Previous columns have discussed how customer service reps carry a company’s brand to its customers in a very direct way and how this one-on-one brand transfer carries a lot more weight than the mass-produced efforts of the brand marketing staff.
This one-on-one brand effect is equally strong in email. I thought this was obvious. Many companies spend a lot of money creating the right look and feel for their email. Generally, these email templates reflect the look and feel of the site or company in question. But brand is more than just look and feel.
Brand is also about voice, style, language, humor, attitude, degree of familiarity, and class. Unfortunately, many brand managers come from advertising, not online interaction. Therefore, the rules they’re used to creating to manage their brands (e.g., how big copy on a magazine ad can be or how far the logo can be from the tagline) aren’t inclusive of these other ideas.
A template is just a beginning.
Several clients have hired us to assess of their email marketing strategies and their Web site’s user experience. As part of our project research, we typically receive the style guides these companies use as the creative guides for generating email or Web pages. No style guide we’ve seen so far includes any non-graphically oriented guidelines whatsoever. Often, these other variables are left up to whoever writes the email that week, which can often change erratically.
Rules surrounding these variables may also be (purposefully) different, depending on target segments. A sports company may speak in a very different way to extreme sport enthusiasts than it would to golfers. If you’re not sure what the right rules to set for these variables are, run tests! You’ll find response rates to your email can change dramatically based on segments, as well as the proper (or improper) use of voice, class, humor, personality, and other factors.
Here’s a short list of non-graphical factors that can dramatically affect an email campaign’s ability to carry a brand. All should be in your style guide:
- Voice. Is your brand funny or edgy like Comedy Central? Is it warm and fuzzy like Vermont Teddy Bear? Is it tech-savvy and no-nonsense like Sony.com? Make sure your style guide addresses the general tone of voice your email should contain. Imagine a cold-hearted mass email coming from Vermont Teddy Bear, or a diary-style rambling message from Sony.com. E-mail such as those would ruin those companies’ brand.
- Class. Class is a politically charged word, and I use it here cautiously. If Brooks Brothers emailed me using ungrammatical English or employed any kind of slang, I’d be taken aback. Its brand denotes upper-crust conservatism.
- Personality and humor. We all have personalities. Our personalities and senses of humor are part of what makes us who we are. Your company also has a personality or perhaps purposefully doesn’t have one. Sony doesn’t have a “personal” personality, and it seems a personless company. But I’m not sure I really want Sony to be different from what it is. Part of the mystique of an electronics company is the black-box effect, so maybe not having faces to relate to at Sony is OK. Airlines are notoriously personality-free, but take a look at Jet Blue and how its brand (as defined by its sense of humor) has made it successful.
These are just a few non-graphical factors that carry a brand across channels online and in email. Test these variables in your email campaigns and see which succeed for your brand and target segments. Then record them in your style guide so all your email messages have a consistent (and fully fleshed out) brand.
Finally, check all your email, not just the ones your department creates, for brand consistency. These include autoresponders (“Thanks for registering”); your backend email (“Your order has been received”); marketing email (“This week’s specials”); and service email (“We will be closed for renovations today”). Only after you’ve examined email from all sources in your company will you actually have a consistent brand.
Until next time…
Want more email marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Reference is an archive of all our email columns, organized by topic.