Out of Context – So, What Did You Mean?

A series of out-of-context tweets by a new member of the New York Times editorial board recently set off a firestorm. The old tweets were written to mimic the racist writing of her trolls by using similar language but using white people as the subject of prejudice. It’s a classic example of why you are going to want to use all 280 characters to supply full context and meaning to tweets.

In our fast-paced lives, texts can also mystify a recipient, especially if they only amount to a few words. Go ahead and write out an entire sentence. You can do it!

There’s also the matter of the lost art of business correspondence. People used to open a letter with the phrase, “I am writing to you to” [insert purpose of your inquiry or statement]. It’s called getting to the point.

Have you ever read a long email and could not discern what the author really wanted? And then wondered if the sender was being passive aggressive or something? You can avoid that by making a mental outline, starting with the purpose of this email is [fill in the blank]. State that out front. Elaborate on the essentials: who, what, when, where, how and most importantly, why. Don’t forget a salutation. Email formats can get cluttered, so by signing off with best regards, cheers or your preferred wording, you are letting the speed reader know, yes, this is the end.

If you are making multiple points or citing data, using bullet points or enumeration really helps set apart the information for a clean, easy-to-read presentation. But, do not make too many points! The only thing worse than a short, cryptic message is a long, didactic one. If the recipient did not ask for an encyclopedic tome, don’t give them one. Respect their time. If something is that involved, it might be time for a meeting.

Pet Peeve: Cutesy Subject Lines from Solicitors

My inbox fills with random solicitations with quirky openings, such as this real subject line: “Not as bad as an awkward first date.” The email content was just as cheesy: “But it still stings 🙁
Sounds like we weren’t meant for each other. But I wanted to reach out to you one last time. I have a few suggestions on how your company can improve it’s online customer acquisition rate. If I don’t hear back, I’ll assume that the timing isn’t right.” Yeah, here’s something that is not right: your grammar. The possessive for a company is its, not it’s.

What’s up with people who send presumably thousands of emails to solicit business and yet do not bother with the grammar in their template? Similarly, this subject line phrase needs a comma: “Quick question Katharine.” Quick answer, Dude: No, I do not want to buy Instagram followers.

Similarly, I cannot stand brackets in email subject lines, such as this real one: “[BLOG] 17% of sales teams struggle with this…” Please, go away, clickbaiters. These emails come across as the written equivalent of robocallers.

Be real in your business writing, but not too casual. Be clear and direct, but mindful that short phrases can come across as terse and rude. Before clicking the send button, do a quick read to guard against typos and ensure the tone is just right. Once satisfied, let ‘er rip.





Get to the Point with Marketing Newsletter Subject Lines or Else

If you’re going to take the time to provide clients and prospects with an email newsletter, why on Earth would you make it look like spam? As a content marketer, I often sign up to receive newsletters from other content marketers I come across online, and I quite often am surprised at the cheesy subject lines in their emails. These three are real examples:

  • “Today”
  • “Just a quick thing”
  • “Here’s the list”

This reminds me of the infamous ILOVEYOU spam email that messed with some companies when employees opened the file only to download a computer virus.

My advice is simple: do NOT write a subject line that looks like you are trying to trick people into opening your email. Many assert that email subject lines should entice, be quirky or somehow else spark curiosity.

My counter argument is it is better to be direct. People don’t have time for guessing games, even if it is a matter of milliseconds. Don’t keep them guessing; that is rude. Write it like a news headline to let the recipients quickly decide whether they care or not.

If you mislead them into opening an email they really don’t care about at all, they may be inspired to take that extra step to scroll down and click on UNSUBSCRIBE. Mission defeated.

When I post the contents of this blog to my newsletter the subject line might say, “Tips from the Quill of Adroit Narratives” and the subheading might say, “Digital Marketing Viewpoints.” My audience immediately knows what to expect and whether they want to read it, save it for later or delete it. Give them the choice rather than play cutesy.

Also, if the email is time sensitive, put the date certain in the subject line, such as 10% offer good through October 31. Again, don’t bury the most important information – the reason why you are sending the email – inside the email. Why send newsletters?

  • To tell people about a special offer or sale
  • To offer free advice to valued contacts
  • To remain front of mind
  • To survey the market about products and services
  • To invite customers and prospects to an event, etc.

Note the list does not say to irritate people with irrelevant but whimsically packaged email with frothy content. Most of all, do your best to not look like you are the spawn of the spam devil.

Patience is a Virtue in Social Media

The beauty of social media is the ability to respond to the market in real-time. Indeed, Facebook rewards business pages with a responsive badge to show users that your business is likely to quickly answer questions posed on Facebook.

This can be maddening if you are besieged with questions, but answer you must. The real-time nature of social media and everything else in the digital world is a blessing and a curse.

A threshold question you may have when pummeled by inquiries is how do I decide who is my customer and how do I respond? If something is simply spammy, you have no obligation to respond. Take joy in deleting it.

But the bulk of the questions will be real and merit courteous if not thorough and warm responses. Remember to keep the social in social media and write in a voice that is friendly.

I recently worked on an event promotion project and the preponderance of questions and responses were enthusiastic and valid. They primarily wanted to know about the vendors and performances, and I readily dispensed the information. Occasionally someone wanted to get something about their own business posted or cross-posted to this event’s huge audience. I declined.

One of these inquiries was from a very ardent person who had a request that was somewhat unclear. I maintained a very polite, respectful tone, even when I had to say sorry, no. We were glad they came to the event anyway.

The funny thing is some of the weird questions that came in that were not specific to the event itself, such as can I bring my dog? (yes, it was in a public park) or is it going to rain? (um, there are a variety of news and weather outlets that provide meteorological forecasts). The best thing to do is pass along the most useful info you have at hand, including links to other sources like the parks department or a local news channel’s weather website. Keep it classy and keep it friendly.

The Right Person for the Content Job

If you are looking to create original content, be sure to start the search for material on the inside. You will want the marketing team to have special writing skills and creative talent. Just make sure they are leveraging your in-house subject-matter experts. These are the people who make, deliver or sell the product or service. Their primary job is not crafting the marketing content, but they can represent the product.

I had the privilege of participating in such an exercise this week. I went to a job site of a client to interview an expert. I had only spoken to this person on a conference call and was absolutely thrilled to see he is articulate and telegenic.

Given he was amenable, I recorded video of him on the job explaining the service being provided and then went back to my office to produce a video for social media that shows why people should retain this company’s services. This (hopefully) did not disrupt the actual work at hand and the expert was left to finish his work without having to be bothered with the marketing coordination.

For more marketing ideas, contact consultant Katharine Fraser of Adroit Narratives, LLC.


New Year, new style, keeping it real with authentic communications

Ever received a holiday email card from someone you cannot place in your mind or from someone you met once? The message this sends is hey, we decided to create a spreadsheet list of every email address with which our company has ever had any contact and blast out a greeting. Nice, but does this serve any real marketing or communications purpose? I suppose one could argue that this kind of messaging keeps one front of mind in your marketplace.

I would argue it simply looks like spam. Or worse, it really does amount to spam. By contrast, a printed holiday card or even an email sent to select customers or clients carries more significance, especially if you add a message tailored to the specific interactions the recipients have had in the past year with your company.

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The end of the year is a good time to position your business with clients and prospects as the go-to buy in the coming year. Select particular people to reach out to with a quick note, thanking them for their business this year and expressing interest in building that relationship in the New Year. This exercise will also bring focus on an internal basis to your action plan for the next quarter and year. Moreover, the recipients of such email will clearly see this message is expressly for them and not a message in a bottle cast out upon the email beach.

Giving pause to reflect on who is most important for maintaining contact and who is most important for reaching as prospects should be a regular practice, not just an end of year routine. The best gift you can give your customers is the knowledge you truly care about how you connect with them and that is conveyed with customized communications.

Adroit Narratives

Hi-touch Marketing vs. the Dreaded Spam

When it comes to online marketing the most important thing is your audience. Who are you trying to reach and did you speak directly to them? Here I’d like to walk through some DOs and DON’Ts.

One of my online groups is for fellow alumni and one fellow in particular has been apparently grating on people’s nerves by uploading his client letters to this forum when the content has little or nothing to do with the school, alumni networking or other alumni career discussions. He’s received online pushback… and, he says, some support. One commenter urged discretion when it comes to social media etiquette: yes, it may be a career social media platform, but the group is for alumni of a specific school and the content should specifically relate to that affinity community.

Likewise, ever wonder why a Facebook friend is selling a product on their personal rather than business page? Humans crave categorization and we tend to get bent out of shape when people don’t follow the mores of those categorizations.

The right note to the right people

If you are going to solicit business through social media, consider which one when you go about it. For LinkedIn, you can post a blog link to your profile or post a commentary to LinkedIn Pulse. That blog should showcase your expertise in a field without the brash tone of a late-night TV ad (“act now!”). If you are seeking new business, then use a direct message or email to a specific individual, not a blanket note to Planet Earth.

I sat in on a marketing webinar that basically suggested sending such notes to as many people as possible on LinkedIn that have some connection to someone you know in your target market. Make that even more targeted and send it to people you actually know. A career coach I know advocates that you ask people you know to introduce you to others on LinkedIn who are in your target market. Again, ensure they really are the right kind of referral, i.e., they actually know each other and that person can qualify the referral, or at least offer to make a non-committal introduction.

Plus, don’t just ask for their business; tell them what you are doing and whether they know someone who is seeking such services. It may actually be the recipient of the note himself. If he doesn’t know anyone, you haven’t pressured him to do anything. At the very least, the next time someone he knows mentions they are in the market for what you sell, he may recall that and pass along your contact information.

Yes, sometimes it’s just better to pick up the phone. Yet, we all benefit from the written word in digital channels: LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. You want to get your message out to the right people at the right time. These online posts also serve to reinforce your message.

Let’s not pretend to be too personal

In 1990s, I paid close attention to how bankers went after new investment management clients, something they needed to ramp up after brokers and insurers starting coming aggressively after the high net worth individuals who were used to big bank trust companies taking care of all their needs. One trust company touted how they were using variable data printing on high-end paper stock with embossed lettering to look just like personalized stationery in their direct mail campaigns to ritzy zip codes. That’s lovely, but if the recipient doesn’t know you, does it really matter how fancy the lettering is? Not unless the content has a great proposition, such as an invitation to a cocktail party with an esteemed speaker. For the most part, leave the personalized stationery approach to actual personalized stationery when you send a real contact a real thank-you note.

Treat your email as marketing

When you dash off an email do you read it before sending? Include greetings and salutations? It is considerate? If your email is sloppy or comes across as rude, it could be hurting your image. Take that extra moment to ensure it reflects well on you with a professional tone, economy of words and courtesy. Email is marketing and it lives forever. It is also oh-so-easy to share, so don’t write anything that would embarrass your business.

Tweet, tweet, tweet

It is OK to toot your own horn on Twitter, but there are some optimal ways to fashion these highlights of your business or area of expertise:

  • Exciting event announcements
  • Informed observations and insights
  • Helpful tips
  • Celebrating someone else’s accomplishment
  • Linking to a news story about you or your field

Tone and place

There is a tone and place for everything. Twitter lends itself to a convivial tone, but it might not transfer well to LinkedIn, where posts tend to strike an even professional tone. Think of the difference between breakroom banter and boardroom strategy sessions.

For more information on enhancing your business communications, contact consultant Katharine Fraser.

Adroit Narratives