The written art of persuasion: How to write emails that work

How to write emails that work

Most writing is an attempt at persuasion. That’s especially true of email. For example, business emails often include information about your company, products or services. You want that information to be accepted by the recipient. Ideally you want them to understand and agree with your point of view.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re marketing to customers, attempting to close a deal, or trying to get the best price from a supplier. Email is all about the written art of persuasion.

Unfortunately it’s not an art that comes easily to everyone. Like many things in life, it has to be learned, honed and refined. But you can give yourself a head-start by bearing these rules in mind:

1. Who am I writing for?

Picture the recipient in your mind. Let’s say you’re sending an email newsletter to your customers. If you don’t already know what your customers are like, go out and meet some of them. Find out as much as you can, then write your emails as though you were speaking to them in person.

2. Choose your words wisely

Big words are impressive, right? Wrong. If your recipients have to reach for the dictionary, you’ve lost them. Intelligent use of words is vital. That means not using big, complex words when simple ones will do.

You don’t have to write like a child (although children do often have a direct, clear way of communicating). But you should always write using simple words and phrases.

3. Be on their side

Everyone has a perspective, a way of looking at the world. And everyone divides other people into those who are ‘like me’ and those who are ‘not like me’. This is human nature, and in extreme cases it can cause ugly social problems. But if you appear to be on the side of your email recipients, it can work in your favour.

So go out of your way to understand their perspective, and then tell them so. One of the most powerful phrases in the English language is, “I understand your point of view.” Even if you follow this with “But,” you’ve still got their attention.

4. Check your structure

Reading requires cognitive energy. Our brains consume about 20% of the energy our bodies generate. So we’ve learned ways to minimise the amount of thinking we do. We take short-cuts, we ‘cheat’ and sometimes we just can’t be bothered doing anything that looks hard.

All of which means that if you present your readers with a wall of email text, they won’t read it. They’ll wander off, make a cup of tea, talk to colleagues, and move on to the next unread email.

So make it easy for your readers’ brains. Give them emails that look easy to read. Break up blocks of email text into paragraphs. Use numbering or bullets for vital points. Use bold text sensibly and sparingly. Remember, if it looks easy to read, people are more likely to read it.

5. Presentation matters

There’s little excuse for poor email presentation in 2015. There are tools and services that can make your emails stand out. Use them to add logos and signatures to all your outgoing mails.

Even better, use a service that adds professional quality signatures to every outgoing email, from every device in your company. Such consistency will help persuade your email recipients that you’re serious about what you do.

6. Be nice

Attitude is important. Don’t try to force people around to your way of thinking, because it won’t work. You might as well try to hold back the tide. Politeness will get you much further.

And if you ever consider sending an email while angry, stop. Save it as a draft, walk away, do something else. Don’t even look at it again until at least three hours have passed. Preferably leave it overnight. Then re-read it. If you don’t cringe with embarrassment at your hasty words, it’s probably safe to send it.

Better results

Get all of this right and you should see much better results from the emails you send. That’s because persuasive content and professional presentation are hard to beat.

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