Send emails that get read

There must be several hundred emails in my inbox right now that I haven’t had time to read. Although I think I’ll get to them sometime soon, it probably won’t happen. They’ll just get older until I “clean house” one day without ever reading any of them.

Email is a great tool for communicating with our customers and prospects. In fact, while Facebook, Twitter and other social media are the darlings of the day, the use of email is still the No. 1 digital method. The problem is: How do you get people like me to read and respond rather than leaving a message in the “pile” that will someday just face the “delete” key? The solution is: We must grab attention and make it easy for the recipients to respond.

First, it’s all about the subject line. If it’s not clear and, hopefully, compelling, the email will likely go to the “pile.” A good subject line can be the edge that gets people to read and act. At the same time, if the subject isn’t of real interest to the recipient, the message is doomed. In fact, if we’re sending email knowing the recipient will not likely be interested, we are shooting ourselves in the foot. That’s because we’ll build up an impression in the recipient’s mind that all our emails don’t contain anything they’re looking for and hitting “delete” becomes automatic.

Second, put the proposition right up front in the first or second line. Unfortunately, when we talk with people face to face we usually provide some background information that leads up to our proposition. In email, that approach earns “delete.” If the subject line has gotten the recipient to open the email, it’s critical that the key proposition be at the top or the recipient can check out before ever getting the point. Do not accept the common thinking that the recipient needs to read the message context first before being convinced to act. An opening paragraph that doesn’t catch the attention will likely be all that’s ever read. So lay it on the line up front.

Finally, keep writing simple. Today’s writing experts, like leading authority Bryan A. Garner writing in the Harvard Business Review, offer advice worth following. For example, write in an active, not a passive, voice. Garner says many people think using the passive voice is more formal but the truth is it is just boring. The passive voice is when it’s not clear who is performing the action in the sentence. Passive – “Mistakes were made.” Active – “We made mistakes.” Similarly, avoid using terms like “I think” or “I feel.” They’re indecisive expressions that don’t send a convincing message.

I remember my English teachers taught us not to use contractions when writing. But Garner disagrees with those who still hold that using contractions is unprofessional. “That’s obsolete guidance,” he says. He’s right. After all, we speak using contractions all the time and there is nothing wrong with doing so in our written communications, especially emails. On the other hand, it’s not a good idea to use acronyms in our emails. Acronyms slow our readers down as they mentally pause to piece the acronym together. Stick to real words whenever possible.

But perhaps the best takeaway from all this is to keep it short. When Garner is coaching new writers, he tells them to get to the verb. It’s much easier to use a lot of words than to go back and edit them to succinctly make your proposition. “Look for ways to trim your writing and get to your key message as rapidly and clearly as possible,” Garner says.

Emails are still a cheap, effective tool that should be part of every dealer’s marketing plans. They are worth the extra effort to make sure they’re well-written and carefully distributed to recipients that would really be interested in the information and proposition.


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