Used properly, this modern communications tool can advance your market position

By Robert Grede, for SBT

To: Reader
cc: mom
Subject: E-mail, communication system of the 21st Century

Reader –

In the era of the telephone, the glib talker reigned supreme.
No more. Today, clear, succinct, readable e-mail can be an ideal way to correspond with clients too distant for face-to-face meetings or too busy to take your telephone call.
E-mail can request information, make a recommendation or serve as an inexpensive marketing tool. Written well, it can set you apart from your colleagues.
Here are a few simple guidelines for communicating effectively via e-mail.
1. Use the "Subject" as your headline
The "Subject" of your e-mail should serve as a headline. Draw in your reader. Identify the benefit of reading your communiqué.
Research shows that five times as many people read the Subject line as read the entire e-mail. Eighty percent delete the message without ever reading it! At that doesn’t include spam.

2. Get to the point
At Leo Burnett, we began all our memos with "This" as in "This recommends …" or "This requests information regarding …" or "This responds to your request …". While that may be appropriate for more formal correspondence, the same principle applies to e-mail.
Tell your recipient the purpose of your e-mail up front. Don’t put your examples first. Don’t digress.
The best advice I ever received: When finished writing a memo or e-mail, try putting the last sentence first and see if that doesn’t vastly improve the flow.
It often does.

3. Make it interesting
Convey your message in such a way as to make the reader want to read it. Your opening statement should compel the reader to read line two; line two should compel the reader to read line three. And so on.
Sometimes, when you need to have a long sentence to explain some complicated thing or another, follow it with a short sentence. Like this one.
Write as if you are talking to the person next to you. And forget about complete sentences. Remember the way your high school English teacher taught you? With a subject and a predicate? People don’t talk that way. You don’t need to write that way, either.

4. No more than one page
John Smale, former president of Procter & Gamble and the brand manager who first put the American Dental Association endorsement on Crest toothpaste, once dictated: "Keep all memos to one page. If you can’t say it in one page, you haven’t clearly thought out your message."
We live in a world of sound bites. We have become so busy (or perhaps so lazy), we prefer not to engage the down arrow on our keyboards.
So get to the point quickly. State your issue. Close.
If you need more than one page to state your case, make it an attachment.

5. It’s not whom you send it to, it’s whom you copy
Imagine your colleague just sent you an e-mail complimenting you upon your creativity and hard work on a particular project. And he copied your boss and your boss’s boss.
Or you just outlined a new service-training program designed to streamline your shipping and save two days on delivery. And you copied your key customers.
Use the cc: judiciously. No one wants to receive uninteresting or irrelevant e-mail.
But copying others can be an effective marketing tool. As your e-mail opinions and recommendations are circulated throughout your company and your industry, with your name attached to them, your visibility grows.

6. Use a standard format
E-mail need not follow formal letter writing format. The date and return address are automatic anyway. You can even skip the salutation, though opening with the recipient’s name is always a good idea.
Then, state your case and the reason for the correspondence, and then close. Most e-mail software includes an option for a signature. This may be anything from a simple name to a complete corporate address, phone, fax and Web site address.
Even so, it’s not a bad idea to personalize your close with your name. I use my initials like this:
Robert Grede
The Grede Company
Marketing & Strategic Planning Consulting

Robert Grede, author of "Naked Marketing – The Bare Essentials" (Prentice Hall), speaks on marketing and promotion at universities, trade shows, and playgrounds everywhere.

May 30, 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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