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The Etiquette of Email Marketing at the Office

  |  March 6, 2002   |  Comments

Stop. Before you hit ’send,’ make sure that email to your colleague is delivering the message you intend to convey.

I’ve spent a lot of time talking about the value of sending email newsletters to your house list.

I’ve also blathered on about the challenges of reaching your target audience through a blast email campaign to an opt-in rental list.

But, of the billions of business email messages spinning through the ether, the majority belong neither to email retention nor to acquisition marketing campaigns.

Most emails are quick e-notes or long e-memos from one employee to another. Emailing to colleagues and contacts inside your company, particularly if it is a large corporation, is more than a form of communication. It’s a way of promoting your department’s capabilities, driving home the importance of your team’s product launch, or showcasing your own project.

It’s the positioning, marketing, and sales of You, Inc. -- your team, department, or subsidiary.

Have you ever hunched over your computer for several minutes trying to figure out just the right list of people to include in the "CC" line of your message? Sure, it’s office politics. But it’s also part of doing business today. You are what you email.

I sometimes wish email didn’t have its tentacles so deeply entwined in our work lives. For those of us who confess to being addicted to email, this can be problematic. We all know deep in our hearts that we’re spending too much time on email. (I won’t even get into the topic of instant messaging.) But, as long as that’s the case, let’s make the best of that time.

Herewith are some principles and best practices of email marketing that can be applied to your email communications at the office. Call it Debbie’s Quick Guide to Business Email Etiquette. It doesn’t cover whether to include attachments or why you should be careful about blind carbon copying (BCCing) at the office. Rather, it’s a look at how to use email as an intracompany marketing strategy.

If you have additions to my rules -- or want to dispute them -- let me know. I’d like to hear your spin on email marketing inside your company.

What’s Your Business Objective?

Every time you sit down to compose an email message, start with your business objective. Is it to convey logistical information (the meeting has been changed to 11 a.m.)? Is it to summarize next steps on an important initiative? Is it to impress your boss?

One of the prime reasons for volleying messages back and forth at the office is to appear plugged in, busy, involved with all the important projects, and present at the right meetings.

If you don’t have a true business objective, then heck, don’t do it by email. Pick up the phone and call your coworker two floors up to invite him to lunch. Or take the stairs to get out of your office or cubicle. Better yet, scribble a note on a piece of paper. It’s so... real. And handwritten notes make a huge impact in business.

Think of Your Message as a Printed Memo

Picture how that memo will look printed out on the desk of everyone who is meant to receive it. Now picture the memo being read by someone for whom it’s not intended. You want to sound intelligent and businesslike, right?

The subject line of your email is the memo title in big, bold type. The summary is clearly stated in the first sentence or paragraph. Short paragraphs that are easy to skim lay out the main points.

Pretend you’re standing in front of your boss’s desk and telling her something. How would you do it? You’d want to get your point across quickly. You’d be results-oriented. You’d be specific. You’d be brief. Write your emails like that.

Less Is More

This is one of the hardest things to control in intraoffice email. The fewer emails you send -- and the more cogent and succinct they are -- the better impression you will make. You’re signaling that you’re actually working, you’re on top of things, and you’re not just sitting at your computer managing your overflowing inbox. Remember, everyone’s inbox is bulging. Don’t let that become your "work."

Over time, colleagues form an impression of you based on your emails: "Here’s a message from Matt. Doesn’t he have anything else to do other than keep us updated on the company’s softball league?" or "Oh, it’s Susan. Odd that she can’t spell, given her high-level position in the marketing department. Wonder if she’s really all that competent..."

Why Good Grammar and Correct Spelling Matter

You can bend the rules occasionally. It’s OK to write a quick message to someone you know without capitalizing. But you’ll build up credibility as a clear thinker and a leader if you pay close attention to proper grammar and spelling. Wouldn’t you do the same if you were sending an email promotion or an e-newsletter to your house list? And isn’t that one of the principal objectives of business-to-business (B2B) email marketing -- to enhance your company’s reputation as a thought leader?

The Pause Before Hitting "Send"

Always consider the business consequences of sending your message. Is it going to the right person? Is your message articulate and to the point? Is email the right channel for your communication? If it’s something complicated, the phone or an in-person meeting is usually better. Communicating by email is quick and easy, but if you’re sloppy, too informal, or use an inappropriate tone, it can do permanent damage.

A Few Resources for Managing Email

Email 911 is my favorite resource for information about using email. Another one is emailreplies.com. Here’s a good article on email etiquette tips, including cautions about using people’s nicknames in your salutations and about treating business information confidentially.

Don’t forget to send me your thoughts on email as an intracompany marketing tool.

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Debbie Weil

Debbie Weil is publisher of WordBiz Report, which focuses on the business of words online. It was awarded The Newsletter on Newsletters' Gold Award for Online Subscription Newsletter. A former newspaper reporter with an MBA and corporate marketing experience, Debbie is an expert on B2B online content and marketing at both the strategic and creative levels. She was Web content marketing manager for Network Solutions (now part of Verisign) before launching WordBiz.com.

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