Plummer Cobb is a writer and communications consultant based in Arlington, Texas.

How One Simple Line Changed the Tone of an Entire Email

How One Simple Line Changed the Tone of an Entire Email

Angie’s List told me to “clean up” my account. They need to clean up their email marketing.

THE STORY: I subscribe to Angie’s List. I pay a yearly fee for my subscription (which is an important point that I’ll get to in a minute). One of the main attractions of Angie’s List are the detailed customer reviews for the contractors listed on the site. The company sends emails encouraging its users to leave accurate and honest reviews (positive and negative) about any experience with contractors listed on their site.

But not so long ago, I began noticing a little line in their email marketing messages that got my attention more than any of their previous emails. It isn’t in the subject line. It isn’t in the headline. It isn’t even in the body of the email. It is subtly placed so that it is only visible in the preview pane. But it’s there, and it makes a difference.

The subject line reads: “Attention requested on your purchase” but you can see the line in the preview pane that reads “please clean up your account today”.

THE PROBLEM: That line, simple as it may be, sets the tone for the email before a recipient has even opened it. A line like that seems fitting if someone has forgotten to update a method of payment or has failed to complete an action that is required for their continued membership, service, good standing, etc. That isn’t the case here. As a  subscriber, I pay for membership to the site, and no part of my user agreement stipulates that I must leave a certain amount of feedback. Or any at all, for that matter. If they want to send me emails asking that I do so, that’s fine. But subtle as it may be, “please clean up your account” is inherently negative and suggests that somehow a user’s account is “unclean” or that they are under an obligation to Angie’s List, which they are not.

Without access to the company's email marketing data, of course, I can’t say whether emails of this kind have had a greater response, but I can’t imagine it’s worth it if they also turn off some of their customers in the process. 
 
THE SOLUTION: Angie’s List needs to clean up the copywriting in their email marketing and remove that “please clean up your account" line. It’s as simple as that. Otherwise, the email seems fairly effective, but the devil is in the details, and if one simple sentence establishes a negative tone before a recipient even opens the email (as it did with me), the rest of the message may be affected.

Writing for Humans: How Keyword Optimization Can Kill Your Credibility

Writing for Humans: How Keyword Optimization Can Kill Your Credibility