Begin with the End in Mind: Email Do’s and Don’ts Marketing Taught Me

By Sue Stoney, the Message Crafter

We all use email in and out of the workplace and have our pet peeves about how it is used poorly. So, I was tempted to see what the rules of etiquette could teach us about this subject.

But I realized that direct marketers have more to teach us about how email can help us get what we need done online. So, the following do’s and don’ts offer insight into the subject line and the email “insides” from a marketer’s perspective.

Do write a subject line that points to what’s inside

Make the subject line short without sacrificing specificity. I know this is hard. As a marketer, I wrote emails with 5-to-8-word subject lines and online ads with 25-character first lines.

“So glad you attended the meeting” is polite conversation but not useful.  A well written subject line will:

  • Get them to look at your content
  • Help them find the email later when they need to take action

The example that follows is a subject line designed to get results:

Your action items from HR meeting, Wed., May 15

Don’t “piggy-back” onto someone else’s subject line…

…if you can help it. Sometimes, you just have to use the “Reply All” function to take ownership of action items or to correct dates, times or errors that would affect others.

Remember that email messages are the electronic form of the memo or letter. That you can “Reply to All” with the electronic format does not mean you should.

Any one of the following five things may be a sign that your “camp-on” is not appropriate:

  1. The recipients number more than 20
  2. You have a bone to pick with others in the group
  3. You don’t personally know one or more persons in the group
  4. You’re going off-topic
  5. Your reply is a simple “thanks” or “got it”

Recall this article’s title. If you begin with your end goal in mind, you’ll realize that your “Reply-to-All” should not…

…single out others to their embarrassment

…involve issues better left to one-on-one interaction

…give offense

…be your private debate with other recipients’ replies

Sometimes, you just have to respond to individuals individually. Send a new message to just the ones you need to reach and attach this email to it. Consider calling or visiting others in person.

When you do have to “piggy-back”…

…use the following tips to help tie your added information to the original content and guide recipients to their relevant portions:

  • After the “RE:” or “FW:”, before the original subject line, include an all-caps, short message summarizing your additions (example: “DATE CHANGE FOR NEXT MEETING”)
  • Use non-rich-text ways (no highlighting, text colors, bolding or italicizing not available on all email displays) to show your additions (examples: “From Sue:” or “THE PROJECT TEAM COMPLETED THIS TASK TODAY” in line with or just under the original item)

Consider bringing content from the original message up to your part of the reply, so your comments are closer to your name in the “From” line.

Do make sure the message relates to the linked-to content

An email message to members of a networking site, such as LinkedIn, should link to a blog or posting that is what your subject line says it is. When readers click, they should see what they expected to see.

Do write succinctly and directionally

Being brief and to the point without using linguistic shortcuts is possible and allows your reader to stay focused on the end goal.

Emails are not text messages. Leave out the “ur”, “lol” and “OOTO”. Also skip the jargon, acronyms and other abbreviations that form insider-speak for only some of the readers of your message.

“Directional writing” leads the reader to what marketers term the “call to action”. Use short sentences and paragraphs and lists. Sub-heads above paragraphs will lead readers to what you want them to do.

Every communication – email is no exception – should have you asking, “Why am I sending THIS COMMUNICATION to THESE PEOPLE at THIS TIME?”

Don’t make the message about you

Marketers know this for sure: If you want people to buy your products or services, you need to make your message about them, not you. It’s called the “WIIFM” principle – “What’s in it for me?”

Meeting notes, an article you found useful, requests for help – all have an innate “win-win” component. Ultimately, you will get what you want if your email readers get what they want out of it.

What is email communication all about?

It’s about accomplishing tasks in pursuit of goals. What I need to do doesn’t have to compete with your end goal – even if we work for competing companies or volunteer with different organizations. And if we both work for the same organization, our end goals should be aligned.

So why is it that our email messages don’t get the job done and / or drive others crazy? Because we forget that email is not so much a project tool as it is an electronic form of communication.

Effective communication requires mutually beneficial interaction. “Quid pro quo” is the way of the world. We work – and communicate – efficiently when we work together instead of at cross purposes.

Sue Stoney has been a writer, editor and business writing coach, primarily in the San Francisco bay area, for more than 25 years.

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