Branding Yourself Online

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10 Writing Tips for E-mail Branding Power

by Bob Baker

There are good ways and bad ways to use e-mail to convey your brand identity. Your goal is to string together words, sentences and paragraphs that grab attention, inspire and motivate people to act. Above all, you must accomplish all these things while communicating your brand message in ways that the busiest, most distracted reader will comprehend. Here are 10 writing tips to help you get your e-mail branding point across.

1. Use the person's name in the salutation. "Dear Bob" gets my attention far more than "Dear Sirs," which is politically incorrect on top of being boring. It's okay to send an anonymous e-mail to find the name of the person you need to contact or when sending a generic note to tech support. Otherwise, always send e-mail to a specific person and use his or her name in the salutation, especially when marketing your brand. It's pretty common these days to use a person's first name, even when contacting someone for the first time, but use your own judgment regarding when it's appropriate to be formal or informal.

2. Have a great opening. First impressions are important. When you meet someone face to face, the way you dress and groom yourself has a great impact. With e-mail, your first one or two sentences dictate whether your message gets read or deleted. Make your opening words count. Don't write lines such as "This is really important, so please read this" or "The best way to explain who I am is by starting from the beginning."

Get to the point, be specific and indicate a benefit, as in "I just visited your web site and loved your dog grooming articles so much I'd like to plug them in the next issue of my e-zine." Once you've got the person's attention, you can spend a few more sentences explaining who you are and what you might like in return.

3. Use short sentences and simple words. For ten years I published a music magazine. Having seen hundreds of submissions from freelance writers, I know there are countless writers hell-bent on impressing people with their command of the English language. These wordsmiths bob and weave their way through longwinded sentences and hundred-dollar words. Don't engage in this nonsense. Keep your e-mail messages simple and focused on your brand message. Your identity will cut through the clutter much quicker if you do.

4. Focus on the recipient's self-interests. With this topic, we encounter the yin and yang of branding and benefits. On one hand, you must communicate your name, what you do and how you do it. On the other hand, you must cater to the self-interests and egos of the people to whom you send e-mail. Here's the best rule to follow: Lead with benefits, follow up with details on your brand identity.

For example, don't write, "I am a great photographer with an excellent online gallery of my work. Please review my photos!" Instead, write something like, "My customers have been encouraging me to visit your photography site for months. I finally did and I'm sorry I waited so long. What a wonderful resource you've put together. I can also tell you enjoy exposing cutting-edge photography from up-and-coming artists. When you have a chance, please visit my online exhibition of sports photography. I believe your visitors would appreciate knowing about this collection."

5. Repeat your Brand Identity Statement (BIS) in different ways. You already know the importance of having a BIS. The obvious place to use your BIS in an e-mail is to make it a part of your sig file. But don't rely on that one reference alone to get your message across. Repetition is the mother of learning, so paraphrase and repeat the essence of your identity throughout your message.

6. Use pain and pleasure hot buttons. As we discussed in Chapter 2, "Crafting the Best Brand Identity for You," you must find a way to position your brand image as providing a solution to your fans' problems. Be sure to make references to those problems in your e-mail messages, such as "Thanks for inquiring about my press release writing services. Having worked as an editor for over a decade, I can tell you that more than 90 percent of all press materials are poorly written and end up going straight into the trash can. I'd love to help keep your press release out of the 'round file.'"

Don't go overboard with this idea and write a cheesy "If you don't act now, you'll be homeless and destitute" message, but do find ways to remind people of the pain you can alleviate and the pleasure you can help your fans attain.

7. Have a purpose with every communication. Don't just send e-mail for the heck of it. While it's true that you must take action to promote your brand, that doesn't mean any action will do. Before you send e-mail, ask yourself two questions:

  • What do I want to accomplish with this message?
  • What do I want the recipient to do?

    Use your answers to those questions to craft a better message. I often get "hey, check out my site" notes or vague requests to "help each other," which lead me to ask, "How?" and "Why?" Here's an example of how to be clearer in an e-mail: "I'm contacting you to see if you'd like to swap line ads in each other's newsletters. If interested, please send me your ad." Make a specific proposal in each e-mail and give the reader precise instructions on what step to take next.

    8. Add a sense of urgency. It's one thing to make people aware of you, it's quite another to get them to take action to promote you or place an order. People are often lethargic and hesitant to move quickly, even toward things they are genuinely interested in. One way to battle this sluggishness is to create incentives: a deadline, a limited quantity, a free premium, and so on. You don't want to sound like an infomercial in an e-mail and write "Act now while supplies last." However, you can inspire action with a simple offer like "I'll give you a free copy of my special report on fly fishing when you order my book, but I need to hear from you by 5:00 p.m. on Friday."

    9. Use endorsements and testimonials. Even if people know and trust you, they'll still be slow to believe everything you say about yourself. The best way to overcome this skepticism is to use objective, third-party endorsements. For instance, if you're making a pitch to a webmaster to review your hair-coloring web site, it would help to include something like "New 'Do magazine described our site as 'the coolest place in cyberspace to learn about hair color.'"

    Include the URLs to any online reviews to back up your endorsement claims. If you're promoting a product, you can also include a "Here's what some recent customers had to say about &" section. Anytime you get a positive comment from a fan or favorable review in the media, use it to get even more exposure for your brand.

    10. Walk the fine line between modesty and hype. One thing that has become apparent with online commerce is the overwhelming attitude that advertising and hype is a turn-off. Over the decades, people have become tolerant of intrusive ads and marketing messages, but that acceptance is wearing thin. Knowing this, write your e-mail messages in such a way that your brand identity is unmistakable and the benefit you offer is clear, but present them in a soft-sell manner.

    Instead of writing "My amazing software program will erase your bill-paying worries overnight. Call now. Operators are standing by," write something more casual like "I used to dread paying bills. It was such a pain. Then I developed my own software program to make the process easier. Now I'd like to share this program with you."

    FREE Reprint Rights - You may publish this article in your e-zine or on your web site as long as the following author bio/blurb is included at the end of the article:

    Bob Baker is the author of "Branding Yourself Online: How to Use the Internet to Become a Celebrity or Expert in Your Field." Download two chapters and get more branding tips at

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