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The Postwire Blog

Business Casual Email

Posted by Carrie on 10, Feb, 2012

What started in the late 90’s as “Casual Friday’s” is now standard dress code all week long for many working professionals. Just as fashion shifts to be more relaxed, so have email communications. Have you noticed? Messaging has become much less stilted, more familiar and conversational. We call it business casual email.

Business CasualCase in point is an email I received from the President, Barack, with a one-word subject line: “Hey”.  The brief message was an appeal for an end of year online donation. I was a prime target because I supported Barack back in 2008 with a micro-donation. Yes, I know Barack didn’t actually write that email. Still, the extreme casualness of it intrigued me. I asked others what they thought. As it turns out, most actually like the colloquial approach because it grabbed their attention.

It inspired me to run an experiment. I signed up to receive email from the Republican primary candidates. I figured this would be a fun way to collect a group of emails to examine.

As the campaign emails arrived, I filed them into a folder and am only just now looking at them as a group to write this post. I only received emails from Mitt and Rick; I didn’t receive emails from Newt and Ron and I’m still not sure why.

Anyway, scan the email subject lines below and take note of the following:

  • simple language
  • one to three words max
  • mostly lowercase
  • written as you might to a friend
  • insider references

InboxThe email subject lines all strike a very casual tone. However, the message style varies by person. Summed up:

  • Barack’s two messages are succinct, text-only, including one or two hyperlinks. One greeting is “Friend” and the other is personalized with my name. Signoffs are simple: “To 2012” and “Thank you”.
  • Mitt’s two messages are also brief and both include links to video.  They open with “Friend,” and close expressing thanks.
  • Rick’s nine messages are published in patriotic image-laden red-white-and-blue html formats (with the exception of one text-only message). None contain a salutation; otherwise, they resemble letters, complete with his scanned signature in closing.

Stripping away politics, what can we learn to apply to our own communications with prospects and customers?

  • Know your target audience
    Wildly different interpretations of business casual attire create wrinkles in corporate dress codes. The same is true for business casual email. Rick’s formal letter message body was likely carefully crafted to resonate with his base. Beware: coming across as too familiar could be as off-putting as wearing flip-flops in some workplaces.
    When in doubt, err on the conservative side of business casual.
  • Be personal
    All of the subject lines in my sampling looked like they came from a friend. Subject lines that read more like titles are out of fashion.
    Next time you send a prospecting email, try adopting a more casual, friendly tone.
  • Spark curiosity
    “Wheaties”. That subject line is both thought provoking and timely for Rick’s constituents who recognize its reference to a positive comment made by a CNN consultant after a debate.
    Be relevant by relating your email messages to current events in your prospects’ and customers’ worlds.
  • Connect emotionally
    Video is a very effective way to connect emotionally, as Mitt’s communications team knows. Video need not be over-produced. In fact, we are huge proponents of more ad hoc and authentic business casual video—a term first coined by Cliff (Pollan), VisibleGains CEO and written about by David (Meerman Scott) in the latest edition of his book, The New Rules of Marketing & PR
    Follow up your next meeting with an impromptu video message and include meeting notes and other supporting documentation. It’s easy. Got an iphone? Download our free app from the itunes store.

Take note of the business casual emails landing in your Inbox. Experiment with your tone, word choice and video to connect more personally with prospects and customers.


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