Branding Your E-Mails, Part 1

Here’s irony. I not only remember, but still possess, an artifact from the ’80s: a special “letterhead book.” These publications accommodated thousands of letterhead, envelope, and label designs. Designing a letterhead had become a work of art, honed by the imperative of clearly reflecting a company’s brand image.

By 1998, most Western countries noticed electronic mail exceeded the “snail mail” output and input. Suddenly, email replaced regular mail. This signaled the demise of good old, paper-based letterhead.

Why has virtually no attention been given the design of electronic letterhead? If I review the approximately 300 emails I receive on a daily basis from various companies all over the world, just five — yes, you read that right: five — emails are equipped with brand markers. By brand markers, I mean something beyond a signature line in Courier New font.

How many business emails do you send daily? 100? More? How many letters do you send every day? 10? Fewer? In all likelihood, you send 10 times as many emails as you do paper mail. Yet, I’ll bet the first thing you did when your company opened its doors was to print… yes, letterhead! Right? Why wasn’t the first thought designing e-letterhead? An email template to reflect your company’s spirit. You must have known you’d use email in communications many times more frequently than any other medium.

We are overlooking email as a branding tool. Many emails in my inbox, sent by people at some of the world’s most respected brands, don’t even display consistent signature lines. They change from message to message. Worse, often there’s no signature line at all, just the sender’s name (which, by the way, seems to become abbreviated to just a first name when the dialogue is friendly). Brand is 100 percent invisible. The person sending the email is a more visible brand than the company at which they are employed.

Five features should characterize email in the future:

  • A well-designed email template. This should be something simple and memorable that reflects the brand’s values without overpowering the email message.

  • Consistent use of that template by everyone in the company.
  • Guidelines for template use, such as variations on the template for separate divisions, countries, products/services, and so forth.
  • A backup template for recipients whose technology can’t read the fancy edition.
  • Significantly, investment in creating guidelines for email writing; subject lines; signatures; font choice; and content emphasis in a consistent, brand-led manner.

Your brand is not merely your logo. It’s every consumer touch point. That includes email.

My letterhead book is collecting dust on a bookshelf. But it’s waiting for a companion edition: an e-letterhead book. How long will the space beside that letterhead book remain empty? When will the corporate world care about the look and the message of its email?

This is a big topic. Over the next two weeks, I’ll focus on the art of constructing effective, branded e-letters. E-letterhead is just one essential. Effective communication of content in each email is another.

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