Effective Communications: for initial contact, don’t use email

It happened again, today. Someone got lazy and tried to use email to do a letter’s job.

This person had important information to relay to a small group of parents — me, included — under 100 people.  It involved registration, attending a meeting and receiving specialized information, just for this group.  She had never communicated with this group before, other than a brief meeting.  She needed them to be in a specific place, at a specific time, and fill out forms.

She decided to go with an email communication.  She did no other follow-up or other communication with the parents.

Not all the group members received her email (she was completely shocked by this), and missed out on important information regarding their children.  Where did the communication break down?  Not on my end.  And now I’m steamed!

What you need to know about email deliverability

She and most people don’t know that up to 20% of email is never delivered to recipients.  Bump that percentage up much higher if you’re using a commercial email service, emailing to school or government addresses, including some HTML in your email, or if you make certain kinds of errors.

And when I say 20% of the email is never delivered, I’m not saying “just to the inbox.”  It doesn’t even make it to the spam folder.  For the recipient, it never existed.

Don’t send email for initial communications, ever

For initial communications to new group members — communications containing important details, to ask for business, or to schedule meetings, email is not the way to go.  You could send an email greeting to a group asking them to confirm that you have the correct address and to request them to add your email to your inbox.

For groups under 100, I would advise sending first class “snail” mail four weeks in advance of an event or needed action, and following up with phone calls a week or two later to make sure the information was received.

When To Use Email Communications

When you have established a contact list that you have confidence in, that is fully opt-in and accurate, and you have previously established communications in other ways, then you can move to email communications (however, you should supplement this with mail and phone calls).

The typical open rate of emails sent to a house list is nearly 20%, according to the Direct Marketing Association.  Of those, for a sale or other desired commercial call to action, the response rate averages about 2%.

The emails we send for ourselves and for our clients average more around 40% to 50% because we use highly targeted and carefully managed contact lists.

Email is NOT for prospecting

What if you’re reaching out to new and potential clients?  Should you use email communications?

Let me ask you something.  If you were going to ask someone for a date for the first time, would you send them an email???

When it’s really important that you get someone to take action and you two don’t have “history,” you have to get a bit more personal.

Besides, it’s illegal.  You can’t send commercial email to someone who has not specifically given you permission.  If you are a nonprofit or government entity, you shouldn’t do it either, not without explicit permission.

Sometimes, you have to just pick up the phone

Like it or not, telephone calls and well-designed, first class mail are still the ways to go when it’s absolutely essential that people receive, process, and act on information they are receiving for the first time (or the first few times).

Stay tuned this week for more blog posts about how to make your communications more effective.

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About Mary Fletcher Jones

Mary Fletcher Jones is a public relations and marketing consultant, and owns Fletcher Prince (www.FletcherPrince.com). Follow Mary on Twitter @FletcherPrince.

Posted on September 1, 2011, in Email Marketing Tips and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. You’re certainly right about sending email as the only form of communication. There is an entire generation that thinks texting and email are the only ways to communicate and that’s a big problem. I found that a lot when I worked at a PR agency – I had to teach people how to pick up the phone and pitch a story.

    There are far better ways to get people to come to an event. Use Evite. People open those and a lot of people do RSVP. If they don’t, you just send it again. Plus the spam filters often let them through and they don’t seem to disappear completely.

    Another option is to let the schools do a robo call for a first introduction. They announce right away that it’s the school calling and I will listen even though I’m not a big fan of them.

    I differ with you in that I do use email as a first way to communicate often – then when nothing happens I call. What usually results is I end up resending the email but it gives me an excuse to have a conversation.

    Great post.

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