You've Got Mail

7 Things 1998 Can Teach You About Email Marketing

Laura Noll Blog, Content and Creative

“What will he say today?” I wonder. I turn on my computer. I wait impatiently as it boots up. I go online and my breath catches in my chest until I hear three little words: you’ve got mail. I hear nothing, not even a sound on the streets of New York. Just the beat of my own heart. I have mail. From you.

When was the last time you were that excited about email? In the opening scenes of 1998’s You’ve Got Mail, Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) perfectly sums up the excitement with which we used to check our inboxes. With a rise of abuse in the medium, email has obviously lost a bit of its luster — but in those less spammy years Kathleen and Joe Fox (Tom Hanks) showed us exactly how to communicate in a way that could woo a complete stranger to fall madly in love.

Sixteen years later, we can still put their techniques to work. This time, we’re just tweaking the end goal — inspiring love for your brand. Pop in your You’ve Got Mail VHS and get ready — 1998 has a few things to teach you about email:

1. Tell a Great Story

Kathleen and Joe Fox (Tom Hanks) spend the entire movie wrapped up in an endless email conversation. They volley back and forth sharing stories from their days — New York in the Spring, business problems, chilly encounters. While your content should likely vary a bit from their topics, the idea is the same. Tell a great story. Provide a smidge of entertainment amidst your message to keep your readers interested and engaged.

2. Keep it Concise

The email communications between Kathleen and Joe are quite short — a few sentences at most. Even today, email is the perfect ‘middle-ground’ communication — longer than a text but shorter than a phone call or face-to-face conversation. Share details with your readers and construct a clean, clear message, but avoid sending a full novel. If you need to deliver more information, consider a landing page or lead collection form so that you can follow up with the subscriber in a more appropriate medium.

3. Avoid Being “Big, Impersonal, Overstocked and Full of Salespeople”

When a Fox Books superstore opens down the street from Shop Around the Corner, Kathleen describes the retail giant in a way that many consumers categorize large brands today — and it’s not exactly positive. Consider the goal of your message and how it will be best achieved. Then, write to satisfy that goal in a way that avoids excessive sales lingo. Adding “recently viewed” or “you might be interested in” sections are also excellent ways to customize your message to each subscriber — making it personal and showing your audience that you’re willing to go a little farther just for them.

4. Get a Little Risky

With great risk comes great reward — and when Kathleen and Joe ask “do you think we should meet?” they’re taking a pretty decent risk. What if the other says ‘no’? What if he’s not what she expects? Audiences are naturally attracted to those things that break the mold and do things a bit different. Use partial segments of your list to test the effectiveness of new strategies. Take a little risk, test it and review the results — you may find new patterns and strategies that will pay off hugely when distributed to your entire audience.

5. Start a Conversation

Kathleen and Joe both take their conversations to friends and coworkers beyond their inbox. Make your message something that subscribers want to share — whether online or off. Aim to start conversations around a subject — be a thought leader and invite others to engage with your brand for more discussion.

6. Make Them Crave More

You want to leave your audience wanting more from your next message. Keep them watching their inboxes like Kathleen and Joe with creative, relevant content. Create value in your messaging to see open rates rise as unsubscribes and spam reports drop. If your subscribers know what to expect and know it will be of value to them — they’ll tip-toe toward their inbox like giddy children in anticipation of your next email.

7. Talk with Them, Not at Them

The most surefire way to begin a conversation is to talk with someone. Instead of sending a very marketing-oriented message that talks at a person and tells them what to do or how to think, offer an idea with an invitation for your audience to contribute their thoughts. With open communication between you and your subscribers, you may learning a thing or two about what they want or what would improve their experience. You’ll also build a trusted relationship that will, over time, improve your sender reputation, deliverability and list health.

Get Results, Get AdStation!

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Share this Post

About the Author
Laura Noll

Laura Noll


Laura is a seasoned marketer with passion for user experience, design, development and snowboarding. Using her knowledge of ad technology and the digital space, she starts conversations — like this one. Join in: @AdStationbyAdk.