your leads to connect with you on an emotional level. Remember, emotion trumps reason in the age of limited attention. (Source)

Tip #2: Design For Ease Of Use

Email needs to be designed for ease of use. With the mobile heavy, quick interactions experience most folks now have in their inbox, we need to do everything we can to make parsing our content seamless and natural. We may also want to throw in a few eye grabbing tricks to get them focused on what matters.

Use Navigational Cues

Think about driving down the road. Lines keep you focused, signs let you know where to look, your GPS tells you where to turn. People look for structure in guidance in the world around them. You can do the same thing in your email with simple navigational cues.

Faces draw a lot of attention in content. You can use this by making sure if you use faces, they are placed tilted or gazing toward your CTA. Arrows and lines can act as channels for your readers gaze, use that to navigate them through the key 2-3 things they should engage with in your email. Even something as simple as having your paragraph narrower at the bottom than the top can help create a flow that guides your reader’s eyes to the CTA.

Baby Gaze via VWO

Use the F-Pattern To Match Reader's Eye Path

Eye tracking studies confirm again and again that the most common visual scan path people take when reading email is shaped like an F. They scan left to right and back along the top of your email, then scan further and do another smaller left to right and back before dropping to the bottom left corner. Building your message along this view path can help ensure your readers are able to easily scan your content and find the CTA.

F pattern.jpg

An email built using that shape could look something like below. Note it uses multiple F patterns within.

Good email mix panel.png

Avoid Visual Dead Weight

When adding design and visual elements keep in mind that when used wrong they can become visual dead weight. Think about this like an attention black hole. If an element of your email is drawing a ton of attention, it is sucking attention away from other areas in the email. When an element is eating up attention but not contributing to your path to conversion, it’s dead weight that adds friction and confusion to your reader’s experience and make them less likely to engage with the content. Things like bright badges, powerful images and dense text chunks can all act as attention sinks. Make sure that when these elements are present, they are using their powers for conversion.

Tip #3: Language Matters

The language we use in emails has a major impact on performance and perception. There’s a HUGE difference between a $5.00 donation and a small $5.00 donation in the minds of many. Understanding these nuances in language and using them in our messaging will help us move our relationships with our leads forward with much less friction.

Embrace Labels

Election themed story! In a study performed by the University of California around election season, they sent people door to door with a survey asking simply “How likely are you to vote?”. They polled two random groups. With one group they told them they were being polled because they were “politically active”. The second group was asked the exact same question but were not told they were “politically active”. The study found that the group who were labeled as politically active had much higher self reported likelihood to vote. But that’s not all, in a follow up study, they found that the people who had been told they were “politically active” actually had 15% higher election day turnout!

The implications of this is that by giving your audience an aspirational label, they may subconsciously alter decision making to live up to that new persona you suggested for them. Think about rewards programs, are you a Starbucks “Diamond” card holder? Well by giving that label and the aspiration of being a “best” customer, Starbucks is actually encouraging people to buy more, spend more and evangelize the brand!

When someone is told they are something, and that something is positive and they accept it, they just might change behaviors to live up to that label.


The way we say something is just as important as what we say. Take for example the phrase “A $5.00 fee” vs. “A small $5.00 fee”. Has the word small ever seemed larger? By simply framing the fee as small when we announce it we give our readers a frame of reference and an opportunity to skip the confusing and uncertain step of assessing if $5.00 is affordable, expensive or unimportant. One more uncomfortable moment removed from the experience. The fee will be there either way, but with a small change in phrasing we make it smaller in the minds of those who need to pay it. (Source)

a small fee.png

Visual Results

Studies have found that the visualization and anticipation of a quick outcome or reward stimulate the mid-brain (that’s the one we want) and can help spur action whether that action is buying something, filling in a form or clicking a CTA. Words like immediate, instant, log in, begin all trigger this response and can be used in marketing materials. If you’re a brick and mortar you probably can’t say instant, but “next day”, “while you wait” or “on call” can all trigger the same reward centers in the brain.

instant shave club-994900-edited.png

Tip #4: Use Psychology To Connect

We can use some of the basic principles of psychology to better understand how to build habits in our audiences and create a little tribe around our brand.

Cue, Routine, Reward

The loop of cue, routine and reward are the widely accepted pattern for learning new habits. Because over half of the decisions or actions people make in a day are purely habit driven, it behooves us a marketers and relationship builders to find a way to create our business relationship with our audience habitual.

Death To Stock Photos, a stock photo site does an inspiring job of this. Every month they send out a free pack of photos. Simple right? Yes and no. This seemingly simple campaign directly reinforces the cue, routine and reward cycle that are key to building habits.

Cue: Send an email. “This month’s free stock photos”.

good email make conversion a habit.jpg

Routine: User opens email, reads and clicks CTA.

Reward: Free stock photos.

Every single month this company is reinforcing the habit cycle. Think about what you could do in your own business to do the same thing.

Establish In Groups

Ask someone if they use Android or iPhone and you’ll probably get a pretty firm answer. You might even hear some arguments for why the “other” phone isn’t for them. This us vs. them mentality is something we as marketers should try to harness.

Think about what your business stands for, now, what does your business NOT stand for? The negative ideal for your business and how you communicate it is an important part of it’s identity. Just as Mac users stand against “boring” and an Android user stands against “closed system” they also stand with your brand via its ideals.

So go ahead, think about what you stand for and against as a business, and decide how you can form a team around those ideals. You’ll be surprised how engaged your customers and leads become.

Tip #5: Structure Campaigns To Inspire Action

We must structure our email and communication to inspire action. There are some simple messaging hacks that can quickly increase the pressure to act and the relief of reward in our audiences.

Information Hierarchy Tells Stories

We tell stories to inspire emotion. As marketers we know emotion trumps reason. With that in mind let’s make sure the stories we tell make sense because if they don’t, we will have a tough time hitting those emotional chords that inspire conversion.

By taking a conscientious approach to how we structure our email we can ensure our story is easy to read and quick to understand for our audience. We can do this via headers, bolding, italics, white space and image / design. Combine these elements to make it clear and simple to see the story in your email and act on it.


Sequence Your Messages

The Zegarnik effect states that people remember incomplete or interrupted tasks better than completed tasks. For example, waiters tend to recall unpaid orders much better than paid ones.

This tendency can be worked with in email. Take for example a series of email. If you’re sending a story that or offer that could be shared over a few days, consider trying it as a series.

Good Inbox Zeigarnik Effect.jpg

By doing this you leave an uncompleted task or series with your audience, based on the Zegarnik effect this will increase attention as your campaign stays in the “incomplete” mental folder over the course of several emails rather than just one.

Urgency and Follow-up

I think all of you smart folks reading this are pretty familiar with the idea of driving urgency in your marketing. That’s great right? Add some tension to your messaging and they’ll convert! Well, not so fast, you need to make sure that urgency has a structured and conversion focused release valve.

One study found a nearly 25% boost in conversions for campaigns where a clear next step was outlined in the messaging. If you’re going to use urgency to build tension and decision in your audience, make sure you’ve got a clear path for relief!

The Final Tip: Don't Just Read!

Go to your email portal. Yes, now, right now! Pick just one of the tips above to apply on your next send. That tension you feel thinking of all the possibilities? You can be rid of it right this second by applying just one of the principles above to your next email send. If you don't see an improvement in performance, hit me up on Twitter @HubTrog and we'll figure out which one to try next. Have you tried any of these yet? Let us know below what you do to reduce friction and uncertainty for your readers. 


All New Email Marketing Certification Course by HubSpot Academy

Outline your company's marketing strategy in one simple, coherent plan.

    Marketing software that helps you drive revenue, save time and resources, and measure and optimize your investments — all on one easy-to-use platform