Why Plain Text Emails Will Help You Win More Customers

Using plain text marketing email

Our product team made a very clear design decision with the launch of our new email marketing platform:

We were going to focus on plain text emails.

There would be no complicated WYSIWYG editor.

No designed email templates.

Just the ability for marketers and sales reps to, well — write and send emails.

And now that Drift Email is out and available to everyone, I wanted to take a few minutes to explain why we made this decision, the impact that plain text emails have had on our business, and maybe even convince you why you should make the shift to using plain text emails, too.

What are plain text emails?

Plain text emails are just that – completely plain text. Instead of using HTML and fancy templates that make your emails look pretty, plain text emails put more emphasis on the actual written content. Plain text email is a best practice when it comes to your email marketing strategy.

Here’s the story behind why we believe that.

Before We Stopped Gating Our Content, We Stopped Designing Our Emails

Even before we made the decision to stop using lead forms and gating our content, we ditched designed HTML marketing emails (see How to Generate Leads Online Without Forms).

It was October 2015 and I’d just started my second week at Drift.

We had a bunch of beta customers at the time, but we weren’t publicly selling our product yet. You couldn’t sign up for it on our website, there was no pricing page, and we only had a handful of blog posts.

I was focused on building our audience so we’d have something to launch to — and that meant growing our email list.

So I started a weekly newsletter where we would share some of the best links about marketing from around the web.

It was something I’d done before I joined Drift, when I had my own blog and newsletter. Each Sunday night I’d send out a recap from the prior week, so I basically got to replicate that but on a much bigger stage at Drift.

I would write really casual, informal newsletters:

I used short sentences.

Choppy copy.

lowercase subject lines.

And I wrote everything as me in the first person. Because, well — it was me! It was my thing. I was Dave. There was no “business” associated with the newsletter.

So I just had fun with how I would write, and I treated each newsletter like I was writing an email to my mom or my wife or a friend.

But when I got to Drift and went to go send out our “business” newsletter, I wrote differently.

I went back to business writing.

After I sent out that first email, I got a message from our CEO David (aka, DC).

He said he liked the idea of the newsletter, but it just felt like every. other. company.

“Write like you are writing your own newsletter. This IS your newsletter now. Write like you talk. No design. No banners. Just plain text. Every email should feel like a personal letter to a friend.”

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So that’s what I did.

I wasn’t just sending out a “newsletter” anymore. I was writing a letter to a friend over email. Each week, I pulled up an email and I just started writing.

And not only was it a whole lot more fun (and easier) to write — but I started to notice something I had never seen before with email:

People were REPLYING.

I’d sent hundreds of email campaigns at companies before Drift and would get plenty of replies — but they all were people cursing me out for emailing them or asking me to unsubscribe.

This was different.

These were replies from people who wanted to talk.

All of a sudden I wasn’t some marketer trying to spam everyone — I was Dave. The guy who writes emails at Drift.

And that’s when everything changed.

Every single day I was having conversations over email with people who were interested in the content we were sharing.

So I wanted to double down and create a way to encourage more of these replies, so I set up new a new welcome email that went to everyone who subscribed to our content (and a similar version for people who signed up for our free product):

plain text email example

This email encouraged people to reply back to me and let me know why they signed up Drift — and the results were better than anything I had ever seen before.

People weren’t just clicking: 30% of people who got our emails were responding back. Thats some killer statistics.

And they were actually telling me what they were interested in, where they came from, and why they signed up to use Drift.

That is a marketer’s dream.

And it’s crazy to think about it looking back:

  1. People were surprised to get emails that felt real and authentic.
  2. I was shocked to be getting real responses from the people I was emailing.

But if you break it down, it actually makes perfect sense:

Marketing automation taught us to ignore conversations and focus on getting clicks.

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So it was all about driving everyone to landing pages — you have to get the clicks. You have to get the landing page conversions. And at the end of the day, email just became a vehicle to get clicks.

(Just think about how many marketing emails you get from noreply@companyname.com)

Getting Our Emails Into The “A Pile”

Around the same time as my inbox started to fill up with replies from people who were interested in Drift, I was reading The Boron Letters from Gary Halbert.

Halbert was a direct response marketer and one of the world’s most successful copywriters.

In the book, Halbert talks about how when it comes to mail, everyone has an A pile and a B pile:

It is my contention that everybody divides their mail every day into two piles. An “A-Pile” and a “B-Pile”. The “A” pile contains letters that appear to be personal. Like letters from friends, relatives, business associates, and so on.

On the other hand, the “B” pile contains those envelopes that, like the example above, obviously, contain a commercial message.

Now, here’s the way it works: Everybody always opens all of their “A” pile mail.

And, for obvious reasons. After all, everybody wants to read their personal mail.

And that’s when it hit me. This is exactly what happens with marketing emails.

Because of the volume of emails that we all get from brands, we’ve started to tune out those highly designed emails.

As much time as they took to design, and as pretty as they might be, they’re the equivalent of getting a flyer in the mail — and that flyer typically goes right to your B pile, and then right to the trash (I mean recycling–sorry!).

But what happens when you get that plain white envelope in the mail with your name handwritten on the front?

You open it. And you read it.

Because that’s how all of the mail you get from your friends and family looks.

I wanted all of our emails to look and feel like that, too — so we made the switch to plain text emails. And when it came time to build our own email marketing product here at Drift, the first thing we did was talk about the power of plain text emails.

(But of course, they took things a step further and added in the ability to see how many people were replying and starting conversations, how much revenue each email was generating, and more.)

Building Customer Trust With Plain Text Emails

So that’s the whole story on why we believe so much in the power of plain text emails.

But I’m not just saying this because I am at Drift and we just built an email marketing platform that runs on plain text emails.

I really do believe this is the future. Marketing is going back to its roots.

There’s too much noise and too much competition out there across every industry today.

Every company claims to have the best, fastest, newest product. And then a new competitor pops up and does the same thing.

As a result, buyers (aka, you and me) are more skeptical than ever. We don’t trust most of the marketing and sales tactics we see, and we often don’t know who to actually believe.

The only way to win customers in today’s world is to be real, be authentic, and be a human. That’s what helps you cut through the noise. That’s what will help you build trust. And trust is what the best marketing and sales teams are focusing on today.

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There’s no better way to be real than to write like you talk and send plain text emails to the people you’re trying to do business with.

Let’s see if you can start more conversations by shifting to plain text emails, too.

Click here to learn more about Drift Email and why the future of email marketing is all about conversations.