The Search For Lou “e-” Pasteur – Part I

    emailitis, e-bola of the Internet age, clear cause and symptoms, yet no cure in sight

One researcher posits that seven trillion email messages will enter in-boxes next year, although many of us sense we personally receive that many already.

The email e-pidemic (sorry) rocking our offices readily demotes the widely-tentacled Melissa virus of late to the status of a waning common cold. Unlike crabgrass, dandruff, and other dread, spreading diseases, the emailaise (oops) may in fact be incurable, with commercial, corporate and occasional personal e-messaging expanding almost exponentially every day.

Like every good commercial opportunity sporting an “e” upfront, new Internet messaging, email-blasting, and e-newsletter companies are born nearly each day. A “small” firm, by industry standards, can readily generate 500,000 ostensibly personalized corporate messages a week for a single client at nominal cost. One firm boasts the veritable McDonalds’ “millions and millions served,” per client, per week.

Venture capital dollars chase the e-messaging space with ardor; Softbank, the huge conglomerate, has reportedly plowed a quarter-billion into its venture alone. Investment capital is easy to come by these days, for those with an “e” in your name (as always, Goldman Sachs is the exception that proves the rule).

Businesspeople, deluged by hundreds of e-drivel daily, anxiously await arrival of the Salks, the Sabins, the Pasteurs – those who will crusade tirelessly to e-radicate all strains of emailitis. It’s making me epoplectic with rage.

While we still ache for signs of the first test tubes and lab coats, many strains of the disease have already (oops) e-merged. How susceptible are you and your organization to this growing roster of malad-e-s:

Acronymia: LTNS. afaik, btw, dyk our ceo is doa. The bod sent in the cia. PDS. Cul8r. POAHF. :-) (Translation: Long time no see. As far as I know, by the way, did you know our ceo is DOA. The Board of Directors sent in the CIA. Please don’t shoot. See you later. Put On a Happy Face.)

Acronyms are great when writing to geeks and teenagers. Wait a generation or two to start using the exponentially expanding list of email acronyms instead of legible, plain English words in correspondence, particularly to businesspeople who no longer need Stri-Dex medicated pads.

Attachment Detachment: “Here’s all you need to know about our upcoming meeting,” says the e-missive, to which five separate, disconnected documents are attached. Impossible to read, unfriendly to recipient, and challenging to digest. Clearly the work of a lazy hand showing little respect for the reader.

Often exacerbated by missing or inoperable attachments that don’t open, files in gibberish or other languages, or those for which the recipient doesn’t have proper software. Hyperlinked attachments (hint: they start with “http:” and route recipients to a website where the actual documents lie) are useless when viewed on an airplane or otherwise offline; the weblink tells you nothing other than “gotta stop and log on to figure out what this is all about.”

The Budding Hangover: “Be careful what you wish for,” says the old saw, “or you may well get it.” Consumers, strange ducks they, often do what marketers ask. So be prepared for an onslaught of consumer comment and inquiry when inviting it in an email, on a website, or on package copy. Not too long ago, the Wall Street Journal chortled as it reported on just how bad this “be prepared” can be at leading companies.

This writer’s favorite example: a WSJ reporter asked “Dear Bud Man” a simple question, as encouraged by the site: “Why is Budweiser beechwood aged.” After waiting four weeks for the appropriate committee meetings, planning sessions, legal reviews and such, the reporter was advised, to paraphrase, “Sorry. That’s confidential, top-secret manufacturing information. We can’t tell you, but thanks for asking.” Think through how, how fast, and how personally you and your organization will respond before promising to do so.

Bulk Mailitis: A disease commonly afflicting marketers, particularly of the IT and digital persuasion. Why not, they ask, send many thousands of personalized emails to our customers? Worst affliction, known as pseudopersonalia. An example, borrowed from a contest offer: “Won’t your neighbors be impressed when they see you stepping out of Post Office Box 384 in your brand new mink coat?” Anyone you’d want to do business with can recognize cosmetic, automated customization.

My “personal” thank you letter from Charles Schwab (himself) posted a 20-plus digit “message number” in the “subject” file of my very own personal note from Chuck. If you’re planning to take the time to personalize, do just that. You’re probably personalizing messages to your very most valuable customers. They deserve the best you can muster, not the fastest or most cost-e-ffective (groan).

e-masculation(a.k.a. Linguistic Typosis): Generations of CEO’s have succeeded with nary a finger touching a typewriter or computer keyboard. They shouted commands, had illiterate spewings transformed into perfect English by educated assistants, and never belied their illiteracy or lack of typing skill. In the e-merging world, if you can’t type…or write reasonably coherent English… you spend the whole day catching up, proofreading and using “spellcheck” and worse while working around the increasingly email oriented organization you’ve built.

One of our senior folks is often slowed by 50 percent as a result of typing and grammar weaknesses. And it’ll be another several years at best until speech recognition tools learn speech recognition, English grammar, and business logic all on one CD-ROM. (Hint: “Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing” is a great stealth typing trainer; costs around $30. The Associated Press Stylebook, half that much.)

Are your vocal chords drying up because you don’t talk anymore?
Can’t put the “x” in the right box on a questionnaire?
Suffering from an Ann Landers-kind of guilt because you didn’t answer every single email?

Next week: The most dreaded diseases of all and Six Steps Toward A Cure

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