Brand Central Station: Branding through email
by Jim Sterne, President of Target Marketing
Email as a branding tool? You bet your in-box.
Keeping in mind that every customer contact has an effect on your brand,
it's time to pay close attention to the way most of us reach out and touch
our customers -- email.
Today email is used for advertising, moving a prospective customer through
the sales cycle, and providing customer service. Each one of those
touch-points is an opportunity for your company to do some good or some
harm to your brand.
At The Tone, Your Brand Will Be: Altered
What's the tone of the messages you send out? There are three general
answers to that question: 1) Serious, business-like, formal, dry; 2) Light,
breezy, personal, happy, cheerful, or; 3) (and most likely) We have no idea
-- what are you talking about?
When you rent an opt-in email list like www.yesmail.com, the messages you
write are for advertising and marketing. They are well thought-out, well
designed, well planned and well timed -- or should be. But where do they
fall in the continuum between impersonal spam intent on selling another CD
of email addresses, a formal notification that your product has been known
to cause cancer in mice and a note from your mother telling you you're
brave and kind and smart and she loves you?
Somewhere in there is the personality you express with every message you
send out. Good, bad or indifferent, realize that the tone of your message
is communicating as much about your company as the offer you're sending
out. Top advertising and marketing people decide on the image they want to
project, and do their best to be consistent. Customer service people should
be as well.
Putting up a Web site is an open invitation to send you email. How quickly
you respond makes a huge impression on the other side of the screen. Score
4,000 points for responding before your customer expects it with a message
that answers their question or solves their problem. How soon does your
prospect or customer expect a response? It depends.
If they're trying to buy flowers from your Web site, an hour may be too
long. While you should never let email sit unanswered for more than 24
hours, answering sooner is always better than later.
If email languishes, unanswered within your company, the possible
reactions are that your email doesn't work, your organization isn't
bright enough to make it work, you're too busy at the moment or you
simply don't care about your customers at all. You simply wish they'd go
away and stop bothering you. If you ignore them long enough, they will.
An instant auto-response that bounces back telling me that my message was
received isn't necessarily a positive brand experience either. Especially
if it has the feeling of those awful messages on hold about how important
my call is and would I please hold for the rest of my life. Make the most
of an auto-responder and tell me that my email was received, that it is
being routed to the proper person for a proper response, and that it has
been assigned issue number 476535. I now have something tangible I can use
to bludgeon you with if I don't hear from you.
The Personality Database
Do you have a collection of answers to frequently asked questions that you,
your sales people and your customer service reps draw from to help speed
their response time? Who writes those? What personality do they project?
Are you formal? Curt? To the point? Does your email look like everybody on
staff has a law degree and is very interested in protecting the firm from
Do your messages include sentiments of concern? Do they show a sincere
interest in the customer as an individual?
Are your messages chatty? Casual? Personal? Do they give the impression
that your company is open, friendly and genuinely interested in your
"We recognize that the potential of the Fleegman Chain Saw to
intermittently fail may cause some inconvenience for some of
our customers. Please forward any further documentation to
Mr. Thurgood Fleegman, ESQ."
Which is the best answer? Obviously somewhere in between. The point is not
that you smother your customers with Band-Aids and flowers, but that you
select a communication style that best represents your company and stick to it.
"Holy mackerel! Thank you for letting us know, Bob. Jeepers but
we're so sorry to hear about what happened! We've always tried
to ensure that the Fleegman Chain Saw is the safest in the
world so I'm forwarding your message directly to Bob Fleegman
who's responsible for all product design issues. Helen Fleegman
is in charge of customer care, and she'll be in touch with your
insurance company this afternoon and everybody here is very
impressed with your acumen with your wireless Palm Pilot given
the circumstances. We'll all be rooting for you and the
reattachment of that thumb!"
Discuss the image you want your customers to have of the company and decide
which perceived personality traits are the most important. Then outline a
policy that communicates this image to those in your firm who communicate
through email. Give them some tools that will help them reflect those
traits. Write a bunch of sample copy to show them what you mean.
Finally, and perhaps most important, randomly monitor the email
communications that go out. You might be able to pluck a couple of bad
apples out of the barrel just in time.
A Real-Life Story
My wife got me a digital camera for our anniversary. Wonderful toy. The
first time I took it out on the road, I noticed that it beeped every time I
changed a setting, or took a picture. It was annoying.
I was at the airport at 6:30 in the evening on a Friday night waiting for a
plane and decided to take a look at their site. There was my camera and a world
of information about how wonderful it would be to own one. But no clues as to how to use it.
I filled out a Web form with a single question: How do I turn off the "beep" on this particular model?
On Saturday, I used the camera and annoyed those around me with its
incessant beeping. On Sunday, I left it in my suitcase. On Monday I had
meetings and on Tuesday, I got a response that consisted of my question,
and a one line answer:
I was shocked. I was stunned. I resorted to derision. I replied with his
message intact and my only addition was, "This is a joke, right?"
He didn't think so. Three days later I got the reply:
Quite seriously sir; page 98, of you owners manual explains:
"Setting the Beep Sound".
Pardon me, while I go see about having my thumb reattached.
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