Email Strategy

Email Strategy: How Humor Helps to Build Customer Relationships

Humor is uniquely human. Dogs and cats don’t appreciate sarcasm. Your goldfish won’t even crack a smile at an episode of Parks and Rec. Yet laughter and comedy are among that few things that can unite just about everyone on the planet.

Why should this matter to you, an email marketing professional?

Social psychologists believe that humor is a key ingredient in conflict resolution. Humor helps opposing groups to overcome their divisions or competing interests. As a marketer, you’ve got a pretty big division standing between you and your prospective customers…

They don’t trust you. Not yet, anyway.

Attracting new email subscribers, and then turning those subscribers into customers are both examples of conflict. Sure, you know that the awkward vibe isn’t necessary. (Thanks to your great products and your responsible email compliance practices, customers stand only to gain from a relationship with you.)

But prospects don’t always approach new relationships that way. Many come along reluctantly. Many expect the worst. Here are reasons why humor (funny emails) should inform your email strategy and set subscribers at ease.

  1. Humor sets the tone.

Lots of research has been done to help email marketers get people’s attention—to isolate subject lines that stand out in a crowded inbox. We know, for example, that words like “invitation,” or “urgent,” are highly engaging.

But what happens after the open is achieved? What kind of tone have you created? Without the right context, you might actually offend a prospect who mistakes your clever subject line for a personal message (possibly an emergency).

Teaser subject lines make better sense if you’re willing to go all in—creating humorous email content to justify the bait and switch. Here’s an example originally cited in Marketo’s blog wherein the subject line began, “So I’ll pick you up at 7?” See how the rest of the message unfolds…


  1. Humor eliminates the elephant in the room.

Ultimately, you want to sell. Email recipients know you want to sell. But you don’t want to sound like selling is the only thing on your mind.

So your emails begin with all sorts of niceties and crafty segues. Speaking of this long, cold winter…

Adding humor to your email strategy can help you acknowledge your position and your desired results without coming across as a jerky solicitor. See how this simple, B2B follow-up campaign states its purpose and still manages to win a smile:


  1. Humor can signify compatibility.

We tend to believe that the people who are closest to us have a similiar sense of humor. Conversely, people who demonstrate a similar sense of humor tend to feel more familiar—even if they’re complete strangers. By taking what you know of your target buyers (age, education level, interests, etc.) you can design an email strategy that looks and sounds very much like the casual conversation in their circles.

The following example from Water.org does this perfectly. Granted, it’s coming from Matt Damon (not a complete stranger). But the tone and the voice could have succeeded from anyone (minus the Ben Affleck reference).


Now get out there and say something funny. Say something human. Here’s a funny email content quiz to get you inspired…


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