Skip to content

Bad News? How Your Email Content Can Deliver It Tactfully

[Editor’s note: Happy Holidays! This week, the editorial team at Content Marketing Institute wanted to share some of the best content marketing blog posts we’ve seen from the CMI Online Training and Certification program’s roster of expert instructors. Today’s post originally appeared on Shelly Bowen’s Pybop LLC blog on May 22, 2013]

Look on the bright side

drawing-sun behind rain cloudCompanies change direction. Leadership shifts. People make mistakes. Sometimes a brand needs to communicate an uncomfortable story to its audience… while not making it sound worse than it is.

You might try the straightforward approach:

  • CFO was fired; changes ahead.
  • Our customer service department was not trained well.
  • We no longer carry “ABC Brand.”

But those statements sound so alarming. Scary even. Questions immediately pop up in your head — what does this mean to me? Maybe I shouldn’t use you anymore?

Worse, these statements are what I call Eye-Stoppers. The eye stops there as someone thinks, “Ok, thanks for letting me know. Moving on to something else now.” Or “Yeah, I don’t really care or need more bad news.” Delete.

Start with the solution, instead

Your email content should start with the solution to the issue. What you’re going to do about it gives people something positive to consider and want to know more about. Then you can follow up with a brief description of the event that led to the solution, and offer apologies and discounts if warranted.

Another way to think about writing effective email content for your consumers is to stop talking about yourself (“we did bad, sorry”) and talk about what changes or benefits this turn-of-events provides your reader.

  • New CFO lowers prices
  • New customer service training leads to custom recommendations.
  • “XYZ Brand” is now available.

(Compare these to the statements above.)

Of course, this doesn’t work if the bad news is really truly terrible, like someone died or was seriously injured. And for corporate communications, a straightforward approach with a positive outcome may work better.

Email content writing best practices

Here are some more targeted email writing and design best practices for dealing with bad news (or any news, really) by email:

  • Headline: Pique curiosity, but use familiar, specific words to make the reader comfortable.
  • Voice: Consider your audience members and how they’d like to be spoken to by your brand in this situation.
  • Discount: If you have a discount or time-sensitive call to action, get this benefit up top and in bold type. The rest of the news can be quieter, in body copy.
  • Phone: Phone numbers build confidence, especially in the face of bad news. People may not use them, but you seem accessible.
  • Links: Hyperlinked words leap from the page — scan your linked words and see if they provide comfort, confidence, and guidance to next steps.
  • Boxes: Boxed content often gets read first or is lingered over. Box all of your positive benefits to the reader — the good things they should remember.
  • Examples of promotion: Examples often get people thinking about what they need. Showing exact $$ off is much more alluring than % off.
  • Value-add content: Show you care by providing links to helpful information that is not “selling.”

And of course, whenever writing important brand messaging, it’s a great idea to get an editor’s review along with executive staff and customer service.

Do you have a bad news communication success story? Do tell!

Looking for more ways to maximize the impact of your email content? Get practical insights, advice, and answers in our 2018 Guide to Essential Content Marketing Tactics.