This morning I turned on my computer to find several dozen messages that had arrived overnight. A few of these messages were from my friends and colleagues — but others were from ministries and companies across the U.S. and around the world.
I found myself drawn to certain messages, while putting off opening or even deleting others.
My sudden awareness of this semi-mindless action led me to muse — what is it in an e-mail that captures my imagination? What triggers this unconscious prioritization of messages? What ignites or extinguishes my interest? If we could understand this mental process, we could make our e-mail communications more effective.
Entering people’s lives through e-mail is a privilege. We cannot force ourselves upon them — they must invite us in. Once they invite us, we must understand the dynamics that drive the e-mail communications process. Whether writing to a single individual or thousands of people, understanding how people process e-mail can help you become more effective in its use.
Below is a list of seven keys that impact the way most people view their e-mail experience:
1. Relationship — If the e-mail is from someone I know and like, I find myself quickly drawn to find out what they have to say. We all enjoy relationships, and e-mail has become an effective way to maintain and even develop them. If an e-mail is from a business associate, I may put off opening the e-mail until I am ready to take the appropriate time to deal with the subject. The key is to be sure the person knows you and wants to hear from you when you send an e-mail.
2. Subject — The second key is the subject line. If the subject is obviously a bulk-mail sales topic like “Life Changing Opportunity,” “Claim Your Gift Card,” or “This Formula Really Works,” it typically goes immediately into the junk-mail folder. If, however, the subject is personal and timely, the message will probably get opened. Keep your subject line clear and compelling, and be careful of hype.
3. Brevity — I have several clients that will only respond to an e-mail if it is one paragraph. If I have to ask them three questions, I send them three e-mails. E-mail is designed to be a quick medium of communication. It is not the forum for a lengthy treatise. Remember, the best use of e-mail is to instruct, inform, or confirm — not to admonish, argue, or negotiate. Keep your messages brief and to the point and more people will read them.
4. Intrigue — There are times when an e-mail will just capture my attention and raise my curiosity. It may be the subject line — the graphics — the sender — or perhaps an unexpected combination of these that piques my interest. Use this sense of intrigue to give your reader a moment of pause. For example, if your pastor writes to you about a great new recipe he found and you know he has never cooked in his life, you may just be curious enough to find out what it is all about. Try to maximize the element of intrigue when you send e-mails.
5. Benefit — This trigger relates to the “subject” in many ways. There is a fine line between the trite sales slogans I referenced earlier and a true opportunity that holds benefit for me. If I will benefit by the contents of an e-mail, I am certain to open it. In your subject line and first few words of your e-mail, try to communicate benefits to the recipient.
6. Graphics — If you are like me, you may preview e-mails before you open them. This is where the graphic appeal of an e-mail is immeasurably important. If the graphic is corny, cluttered, and clumsy, most people will pass it by. However, if the graphic is clever, compelling, and clean, most people will stop for a moment to admire its beauty. At that moment, they are also absorbing your message. The right graphic treatment can make the difference between e-mail failure and success.
7. Video — Video e-mails are a rapidly growing phenomenon. The reason they are gaining popularity is simply because they work! A short 60-second video message can increase the number of people who open your e-mail and drive your message home. I have a client who holds meetings in various cities across the country. He sends a video e-mail to everyone on his mailing list near that community to invite them to come to the meeting. Then he sends a follow-up video e-mail after the event thanking them for coming. It is high-tech and high-touch — and it builds a high level of personal interest and affinity.
So, when utilizing e-mail, keep these keys in mind. Communication only occurs if people hear what you say. These keys can help ensure communication happens and your message is received.
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