I freely admit there’s something of an oxymoron in the title for this blog post. How could it ever be possible to deliver bad news positively? Bad news is bad news, right?

Well, on the one hand – yes; none of us like receiving emails containing announcements that dampen our spirits or crush our wishes. But on the other hand, when the message is delivered in a more positive fashion, the brief “oh, damn!” that’s felt upon opening the email is quickly countered by the realisation that all might not be lost.

Two emails dropped into my inbox recently that demonstrated this perfectly. They were both from markedly different businesses, but two with which I’m very familiar and whose products and services I rely on in one way or another.

The messages they wanted to convey were identical and related to the age old conundrum of price rises. These things happen, but there’s never a perfect time to tell your loyal customers that they’re going to have to start paying you more.

In this post, we’ll take a look at both examples and see how they’ve managed to tread the fine line between disappointment and hope.

Example 1: BT

This is the first thing I saw when I opened a recent email from BT (which I opened due to the subject line ‘Important changes to your BT services’ – why wouldn’t I?):

Ouch. Oh.. hang on – perhaps there’s something in it for me?

BT have pulled off the tried-and-tested trick of delivering bad news that is immediately followed by good news. They’ve done it in the pre-header (“We’re increasing our prices and improving your service”) and the opening title, which immediately tell the recipient that although prices are going up, there’s a very good reason why.

Here’s their opening gambit:

They don’t justify the price rise immediately – instead, they’re admirably forthright about it. No messing – the prices are going up, and here’s the details you need to know.

Following that, they go on to explain what the price increase is paying for:

Nice, simple imagery and equally straightforward copy tells me all I need to know; things sound like they’re going to be getting better once I start paying more.

The rest of the mail provides detail on exactly how the price rises will affect me and what I need to do next if I wish to speak to someone. They even go as far to provide steps for cancelling the contract entirely – brave, but admirable, as it demonstrates an openness and acceptance that the news may be too much for certain customers.

Example 2: Sonos

Sonos is a popular manufacturer and supplier of home audio products. Their version of the multi-room speaker system has taken the market by storm, and while their pricing has always leaned towards the slightly higher-end, it’s remained digestible for those who take their music seriously.

Unfortunately, due to the fact their prices are defined regionally and with GBP performing particularly poorly against the US dollar, they’ve had no choice but to raise their prices.

They take a markedly different approach to BT in delivering this news. For starters, the subject line reads “Advance notice of Sonos price increase in the UK” – a far starker one than BT’s, but a subject line that is likely to achieve a better open rate as a result.

Their header is just as no-nonsense:

So, we have their logo, a nice brand image and a heading that couldn’t be clearer. That’s all this particular message needs.

The rest of the email is admirably light in weight, with just four short paragraphs that set the scene and a call-to-action that provides further details on the website:

Obviously, I clicked through and entered the landing page they’d hoped I’d end up visiting. On that page resides a table that details the new pricing and encourages me to purchase before the date of the rise if I want to take advantage of the current pricing.

Guess what I did…?

Conclusion

If you’ve got some bad news to deliver your customers, the above will hopefully have given you plenty of inspiration for how to do so positively.

So, chin up, take a deep breath, and write that email you really don’t want to send – it’ll be just fine!

About 

Mark is one of mailingmanager's email experts. His contributions to this blog openly share the tricks, tips and best practices he's learned while running multiple e-marketing campaigns.

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