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Improve your email subject-line vocabulary with “The Hamster Revolution”

Boosting the power of your email subject lines is the best way for most people to boost the effectiveness of their emails. It’s a focus of my email presentations.

In this post, I share subject-line tips from The Hamster Revolution: Stop Info-Glut—Reclaim Your Life! by Mike Song, Vicki Halsey, and Tim Burress. Some of their suggestions may be most useful to team members who email each other frequently.

Start email subject lines with these keywords

The Hamster Revolution suggests starting your email subject lines with words that define their category. “These categories build context and rapid comprehension for your reader,” say the authors.

Here are the category words recommended by the authors:

  1. Action
  2. Confirmed
  3. Delivery
  4. Info
  5. Request

Action and Request

The authors don’t say when to use “Action” instead of “Request.” I see the two as overlapping. Either word could start a subject line saying “help George to prepare plan.” In my opinion, you can drop “Action” in favor of “Request.”

Confirmed

“Confirmed” can precede the details of an appointment or agreement. For example, “Confirmed: Oct. 15, 3 p.m. meeting.”

Delivery

The meaning of “delivery” in an email subject line isn’t immediately clear. For this reason, it’s most appropriate for use with members of your team after you train them in its meaning.

Here’s how Hamster Revolution defines it:

Delivery is used when you’re responding to a specific request. It’s your way of saying “I’m delivering exactly what you requested.”

Info

To me, “Info” signals that an email simply provides information; it doesn’t require a reply. If I’m waiting for that information, I quickly realize that the sender has satisfied my needs. On the other hand, I may be able to file the email without reading it. That’s a time-saver.

I’m more likely to use FYI than “Info,” but either is fine.

Handy abbreviations

Abbreviations can help teams to communicate more efficiently. When I led an investment communications tea m at an investment management firm, we used “EOM.” As I discussed in “Fit it in your subject line EOM,” EOM appears at the end of the subject line and is short for “end of message.” It means that there’s no need to open the email because the entire message appears in the subject line.

The Hamster Revolution suggests two more subject line abbreviations:

  • NRN for “no reply needed”
  • NTN for “no thanks needed”

I can imagine both abbreviations saving time for teams. However, NTN could seem a bit obnoxious, as if you’re saying “You really ought to thank me, but I’ll let you get away without doing it.”

Best for team emails

These subject line tips will be most powerful when used with your team members, especially after you’ve trained them on their use.

When communicating with clients, you may prefer to skip category words in favor of other powerful words. For example, if clients are waiting for information on the XYZ Fund, the subject line “XYZ Fund info” more efficiently conveys your message than “Info: XYZ Fund.” This is because readers focus more on the first words of your email subject lines.

Stay away from abbreviations such as EOM and NRN with clients, unless you know they understand them. You’ll confuse them.

Disclosure: If you click on the Amazon link in this post and then buy something, I will receive a small commission. I only link to books in which I find some value for my blog’s readers.

What YOU say about highlighting text in emails

What’s the best way to highlight text in emails? That’s the question I posed in a poll earlier this year. I took away three main lessons from your responses. Thank you very much, respondents, for answering and generously sharing your email tips!

Lesson 1. Bold wins for highlightingPoll results for email highlighting

Use bold to emphasize text in your emails. That was by far the most popular answer to my poll asking, “What technique do you use for emphasizing text—for example, an appointment date—in an email?” This squares with my instinct to bold for emphasis, as in the example below:

May I call you on Mon., Feb. 16, at 2 p.m. Eastern?

However, with 45.71% selecting bold, it failed to win a majority. The next most popular answer, at 28.57%, was “More than one of these techniques.” I sometimes use bold plus larger font size or capital letters. You suggested other options, including some that are mainly useful in plain-text emails.

Lesson 2. Text-only email limits your highlighting options

Your poll responses provided a valuable reminder to me. Unlike me, some people force incoming emails into a plain-text format. This strips out fancy formatting—such as bold, italics, and colors—that relies on HTML code. People do this for reasons such as reducing the risk of computer viruses or cutting the email’s size once it’s stored on their computer.

Take note if you have an important correspondent who only reads emails in plain text. You’ll need to adapt your formatting for them.

How can you learn about your correspondent’s email-reading capabilities? If their emails to you look as if they were created on a typewriter, they’re plain text. Also, often when you reply to their emails, you’re not able to apply fancy formatting using HTML.

Some experts suggest that you send emails in both HTML and plain-text formats. But who has the time? The only exception is if you use an email newsletter program such as Constant Contact. Constant Contact automatically generates plain-text versions of my newsletters, which I could edit for formatting that’s easier for plain-text readers to absorb. Even better, it provides a link that a plain-text recipient can click on to see the nicely formatted version.

If you send plain-text emails, my poll respondents suggest using asterisks, underscores, or capital letters to highlight text. Here are some of their comments:

  • Unless I know for certain the recipient can read HTML e-mail I’ll use *asterisks* to set off the text. If the recipient is getting the mail in HTML.
  • Most of my email accounts don’t allow for [HTML]. The only thing I can do to bullet something important to place it between asterisks.

I particularly like the idea of using capital letters because they’ll seem less strange and old-fashioned if some of the readers of a group email use HTML.

Lesson 3. Remember other highlighting techniques

I agree with the respondent who said, “I think the more important point is to make sure writers are getting to the point quickly in their email messages. They need to keep the reader’s needs for information in mind and get every message off to a fast start.”

Your comments reminded me of other techniques for highlighting content in your emails, including

  • Strong subject lines, summaries at the top of your emails, and headings, an approach that I emphasize in my presentations on “Writing Effective Emails“—as one respondent said, “I place important information first in the subject line, then there’s no need to emphasize it in the email.”
  • White space to set off important information—as one respondent said, “I often isolate the information on its own line, surrounded by an empty line above and below (this is called using ‘white space’).” Indenting the information can be part of this technique.
  • Good writing techniques in general—as one respondent said, “It may be an old-fashioned notion these days, but I thought that formatting doesn’t always work in email, so I have always tried to use my writing to draw attention. I use very brief sentences, bullets, one line standing alone with a piece of important information, repeat major point again at the end – things like that. Some people use the email’s subject line, i.e., Deadline is tomorrow! I also adhere to the short and sweet method of writing, because people tend to read emails on their phone. So I’ll jump right to point – hey, my deadline is tomorrow.”

A funny HTML story

Here’s a reminder from a respondent that what you see in your email program isn’t always what appears on the recipient’s screen:

I use a Mac and one of my editors uses a PC. She kept putting what looked like little J’s after sentences in her mails to me. I finally asked what those were – turns out, that’s how her smiley emoticons were being interpreted by Mac Mail. (Not sure what she saw with my Mac smileys – I think something weird, too.) I know this isn’t about emphasizing text per se, but it does show some cross-platform problems still exist within email. 🙂

What will YOU do differently now when you write emails?

After reading your poll responses, I may use capital letters more often for emphasis since they appear the same in both HTML and plain-text emails. Is there something you’ll do differently after reading my poll results?

Financial advisor email tip: Fit it in your subject line EOM

Your email recipients are busy, so they’ll thank you for saving them time by summarizing your message in your subject line.

It could be something like “Need to meet; pls reply by Friday” or “4 ways to save on taxes.”

Informative subject lines let your readers quickly assess whether they should open your email. They can even create a sense of urgency in those readers when you include deadlines or potential benefits to the readers.

If you regularly exchange messages that can be communicated completely in the subject line, consider using EOM at the end of such subject lines with people who know what EOM means. EOM stands for “end of message.” It means that your message is contained in your subject line, so there’s no need to click to read more. If recipients open the email, they’ll find it’s empty. For example, a message might consist solely of “Confirming 4 p.m. meeting at your office today EOM.”

However, EOM will confuse people who haven’t learned about it. That’s why I used EOM only in messages to my employees when I ran an asset management firm’s investment communications group. You may also find it helpful for your firm’s internal communications. Today I use EOM with my husband because both of us like saving the time it takes to click open an email.

I’d like to thank the participants in my Accelus Partners’ Expert Series Interview about email on June 25. Our Q&A session prompted this blog post.

One topic per email, please

Limiting every email to one topic is the best way to ensure your message gets across.

I’ve concluded this after some failed experiments in highlighting multiple topics. I list and number topics in my email subject lines. For example, 1) White paper draft; 2) invoice. This works most of the time, but not always. Some of my invoices have been paid late as a result.

Perhaps this technique would work better if I also listed both topics at the top of the email’s body. For example, I could start with the following:

Attached you’ll find:

  1. The draft of your white paper
  2. Your invoice

Alternatively, I could have discussed each topic under a separate heading. At a minimum, I needed to mention both topics in the body of emails instead of relying on the subject line to do all of my work.

Your solution for multi-topic emails?

I’d like to learn how you handle multi-topic emails. Please share.

Shortmail.com: Inspiration, but poor choice for advisors

 

Financial advisors can learn something useful from Shortmail.com, a service that lets people refuse to receive emails more than 500 words in length.

The lesson? Keep your emails short because that’s what your recipients prefer.

Here’s an exercise you may find useful: copy-paste all of your outgoing emails for one day into a word processing file. Then, calculate the length of each message. If your emails run much longer than 500 words, you may wish to revisit my tips in “How can I keep my emails short?”

However, I don’t suggest that you subscribe to Shortmail yourself. Insisting your long-winded clients cut their emails won’t make a good impression, even if it would lighten your load

Image courtesy of Pixomar / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Help! My emails are too salesy

Nobody likes a pushy salesperson. Overly aggressive techniques can divert your email into spam folders. However, I believe it’s possible to market yourself without being too salesy.

I’m writing this post in response to an FPA Experience attendee who asked this question anonymously.

Focus on the prospect

If you understand your prospects’ hopes, dreams, and fears, you’re off to a great start. Focus your email on your prospects’ desires rather than your products, services, or needs. Potential clients or customers are most receptive when they feel you understand them.

Email structure

You can structure an email as follows:

  • You have this need
  • The solution to your need is…
  • The solution I offer will work for you because…
  • To learn more, take the following step.

Recipients must “opt in”

Your mass emails count as spam under the CAN-SPAM  Act. It’s not a question of being too salesy. Your communications are illegal if you don’t get permission to email the people on your list.

Offer something of value for free

You’re probably familiar with the offering of free reports to get people to agree to receive emails from you. It’s popular because it works, as long as the report provides useful content.

Don’t plug your product or service at length at the beginning of your first contact. Instead, leave it to the end or weave it unobtrusively into the body of your report.

On the other hand, don’t forget to promote your product or service in your freebie. That comes with the territory.

Expect that not everyone will buy

I wonder if my anonymous questioner felt too “salesy” because she or he didn’t get much of a response to emails or even lost some subscribers after an email blast. Low response rates and subscriber attrition aren’t unusual, but they may have nothing to do with you. Your offering simply may not meet the prospects’ needs or your timing isn’t right.

You can’t make everybody happy

At least one person will find you too salesy. I guarantee it.

When that happens, I remember what marketing expert Sandra Ahten told me, “Don’t worry if someone unsubscribes after you send a promotional email. That means they weren’t ever going to buy from you.” Sandra also said that interested prospects appreciate email reminders about your offerings. Despite my skepticism, I discovered she was right.

Test your email

You may not be the best judge of your email’s sales quotient. Running it by a friendly member of your target audience can give you a better sense of whether you hit the right tone.

You can also experiment with splitting your email list into two groups and sending them different versions of your email. If one segment of a homogeneous group responds better to Email Version 2, you know that’s the winner. Learn from what works in Email Version 2.

Your thoughts?

I don’t have the definitive answer to identifying what’s too salesy. Please share your opinions on this in the comments section below.

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Reader question: How can I keep my emails short?

Writing an email that’s short and to the point is the best way to get a response from the recipient. But writing short doesn’t come naturally to most people.

Here are some tips to help you keep your email short.

1. Limit your emails to one main point

Don’t cram unrelated topics into one email. Focus on one point.

For example, discuss the forms that your client should fill out for your next meeting — not the forms plus a client event in three months plus your firm’s addition of a new client relations professional. You’re writing an email — not a newsletter.

2. Use headings or bullet points

Maybe your email is poorly organized rather than too long. Use headings to indicate what each section covers and bullet points to group like items together. These techniques make your email easier to scan. Easily skimmed emails feel shorter to your readers.

3. Use the first-sentence check

The first-sentence check method of editing will also improve your email. Read about it in “Quick check for writers with an economic commentary example.”

4. Cut your email’s length by 10%

Use your word processing software to calculate your email’s word count. Next, delete unnecessary information or words to cut your word count.

Next, calculate the word count again, and cut another 10% of the word count. This is a classic writing teacher’s technique.

Struggling to cut words? First, try to slash entire paragraphs and sentences. Next, look at the helper words in your sentences. For example, “in order to” could become “to.” “We are thinking” slims down to “we think.”

Your suggestions?

If you have more suggestions on how to put emails on a diet, please share them below.

Email writers, boost your effectiveness with this quote

Think about your reader if you want your communications to get results.

When you want the recipient of your email or letter to act on your information, heed the following advice from Lee Wood, as quoted by Kenneth W. Davis in The McGraw-Hill 36-Hour Course: Business Writing and Communication.

 

…give me the information in the order I can use it.

For example, don’t start by talking about the envelope you’ve enclosed with your letter.

Instead, first ask your client to read the form and then sign it in the spots you’ve marked with a big red X. Only then should you ask the client to mail it in the self-addressed, stamped envelope.

Be kind to your readers. It’ll pay off in better results and relationships.

Want to learn more about writing better emails and letters? Check out my presentation, “Writing Effective Emails.”

Reader challenge: How can investment and wealth managers apply this tip?

“You can differentiate yourself by communicating in a likable, authentic manner,” says author Sue Hershkowitz-Coore in Power Sales Writing. Her book emphasizes email communications.

To write in a likable manner, the author suggests you use the following techniques:

1.      Create a message that genuinely revolves around your prospect.

2.      Use more you and your words than I or me words.

3.      Reflect the prospect’s style.

4.      Start with something that matters to your reader.

5.      Be positive.

6.      Be brief, but not blunt.

7.      Be authentic!

How do YOU rise to this challenge?

Differentiation is a challenge for investment and wealth managers. Please tell me how YOU make yourself likable in your professional communications.

I recommend Power Sales Writing as a good read for any business person who needs to write emails that persuade.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from McGraw-Hill in return for agreeing to write about it.