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4 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Adding Humor to Your Email Content

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Humor and marketing are hardly strangers to each other. They were companions long before Volkswagen used the Beetle’s alleged buoyancy as a selling point in the 1960s and will be long after the recent blast-off to retirement on Mars of Dos Equis’ “most interesting man in the world.”

But print ads and TV spots are not reflective of the much more intimate, and increasingly personalized, medium of email. Which leads to the question – is there a place for humor in our email marketing messages?

The answer is “yes” – with a few caveats.

Judging by the results of a 2015 survey, a receptive audience is likely waiting for you to try out your best material on them: more than half of the survey respondents said they found the use of humor in marketing emails acceptable.

Not only that, humor works. When used appropriately and strategically, it can create and nurture invaluable connections with consumers. “Laughter lowers the intellectual shield your busy prospects have up all day just to survive the messaging onslaught,” according to marketing consultant Kathy Klotz-Guest. “Humor opens up a space for connecting because it disrupts the expected pattern.”

But using humor strategically and successfully requires careful thought and planning. Here are four questions to ask before you decide to hit “send” on the latest funny message your team came up with.

Is my humor tailored to my audience?

Studies have proven that our sense of humor changes as we age, so it should come as no surprise that a joke that makes a Baby Boomer guffaw will very likely fall very flat with a Millennial, and vice versa. Along the same lines, receptivity to certain types of humor will change according to geography, education level and other demographic factors. When it comes to humor, rule one is (as it is for much of what we do) know your audience.

Does my humor help humanize my brand?

In a recent post we discussed some methods of using email marketing to humanize your brand to make profitable connections with customers. One of our suggestions is to “show off your brand’s personality” – which is something that humor can do.

Humanization equates to relatability. That’s why Dos Equis selected a rather nondescript middle-aged actor as “the most interesting man in the world.” The concept itself is inherently funny, but more important is the fact that millions of middle-aged male beer drinkers can instantly relate to him (and hopefully assume that quaffing Dos Equis will make them interesting, too).

Is my humor consistent with my overall marketing approach?

While it wouldn’t be out of character for Southwest Airlines to send humorous messages, given the “Fun-LUVing Attitude” that is one of its corporate values, the same messages from a stodgier carrier probably wouldn’t fly (see what we did there?). If your use of humor works in the context of your overall approach to marketing your brand, you are probably good to go.

Have you steered clear of potential controversy?

Of course, there is always some risk in using humor. On one end of the risk spectrum is that some customers simply will not get the joke. Not what you want, but not so terrible; you can always try again. On the other end of that spectrum is being so inadvertently offensive that you cause a viral firestorm that brings a lot of the wrong kind attention to your brand. To avoid that, “it’s best to leave the potential edgy issues and language in the comedy clubs,” advises Business 2 Community. “While joking about such things may gain attention for your brand – it may not be the type that your company executives are looking for.”

The bottom line – if your answer is “yes” to the four questions above, chances are very good that you can put humor to work effectively in your email marketing. We can’t wait to see your best stuff!

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