Sometimes we get so caught up in the procedural logistics of email marketing that we forget we're communicating with real people. We think in terms of lists, databases, target audiences, and segments.

With email, as with conventional channels, it's important to remember that there are real people on the other end of our messages. When we press the send button, we're not just delivering messages to in-boxes, we're communicating with individuals.

The continued use of the word "blast" to describe email campaigns (as in "We just sent our fifth [cringe] email blast of the month") underscores this point.

Although most reputable email marketers don't intend to literally bombard their customers or prospects with messages, using that term to describe email marketing puts us in a broadcast vs. conversation mind-set.

The goal of any good direct-response effort should be a dialogue, not simply a one-way transmission. The second word, "response," implies we want to hear back from our valued tribe, remember? After all, that's what distinguishes direct marketing from mass marketing.

Here are three tips to help you personalize and "conversationalize" your email and, in so doing, remind yourself (or retrain your brain, if necessary) that there's a living, breathing person receiving those digital marketing messages you send.

1. Speak in human rather than promotional terms

Yes, you can be more personal and conversational in your commercial email messages than in mass advertising. Speak in terms of "you" and "us. Humanize your copy instead of keeping it general and impersonal. Talk to people, not at them.

Recognize unique segment (or, if your technology allows it, individual) characteristics and past behavior. Your recipients will appreciate that you're paying attention and acknowledging them as live humans rather than as part of a nameless, faceless mass.

2. Leverage your brand personality

Does your brand or product have a unique spokesperson or character associated with it? Is it known by a distinct personality? If so, those are exactly the aspects to leverage in your email marketing.

Think the Geico lizard, William Shatner for Priceline, or the M&M's candy cartoon characters. Consider Apple's personality (futuristic, intuitive, elegantly simple design; a subtle, unmistakable, and deserved air of superiority) and how consistently it comes across in all its advertising.

Bring personality into your email; or, at a minimum, keep the personality of your email consistent with the rest of your marketing.

3. Solicit user-generated content (UGC)

How easy do you make it for your audience members to share their experiences as customers with you? Do you routinely provide a mechanism for both positive and negative customer feedback? Do you go the extra mile by encouraging positive feedback, such as inviting customers to share success stories, testimonials, photos, or videos? Do you run contests in which entrants must tell a story or submit content to enter?

Any of those simple steps can produce a wealth of UGC that your marketing and advertising content can never equal in credibility, confidence, and relationship value. People love to hear about how other real people are interacting, benefiting, or learning from you, so tell them.

* * *

The Internet is evolving toward increased transparency, access, and authenticity and away from a mass-marketing mind-set. That trend is a good move to adopt, not just for your brand and customer service but also for your marketing.

Remember, in the end, people don't buy from companies or brands. People buy from people. Be human!

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image of Karen Talavera

Karen Talavera is the founder of Synchronicity Marketing, a company specializing in digital marketing training, coaching, and education.