Yesterday I took part in a roundtable discussion on Focus.com about small business email marketing. (Thanks to Andrew Kordek, from Trendline Interactive, who moderated the chat and invited me to participate.)

One of the questions that came up was, if email marketing is meant to sell a product, then how does a small business differentiate itself from competitors? How do you speak to subscribers so they feel more compelled to buy from you?

On the roundtable, I explained that people don’t buy from businesses, they buy from people. And it’s the role of your email marketing — and your social media posts too — to humanize your business, and to earn the trust of customers.

You want to use your communications to build a relationship, not just to sell a product. After all, anyone can offer a sale, coupon, or special offer. Your content is what helps cut through the noise (especially at holiday time) and set you apart.

So what kind of content can you provide that will humanize your business and help differentiate you from your competitors? Here are 4 suggestions:

1. Include a video: Whether it’s you thanking your customers for their patronage; a customer raving about your business, product, or service; your expertise or tips for using your products; a cool company milestone; footage of your team to highlight your weird or wacky culture; or you asking for feedback from your subscribers, a video can help you to make a more personal connection because people will see and hear you speaking, and won’t be reading.

2. Meet the team: Who are the people you work with, who your customers may come into contact with? Introduce customers to waitstaff, service associates, masseurs and masseuses, dog walkers, or whoever by asking three quick questions. For example, why does this person work for the business, what is his/her favorite aspect of working with customers, or what does this person like to do in his/her spare time. Be sure to include a photo so customers know who to look for.

3. Share expertise: Your customers come to you for your products and services. But the more they learn from you, the more they’ll come to rely on you for information as well. And the content you share doesn’t even have to be your own. If you come across an article written by someone else that you think will benefit your subscribers, include it in your newsletter or on social media and just write a quick intro to explain why you like it.

4. Involve your customers: Let your customers’ voice come through, either by sharing their tips for using your products, picking their favorite dish or service that you offer, or by introducing themselves to their fellow customers.

What are the ways that you put a personal spin on your communications? I’d love to hear them. Post your thoughts in the comments below.