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E-Mail ... Overused, Abused & Invaluable

By: Andy Marken

In his nearly 25 years in the advertising/public relations field, Andy has been involved with a broad range of corporate and marketing activities. Prior to forming Marken Communications in mid-1977, Andy was vice president of Bozell & Jacobs and its predecessor agencies. During his 12 years with these agencies, he developed and coordinated a wide variety of highly visible and successful promotional campaigns and activities for clients. A graduate of Iowa State University, Andy received his Bachelor's Degree with majors in Radio & Television and Journalism. Widely published in the industry and trade press, he is an accredited member of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).

"I predict that by 2010, 100 percent of network traffic will be packetized. None of it will be voice because we will be too mad at each other from sending flame e-mails." Vint Cerf, former executive vice president of MCI and one of the founders of the Internet.

It's true.

Emotions don't travel well in the written form.

A smile, a wink of the eye, a smirk, a furled fine for face-to-face communications but they are completely missing when you use the killer application of the Internet...e-mail.

Despite the hype and global business promises of the World Wide Web, the most used, most useful and most misused Internet tool is e-mail.

E-mail is faster than conventional postal delivery and as dependable. Shortly after you hit the Send button your "target audience" usually receives the information.

Postmaster General Martin Runyon recently predicted that the giant quasi-government enterprise lost about $1.4 billion in 1998, due in no small part to the increasing use of Internet e-mail. According to the USPS nearly 40 percent of business and personal correspondence already bypasses the postal service over the Internet.

E-mail has taken off so rapidly in business that when an e-mail server, network or Internet provider's connection goes down people wonder how they can get in touch with someone. They also wonder how long before they can get to their incoming mail.

Or as one person commented recently, "If someone I need to get in touch with doesn't have an e-mail address I probably don't need to talk to him."

But like any valuable business tool people often don't understand how to use it properly or quickly find ways to abuse its use. In fact the Electronic Messaging Association estimates that over 94 million users will send over 5.5 trillion e-mail messages in 1999.

With the increasing use of push technology, the application of spam junkmail and the growing use of single keystroke e-mail mailing lists, each of us have to be concerned that we will dull the value of this important communications tool.

E-Mail Don'ts

Don't use e-mail emotionally. We've been criticized a few times when a tongue-in-cheek comment didn't quite come across in an e-mail. Since e-mail lacks the immediate feedback and verbal nuances of the spoken word don't use it when you are joking or are angry. Rather than a flamemail response, talk to the person face to face or at least over the phone.

E-mail should be avoided in a supervisor-subordinate or customer/vendor "issues" discussions.

Verbal communications gives the benefit of immediate feedback. Both parties can understand how the message is being received either by the listener's facial expressions or the tone of their voice.

Avoid the automobile cocoon syndrome. Just as some people tend to become more aggressive with their driving because they are anonymous and remote behind the wheel, the same can happen with e-mail. Increasingly there are news items about "interesting" e-mail being received with remarks people would never say in person.

Don't spam. Spamming or sending an announcement in a shotgun manner is not only discourteous to people inside and outside your organization but it is an insult to them.

We use an active database of about 4,000 e-mail addresses. Some are used only once a month. On the other hand certain individuals addresses (key customers, regular suppliers, remote office workers) are used daily and weekly.

When we develop a conference or status report it may go to as few as three-four people. When it's an announcement for a client it may go to 200-300 people around the globe. But each time the specific person is individually selected to receive the message. I don't read spammed messages so why should I expect someone else to read mine just because I'm too lazy to individualize the mailing?

Besides, if recent legislative interest is any indication there may be stiff penalties levied for people who insist on "direct mailing" their announcements to the global Internet community.

Use the bulletproof Internet e-mail test. If you aren't willing to have the e-mail printed in tomorrow's paper or you wouldn't make the same comments in public...don't write them. That includes off-color jokes, sexist or racist language or anything that can be construed as contributing to a hostile environment. E-mail messages are about as private as if they were posted in your favorite restaurant.

If you are sending company private information and want to protect your message from accidentally going to the wrong person or being intercepted by someone, you can encrypt your e-mail. Encryption makes the message unreadable until the recipient decrypts it. But use encryption sparingly. Unless you are only working on top-secret projects and programs there's no reason to over-secure everything you send across the Internet.

Think before you use the Send button. You've seen TV episodes where people accidentally sent a love letter meant for a particular person to their entire mailing list. There have been news reports of department heads sending staff salary data to everyone on the organization's distribution list. Product launch plans and company business plans have been accidentally sent to editors and reporters.

These are disasters.

But to a lesser degree each of us has sent an e-mail to someone only to discover "immediately" after it left that it didn't have the attachments you mentioned. Or the attachments were sent in a form that couldn't be read by the intended recipient. Your only recourse is to apologize and resend the message/attachments.

Speaking of attachments, the general rule should be that unless the recipient knows what you are sending don't send it.

People we interviewed for this article hate it when they open a "general delivery" e-mail and the attachment automatically copies to their hard drive. It's a waste of time to leave one storage area to open another, open the file and then determine the information that was sent is a waste of time and should be simply trashed.

Worse yet most are gun-shy about receiving "strange" attachments. The reason? It's an easy way to transmit viruses that can destroy a few files or an entire hard drive of information.

Safe computing practice says that whenever you receive an attachment with an .EXE, .BAT or .COM extension you should run anti-virus software against it before you open the file. It's great in theory and it works...unfortunately few of us practice safe computing.

Since there are so many different e-mail and word or presentation packages around it is also difficult to make certain the recipient has the same software (and version) you do so they can open and view the attachment. You're better off simply pasting the message into the body of your e-mail correspondence as ASCII text. It won't look as pretty but both parties can be assured the message is received.

Practice good netiquette and don't send spoof e-mails. Spoofed messages are those that are sent with false header information that disguises the sender. If you're not proud enough of your work or your company perhaps you should find a new career or a new company.

E-Mail Do's

Use e-mail whenever possible. From a management perspective it's significantly less expensive than sending the average business letter. And as we noted before it is faster...almost instantaneous.

In addition to personalizing who is receiving your announcement, be descriptive in the subject area of your e-mail. Putting something bland or non-descriptive in the subject area makes it very easy for the person to quickly hit the delete button or file it for "later review." Instead, make the subject informative, inviting and sometimes even intriguing.

Many people today receive 100 and more e-mail announcements. They don't have the time or desire -- and we would suspect the inclination -- to wade through every e-mail to find the one or two bits of information they need. Think of their e-mail screen as a billboard and you have less than five seconds to capture their attention.

If you're sending an e-mail format it properly and even though it is somewhat of a relaxed way to communicate write using good English. There's no excuse for poor writing.

Regardless of which e-mail program you use or whether it's for internal, external or combination usage you should thoroughly train your staff in the ins and outs, dos and don'ts, capabilities and faults and the company's general guidelines, policies and procedures before everyone is e-mail enabled. For security and HR purposes, some firms have established a program of monitoring and reviewing e-mail. If your firm has such a policy make certain everyone clearly understands the policy, the reasons for the policy and the ramifications of inappropriate e-mail conduct.

The Web may get all the glory but it's e-mail that gets results when it's used properly. The Internet and e-mail are excellent tools for responding to and working with all of your organization's stakeholders including customers, dealers, employees, investors, security analysts, suppliers and special interest groups.

Or as someone recently said, "The Internet should really be viewed as communications on steroids. It's the ultimate one-on-one communications tool."

© Copyright 1999, G.A.Marken, Marken Communications

Other Articles by Andy Marken

The author assumes full responsibility for the contents of this article and retains all of its property rights. MarcommWise publishes it here with the permission of the author. MarcomWise assumes no responsibility for the article's contents.


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