People read your e-newsletter for the content.

So, ideally, you're giving them content that's timely, relevant and useful (or entertaining). Deliver and present that content to readers in a professional manner and you have yourself a winning newsletter.

Well, almost.

Most of you have competitors. There's no reason why they can't publish valuable content, too. In fact, it takes considerable skill, innovation and effort to stand out through content alone (just ask those who've managed it).

Injecting personality into your publication is one way to give yourself a little edge in the battle for the hearts and minds of the market.

You're probably using your newsletter to " long-term relationships and a better rapport with customers or prospects.” Valuable content is the foundation on which this is based. Personality is the icing on the content cake.

A little dose of personality helps build that reader rapport and adds uniqueness to your publication; it's something competitors can't copy so easily.

The right personality can also complement the image of your brand, product, website or company--essentially reinforcing whatever impression or message you're trying to communicate.

Which is all well and good. But what is this personality?

No doubt there are various dictionary definitions, but I prefer to think of it like this: If content is what you say, then personality is how you say it.

It's the sum of all the distinctive characteristics that make your newsletter's voice and writing unique--your style, tone, humor, emotion, vocabulary, attitude and more.

So how do you give your newsletter the right dose of the right personality?

To begin with, remember that email newsletters aren't email promotions designed to stimulate immediate action. Sales and promotional copy don't suit e-newsletters. Nor does the traditional tone of broadcast corporate communications.

You're not addressing an audience or a market. Each recipient of your email is sitting alone in front of a screen. You may have a million subscribers, but each one receives your email as an individual.

So think of your newsletter as a one-on-one conversation. Just imagine sitting in a coffee shop talking informally with a customer. That's the starting point for your approach--a more personable and appropriate "human" voice will come naturally.

When you picture the coffee shop scenario, you quickly see how inappropriate (not to say ridiculous) some of the more traditional styles of customer communication can sound in an e-newsletter.

Drop the jargon, drop the sales pitch, be as honest as you can, and talk like a human being.

Refreshing, isn't it?

The personality of the writing itself needs to gel with the other elements of the newsletter, particularly your image, content, readership, design and objectives. What's appropriate and what isn't? Only you can answer that question.

Ideally, have people write the content who fit the required personality naturally--who can write as themselves, subject to a few publication-related constraints.

If you need to define specific personality "rules" which people should follow when writing or preparing content, then ensure they're closely defined and easily understood.

Then appoint someone to act as guardian--someone who can read the content and spot inconsistencies or aberrations in the personality projected.

This kind of defined personality can sometimes better fit the publication's needs, and ensures consistency, even when the writing or production team changes. It also lets you build a personality around some other element of your business (an advertising spokesperson, your product, your CEO, whatever...)

You've got questions, I know. Let's try and answer them...

Q: How much personality?

A: One of the myths of "personality" is that you need to be winning creative writing prizes for the publication.

You can have as much or as little personality as is appropriate. It isn't about writing lengthy commentary pieces or creating joke-filled fun fests.

Consider adding a brief editorial, a comment or two, an editor's note, a couple of lines of commentary, a touch of opinion; adding a little human element here and there. That's all it takes.

Q: What if people don't like it?

A: You can be pretty sure some people won't like your tone or style. And that's a good thing, too. It's hard to get anyone engaged in your newsletter if you're trying to be all things to all people.

Most importantly, the potential loss of a few subscribers is well worth the additional rapport you'll have with those who remain.

Or you can be very boring, very dry and very safe, and disappear in the morass of your competitor's offerings.

Q: Do we have to talk about our pets or the marketing director's dress sense?

A: The odd anecdote or snippet of personal information adds another welcome human touch and encourages a rapport. But it needs to resonate with readers. The more you stray off-topic and the more purely personal information you give out, the more likely you are to alienate readers.

You need to find the right balance; small doses of "personal" information tend to work well in terms of relationship building. But be very careful not to overdo it.

Be especially careful with the use of opinion. On-topic opinion is a good thing and can be a great content element. But while talking about your dog can, at worst, provoke disinterest, sounding off on unrelated topics can actively offend. Take care, and don't let a newsletter become anyone's ego vehicle.

Q: Do we need to put names to the newsletter?

A: Not necessarily. A human voice can suffice. However, it is easier to connect with people at a more human level if they can relate to a name or face, whether invented or real. So sign editorials, give authors a byline, or list some names down in the administrative section of each issue.

Take a look at your favorite newsletters. Sure they'll have great content, but what else is it that makes them stand out in your inbox? I bet you it's the voice and personality that does it.

Best of luck with your own efforts.

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Mark Brownlow, Ph.D., is a writer, traveler, and footbal (soccer) fan (