Emails That Talk to (not down to) Your Circle of Influence

By Sue Stoney, The Message Crafter

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If you are a business owner, as I am, your email lists consist of a variety of contacts. My own lists revealed these types of email contacts:

  • Clients (some do what I do; some don’t)
  • Prospective clients
  • Other business communicators (expertise similar to mine; specialty may be different)
  • Business partners (also sometimes clients)
  • Fellow members of professional organizations

Because you are a business owner, you probably use email for what marketers call “content marketing”. According to recent research by ExactTarget (a popular digital marketing service provider), email is (still) favored by consumers and a cost-effective way to gain sales. In fact, email took the lead in conversions to sales in the second quarter of 2014 (ahead of search and social media posts).

The trick to writing an email message that walks the line bordering these different business relationships is what one life coach calls “standing in your excellence”. Let’s look at that terminology for a moment: What are the characteristics exhibited by an expert?

5 characteristics of a subject matter expert:

  • Knows what he or she knows (confident, not officious or defensive)
  • Knows what he or she doesn’t know; values lifelong learning to add to the knowledgebase
  • Passionate about his or her expertise
  • (Com)passionate about others’ area (and level) of expertise as it relates to his or hers
  • Able to pass along to others information on and enthusiasm for his or her area

How do these 5 characteristics translate into language a subject matter expert uses? The answer is simple and its application is challenging and rewarding and includes 3 rules of thumb for writing effective email messages:

1. Speak with authority tempered by humanness

Do you remember the character “Data” from the Star Trek series and movies? When he spoke, he sounded like an automaton (which he was). As his name implied, he drew from his vast database whenever he responded to someone else’s question. Even when he was the inquirer, you always had the sense that he would be storing the other party’s answer in his knowledgebase.

What editors call “authorial tone” matters. How we say what we say makes a difference. Can I sound as though I know what I’m talking about and also like an approachable fellow human being? Of course.

We are not automatons but can sometimes come across that way. This is especially true for written communication, such as an email message. I recommend to my clients that their writing process include an editing component. Start a draft on the momentum of your enthusiasm and write until you run out of steam. Then walk away and do something else. When you come back, look at your email with your editor’s cap on (your writer’s cap momentarily set aside). Read it aloud. Record yourself and play it back.

If we’re being truthful, we acknowledge that we are all geeks or nerds about one thing or another. Tune your non-Data-like ear to listen for the lecturer, the statistician, the scientist, the know-it-all in your message. Look for ways to describe something that avoids jargon, abbreviations, acronyms and other specialized language known to the chosen few in your area of mastery.

Even if some in your audience know the secrets of the language you’re using, they may well appreciate your analogy to something a broader audience would understand. It might help your colleagues see the subject from a different point of view.

An example of this use of a broad-audience-appeal analogy comes from a blog post of my own:

I have a vivid memory of the then three-year-old daughter of a co-worker calling to us, her dad’s workplace peers, “‘Mon, friends, ‘mon, friends!” as she urged us to join her on a walk-through of a work environment new to her but not to us. We could just about see it through her excited eyes as she led us through the hallways.

Effective communication is the hallmark of a good leader and kind of like this memory of mine. Communication is the connective tissue between the leader’s vision and the rest of us who partner with him or her to make the vision a reality.

2. Pitch your email message to the middle of the road

If your contact list includes people in different relationships with you as described earlier, your editing process should measure the amount and type of detail you offer. Too much and you turn off others who know as much as you do (or more). Too little and you lose the layperson and the novice.

Where should the detail go that you leave out of the email? More properly, where do your readers go to get the detail they need? That’s what hyperlinks (the connections to places on the Internet, including your website) are for. Include a short definition of a complex term and link to:

  1. Another page on your website with Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) for your field of interest or a Glossary of Terms for [fill in your field here] or your blog article on a related topic (all good for keeping visitors on your site instead of sending them elsewhere)
  2. A page on another reputable website that has further detail and / or substantiation for statistics you’ve quoted or claims you’ve made (ideally, this might be the site of a business partner)

Consider your email’s purpose. Is it to sell your products and services to prospects or upsell to your current clients? Does it link to the blog section of your site or other page to download your content (white papers, e-books and other materials that showcase your credentials)?

In the case of the “email to sell”, don’t miss the opportunity to provide snippets of knowledge in conjunction with your offers. Pure marketing language turns people away. Free content folded into marketing establishes your credentials, providing a reason to buy your products or retain your services.

For the email that offers people an avenue to get to your content, don’t forget about the lead-to-sale conversion process that connects what you know with what you sell. Be sure that the page you link to will be worth their while to get to whether or not they decide to purchase. On the page with the free full-length blog article or white paper download, also provide links to pages that invite them to buy.

3. Test your language with fellow experts, as well as non-experts

In a blog article I wrote about writing for business, I assert that collaborative writing produces better business communication. I’ve seen this throughout my career. So the editing process for anything you write should include at least one reviewer besides you. If you can get two others, one an expert in your field and one not, that is even better.

Type your terminology into a search engine browser and see how your competitors refer to that thing. Check in with your customers to see what they call it.

What does writing effective email messages have to do with business?

The answer to this question goes back to the ExactTarget research I referenced earlier. If email is still a preferred and cost-effective marketing communication tool, why wouldn’t you want to improve your use of it by improving your messaging? Good writing means good business.

Do you or someone you know need help with writing or editing? Or would you like an introduction to your own inner writer? Call me at 925.334.2632 and let’s talk about how I can be of service.