Inside the Inbox: Marketing Profs’ Ann Handley reveals her favorite emails


Inside the Inbox is a series created by Emma to empower you with an inside look at your customers’ favorite emails. We’re tracking down email subscribers from every industry and asking them to share the current state of their email inbox with us, ultimately giving you unfiltered consumer insight you can’t find anywhere else. From email messages they open right away to those that go directly to spam, we’ll uncover the good, the bad, and the undeliverable. 

This time, we’re taking a look inside the inbox of the self-proclaimed “content bossypants” of Marketing Profs, Ann Handley.

Ann gives us a tour of her inbox

First things first: How many unread emails are currently in your inbox?

Well, this is embarrassing. It’s 18,547. And yeah… I know that’s nuts. 

Which emails have you opened recently? 

Sender: Baking Steel
Subject line:

Screen Shot 2019-10-27 at 11.23.52 AM.png

Why I love

First, who doesn’t want to watch a film about pizza? 

Second, the use of emojis in the subject line. Emojis in subject lines can sometimes be gratuitous, but in this case they communicated immediately what this email is about. The at-a-glance aspect grabbed my attention in my insane inbox. (Evidenced by question 1!)

Third, the concise usefulness. I already own a Baking Steel pizza sheet. But sometimes I’m a klutz at launching the raw pizza into the oven, onto the preheated steel. Baking Steel gets me: 

“We walk you through each and every step along the way, including the all-important “launch”. There are lots of little techniques we use that will save you from potential pizza disaster (the unintentional calzone)….”

Unintentional calzone!! #ItMe

Fourth, the tone. Friendly, encouraging, personal. 

My one quibble: It’s obviously written by Andris, the owner of Baking Steel. I know that only because I know the company. But it should come from him and be signed by him—not info@bakingsteel. Hurts my heart, Andris.

Sender: CB Insights

Subject line: ugh — this pie chart

Why I love it

I love the tone of CB Insights newsletters. It’s so refreshing to see the newsletter of a B2B company have personality. In its case, that voice (+ value they deliver) sets them apart. Can you imagine any other data intelligence company sending with that subject line? #rhetorical

What about the trash? 

Do not subscribe me automatically because I bought a sweater from your ecommerce site and failed to notice the box I should’ve unchecked and then when I try to unsubscribe it takes me to a landing page where I have to navigate approximately one thousand list frequency options:

__ Do you want to hear from us once a day?
__ Can we reach out once a week? 
__ HRMPH. Fine! How about every other Tuesday? 
__ At least every fortnight that coincides with a full moon in a month that ends in Y? 
__ Can we randomly re-subscribe you again if it’s the holiday season and we think you might forget you unsubscribed haha? 
__ Pretty please…?


NO. NO. NO!!!

While I’m in a complainy mood…

I can’t stand pop-ups that insult me if I won’t turn over my data (email address). Sign-up forms that force you to x out of something with language that says something like:

“Yes! Sign me up to hear more about how to improve website conversions!”
 “No thanks. I enjoy being lame.” 

Anything good in your spam folder? 

I’d like to answer this but I’m too busy trying to learn more about Hard Wood. (If you think a lot of flooring companies are spamming me… you’d be wrong. Eww.)

Also, these spammers need to get better at basic segmenting. Just saying.

What’s the last thing you remember buying because of an email? 

I bought Michael Brenner’s book Mean People Suck from Amazon because of an email he sent to his email list.

I bought a new pair of Rothy’s loafers because of a referral code a friend sent me. Then I bought a second pair the next week from an email Rothy’s itself sent. The image sold me.

How often would you say you check your email? 

Workdays: I reserve the first hour of the day for writing. Then, generally 4-6 times throughout a day. If I’m working on a book or longer something (like the MarketingProfs B2B Forum) that requires sustained attention, it’s much less—maybe 2-3 times a day.

Choose three adjectives to describe your ideal email experience.

Personal: Sender is a person’s name. Copy has character. The most important part of a newsletter is not the 'news,' but the 'letter.' Your email should feel more like a letter from one person to another.

Emotional: Make me feel something. Make me feel smarter. Make me smile. (Or both.) Voice + value is everything.

Predictable: Show up when I expect you to.  

What do you wish email marketers knew about you? 

I love email. And I believe whole-heartedly in our ability to make email more relevant, personal, and emotional. You’ve got this, friends!!

What’s your best tip for writing email copy? 

Write to Doris. Warren Buffett's annual Letter to Shareholders goes out to thousands of Berkshire Hathaway shareholders. But he writes it to one person: His sister, Doris. Not a “segment” or a “persona.” A person he knows and can imagine in his mind.

So who is your Doris? Who is the one person you think of as you write? I wrote about it here.

So simple. So overlooked. 

Give a pep talk to email marketers in two sentences or less: 

Your email program is an important opportunity to create or deepen a relationship. It's not just a "content distribution strategy” or a “sales tool.”
Respect the relationship! And it’ll deliver exponentially. 

That’s 4 sentences. But I’m over-delivering the value just like your emails should!

About the Author

Kaitlin Wernet is a content specialist on Emma's marketing team. When she's not restraining herself from using too many exclamation points or grabbing one more La Croix from the office kitchen, she can be found working on her first book or planning her next big travel adventure.

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