An Email Style Guide; Should Your Company Have One?
February 6, 2012 1 Comment
Since over 90% of most business communication and relationships are managed via email, now might be the right time for you to have an email Style Guide. In other words… create a policy guide that will do many positive things like:
- Establish e-guidelines and expectations that help employees provide consistent professional service
- Empower everyone to demonstrate your company’s unique style, products / services, brand
- Unite your employees in a Team Building exercise
- Support all levels of your company and your customers
And to add even more benefit, an email Style Guide is also a powerful orientation tool to introduce new staff as well as suppliers / contract employees.
As you consider this path, your first few questions will likely be, “What is the process?” and “What will we end up with?” Well the answer to both questions is quite simple. You can focus on policies that outline:
- “What People Can Do” Or
- “What People Can Not Do”
Because we live in a judicial society (more stick than carrot), the more common approach is unfortunately the later. My advice as a Toronto based consultant who provides email etiquette training, is that you choose the flexible approach and create a Style Guide that will be a positive influence and act as a guideline – not a rulebook. By focusing on “What People Can Do” you benefit by empowering your employees to make the right choices in many different situations.
Should Your Company’s Email Style Guide Be Custom?
Another question you might have is “Can I buy an off-the-shelf solution?”
To answer that question you need to look internally. Your products / services are unique. Your customer service is unique. Your mission, vision and values are unique. The way you do business and your unique value proposition is different from your competitors. Your customer mix and their needs are unique. So, should your email Style Guide be unique?
The way I am positioning this you already know I believe your email Style Guide should be unique to your company. Here is more detail why.
Your brand reputation is one of your most valuable assets – and because you and your employees communicate 90% of the time via email, it’s one of the most visible ways to live your brand… every minute of every day.
Using another company’s Style Guide is like moving into a neighbours home. Even in Toronto that just isn’t done. In a business environment, if you use policies that are not your own you force a disconnect between your core competencies, your customer service and your customer expectations. That disconnect will be felt every minute of every day by your employees and your customers… and that will result in you losing both employees and customer from frustration (both of which negatively impact ROI).
With virtually no more work this is also your opportunity to define your companies unique style for all electronic based communication be it email, email marketing, presentations, websites etc. Because they are all in the electronic world – they all pretty much follow the same guidelines.
By building your own email Style Guide you will also get maximum team-building benefit by seeing this process as a unique organization-wide opportunity. The benefit is to let all employees have impact – to allow everyone to join together and build a document that represents all that is best about your company / employees / product / service. That said, most companies will want to establish a design team, (a body of people who will collect and evaluate employee feedback with the corporate culture and corporate mission and vision for the future).
What Should Your Email Style Guide Include?
There is no definitive email style guide rulebook that must be followed to the letter. Every company is unique and as I suggested I believe your email Style Guide should be designed to match the unique corporate culture.
But, it’s nice to have a starting place, so the following offers a sample of email etiquette categories to be addressed.
1. Support The Visual / Readability:
- Agreed upon email signature structure
- Social Media references and graphics
- Agreed upon fonts, colours and layouts
2. How to Support Your Brand:
- Tag line
- Demonstrate corporate values and customer service promise
- How to treat ethnicity, gender, religious or racial references
3. Structure / Composition:
- When to use To, Cc… and Bcc…
- How to quickly address the essential information (get to the point)
- How to manage multiple topics and / or multiple audiences
As you plan your email Style Guide and who will help you with this important project I offer you this one last tip.
In most cases when someone reads your email they are making a choice to invest their valuable time and talent. In almost every case the decision to read or not read your email is based on your email etiquette and the following:
- Your past email reputation (for being relevant, to the point, well written and polite)
- Your subject line
- What they see within the preview screen (which is usually only the first few lines of your message). In fact – many people even answer based on those first few lines only
Make sure you create a helpful guide that everyone at your company uses to demonstrate they respect their audiences time as much as they respect their own time. If they do, your employees – and your company will be rewarded with respect, loyalty, better work relationships and greater ROI.
Imagine work being easier. Imagine work being more productive.
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