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The Art of Getting Your Email Read

By William May
Published: 12/01/03 Topics: Comments: 0

Almost everyone loves email but spam makes it difficult for legitimate messages to get noticed. Users scan dozens if not hundreds of emails every day without much of a glance. There are some tried and true rules you can adopt to make sure your important message doesn't get tossed in the can.

Almost 30 years ago (yes I am showing my age) I operated a medium sized Advertising agency here in Seattle Washington. My training was in Mass Media, such as writing and producing advertising for Magazines, Newspaper, Radio and TV. It was a fun business because we got to spend all day every day writing and creating ads and commercials - figuring out how to get the clients message across.

AGE OLD RULES: ass media is much different than the personal communication we all use everyday. So when given a chance to take a letter writing course I figured it would be good training. And boy was it! The course title was boring - "How to Write Compelling Business Letters" - but what the instructor imparted were common sense tips that have proven to be just as effective in writing emails as they were in typed letters (There I go showing my age again).

So I thought I'd share some of those ideas you can use when writing emails to prospects and guests. You will notice that I have adapted them for today's email needs but I would urge you to keep them in mind when preparing letters as well. You will find these tips are wonderful for sales and customer service. But they are just as helpful in dealing with vendors, government authorities, and other kinds of contacts.

(1) WRITE PERSONALLY: Pompous letters are boring letters. Every business needs a lawyer but sales and customer service letters shouldn't sound like legal briefs. Many recipients will not read anything that is long or boring. Use the kind of familiarity you would use in writing your mother, brother or children. "Hi John" is better than "Dear Mr. Jones."

Yes people like to be respected but your goal in writing personal communications is to "breed familiarity." You don't want them to say "How does this person know me.' but instead, "How do I know this person."

## The cool thing about writing personally is that it's fun. And you don't have to follow those old grammar school rules. Show your personality. Show your enthusiasm.

(2) WRITE AS YOU SPEAK: English teachers insist on complete sentences. But readers do not. In fact, long or complicated sentences actually decrease comprehension. Its been estimated that the average person can hear and comprehend thousands of words per minute. That same person can speak up to four hundred to eight hundred words per minute but can usually only write about 40 words per minute. (Think about a typing test.) Part of the reason is that when writing we shift into a "as taught in school" mode that we casually discard when speaking. Professional writers, such as newspaper or magazine journalists, know better. They write using short, tight sentences to get your attention and keep it.

BAD: "Hello Mother this is your eldest son speaking. I would like to invite you to dinner next month. I will be happy to pay for the dinner. Call if you are interested in accepting my offer." (OK its a silly example)

BETTER: "Hi Mom, can I buy you dinner?"

(3) USE PARAGRAPHS: Have you ever gotten a 500 word email that was all one paragraph or, worse yet, one sentence? Forget what they taught you in high school and, instead, start noticing how newspapers are written. They employ short crisp sentences and short paragraphs. Many paragraphs are a single sentence. Newspaper writers and editors have been honing their craft a long while. Every article fights for the readers attention. They know they have to get out the facts quickly and bundle sentences into logical short paragraphs. You should too.

WRONG: "Mr. Jones, Enclosed herewith please find our contract for the reservation of the unit we have available at the Wapato Point Lake Chelan Resort Community. You are required to execute this legal document and return it to us within 10 days or you will lose your deposit without further notice. Wapato Point is a gated community and we require Guests to follow the rules and regulations and all state laws regarding lodging. You must checkin at the reception desk and sign further documents. If you have questions you may call me at 888-628-8989. Otherwise I await the return of the contract - Penny L. Taylor, Guest Relations Director"

RIGHT: "Hi John, Thanks for deciding to stay with us. Please return the enclosed paperwork in the next week. I'll send you the directions and rules.

Call me if you need anything else. You'll love Wapato Point.

Penny Taylor, Sunspot Vacation Rentals 888-628-8989"

(4) USE THE CUSTOMERS NAME: No one would think of sending a letter without including the person's name at the head. Your emails may be getting only a glance from recipients as they discard spam. You can improve being noticed by including the person's first name in the Subject of the email and as the first line of the text as well. As an example, you will notice we include members names in all emails including this newsletter.

(5) CHOOSE SALUTATIONS CAREFULLY: The way a letter starts alerts the reader to whether you know them. It is always best to use a person's first name. However, and this is a big however, if you use the wrong first name you will reveal that you do not know actually know them. For example: I use William or Wm. on my correspondence. But most people call me Bill. If you phone or write and ask for William this tells me we've never met.

Choosing the correct salutation to use for many names is obvious. For "Steve Smith" you would use "Dear Steve." But if the name is "Stephen Smith" the choice is difficult. Call him "Steve" or "Stephen" and you may get it wrong. In such cases the only safe bet is to address your letter "Mr. Smith."

And what do you do with names where eve the gender is unclear? The answer is to avoid the name altogether. Normally you would never want to use a generic greeting but in the case of unknown gender its wise to resort to something like "Hello There."

(6) WRITE DESCRIPTIVE SUBJECTS: This is a goal borrowed from print advertising. Advertising copywriters can spend days writing hundreds of headlines in order to boil their headline down to the single best six words. They invest this time to draw readers to an ad that may have cost tens of thousands of dollars to run. Think about it. Drawing readers to your email messages can be as difficult as getting a magazine ad read. So the words you put in the subject will determine whether you pass the test.

- If you are sending information you want to include reference to your home or resort. Such as "Bill - Snoqualmie Pass Rental Info"

- If you are responding you might try. "Jennifer - Answers about the Caribbean Dive Shack."

- If you they really don't know you, how about "Mrs. Smith - Paris Artist Loft Info - From Louis Armond"

There is limited space for your email subject. But many are too short. Include everything important and nothing extraneous.

(7) KEEP IT SHORT: A one sentence letter can receive 20 times the readership of a 20 sentence letter. There may be certain keys that must be covered and require a letter to be longer than desirable. But the text of the letter should be as short as possible without eliminating crucial data. On the other hand, the text area allows unlimited space and sometimes you must use it to fully answer questions or provide essential information.

(8) USE ASSUMPTIONS: Emails and letters are not essays or term papers. You don't need elaborate explanations and references and footnote like descriptions. When someone calls about your home in the Great Smokey mountains you do not need to where they are. Assume callers have some knowledge. Of course, if you detect that they think the Great Smokies are in Colorado you'll want to ask a few questions and make sure they really want to stay in your location.

(9) DON'T OMIT POINTS: This may sound contrary to the tip just above, but writers often fail to include the most basic of information. If you require that rent, cleaning fee and deposit be paid in advance you must be careful to always discuss them all together. This will eliminate confusion and disagreements at later dates.

BAD: "The rent is only $250 per night."

BETTER: "The rent is only $250 per night (plus cleaning and deposit)."

(10) ELIMINATE OFFENSE WORDS: No I'm not talking about profanity. But there are certain words that scare people or cause them to question your sincerity. Those words include legal terms such as "Contract", "Signing" and "Obligations." You may indeed have to use these words after the fact if a guest attempts to circumvent the intention of the legal document.

But in sales it is more persuasive, and just as ethical, to use equally clear but more easily accepted words. For the word "Contact" you can use "Paperwork" or "Understanding." Don't ask people to sign things when they are happier to "Approve" details. Everyone is willing to follow the "Rules" but almost no one wants to be obligated to things they do not understand.

(11) ELIMINATE WEASEL WORDS: Every beginning advertising copywriter learns about weasel words. These are the suffocating terms inexperienced writers accidentally use to weaken their message. They include terms such as "Up to", "Almost everything", "Selected Items" and so forth. Maybe a lawyer has pulled at the writers ear or the client has instructed the writer to do so without fully understanding how this alerts the consumer to the deception. Weasel words also include things like URGENT, IMPORTANT, IMMEDIATE. Not because these are bad words but because they have been so badly abused. Writers naturally discard these words as having any importance.

Would you rather go to a sale where "URGENT - Almost everything was up to 50% off?" or would you want to go to a sale where "Absolutely everything 40% Off".

In advertising or writing about your rental be explicit but make your offer bold. If you offer the low season at half off the high season rates have the guts to say so. Try not to include a lot of rules, caveats or exceptions.

(12) PUT FACTS BELOW SIGNATURE: By now you've learned these newsletters are seldom short. I like to think we are delving into some subjects that many members have never discussed. Last week the topic of Terms and Conditions required a good deal of legal jargon and accompanying explanations. So I choose to put all that beneath the signature line. You should use this same method if, let's day, you had a laundry list of directions and operating details guests needed to know prior to checking in. Write a short intro email and indicate the details are below your signature. That way the guest can see the email is from you and read the balance at a later time if they don't have right then.

(13) ASK FOR COMMITMENT (THE ORDER): So after you've written this nice little letter or email don't stop dead in your tracks and sign off. Instead, always tell the recipient what, if anything, you are asking them to do. And don't white wash it. If there is anything I have learned about selling, it is that people want to be told what to do to get what they want.

BAD: "Here is the information you requested. Thank you."

BETTER: "I'm including our brochure and rate card. Please call when you get this. The summer is booking up quickly"

(14) DROP FORMALITY: I am sure your family and friends are impressed if you are the "Vice President of Sales and Marketing," but in casual communications titles intimidate and that is something you only want to have happen in cases of severe disagreements or problems. My full names is "William Victor May" which is appropriate in some circumstances. But usually I sign letters Wm. May or Wm. and without a title.

(15) INCLUDE CONTACT INFO: And do remember to sign all email. It is amazing how many messages I receive where I am unable to determine who sent it. In the first message or two it may be warranted to include extensive contact information so the recipient is sure to find you again even if its months or years in the future. In that case I might use a signature block like this:

Jimbo Jones
Happy Days Rentals
PO Box 555
North Fork, MT 55555
Voice: 555-555-5555
Fax: 555-555-5555
Email: Jimbo@HappyDays.comJimbo@HappyDays.com
Web: (HappyDays.com)HappyDays.com

But after a few emails, letters or phone calls it is time to switch to a more informal signature. By then the recipient knows who you are and why you are communicating with them. Repeating your contact information defeats the purpose of emphasizing familiarity. Of course, there is some information the person will find handy such as your phone number but usually so you might shorten your signature as follows:

"Jimbo Jones 555-555-5555"

If you are an accomplished writer, you may have found these tips obvious and sophomoric. But its been my observation that most executives and business owners write very few letters, sales materials or other documents. Its my theory that so many teachers have spent so much time editing and correcting and requiring strict conformance to formal writing rules that many students simply give up trying to communicate effectively and personally.

Perhaps a positive attribute of the Email phenomena is that it has prompted or even required people to put their thoughts in writing. Most of us now do more writing in a week than we used to do in a year. And if you are going to bother doing all that writing think about how these tips can help make your thoughts easy to understand, more informative and persuasive.


As always I seek your input. Please share your tips, techniques, compliments, and complaints on this or any other subject by writing me at Director@VROA.orgDirector@VROA.org.

In French "Pied-à-terre" means a secondary or temporary lodging. From artist's loft to country farmhouse, members Chara & Walid Halabi have three marvelous homes in Paris for your next rental. See (ParisPiedaterre.com)ParisPiedaterre.com. (If you want your place considered for Home of the Week please drop me an email.)

Thank you, I am very impressed with your site! My friends up in Blue Ridge will be signing up soon!
- Gary, Brooksville Florida

Glad you like it Gary. We appreciate your recruiting. Increasing membership will help us budget more owner services.
- Wm. May

Please see the website section for other ideas:
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Author: William May, MayPartners Advertising
Blog #: 0037 – 12/01/03

Comments: 0

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