Business missteps, wasted time, misunderstandings, no reply — these are just a few of the issues that are caused, largely, by ineffective electronic communication.
I'm not the first to write about the delicate nature of email communication, and I likely won't be the last. While it is tempting to be lured into thinking an email message is just like having a conversation, it isn't.
Conversations are spoken — they have the benefit of tone of voice, inflection, and if someone misunderstands, the opportunity for instant clarification. This is always a critical distinction from the written word, where nuances in voice inflection that convey a tongue-in-cheek "I'm just kidding," or a dead-serious "I really mean this" obviously don't exist.
Email messages are more likely to be taken very literally, and they can be passed from the intended recipient to the unintended. In fact, if not executed correctly, email messaging can backfire on its intent, threaten relationships, and even endanger careers.
The 4Cs of Truth in Communication
Enter the 4Cs of Truth in Communication. Originally developed to evaluate and improve advertising and marketing materials, the 4Cs are an equally useful tool when applied to email communication. The 4Cs stand for Comprehension, Connection, Credibility, and Contagiousness.
Let's see how they can be used to make your emails more effective.
The First C: Comprehension. It may seem obvious, but it's important that your recipient simply understands the message contained in the email. And this has everything to do with language, vocabulary, punctuation, and tone. It is highly important that the proper tone be understood when reading an email message.
One great way of ensuring instant comprehension is the subject line. Think about it: Other than the sender's name, it's the only piece of information readers see before they open the email. Therein lies the opportunity to either invite the recipient into your message and open it, or "save it" for later. And you know what that means? The likelihood that it will get read in the future is about 50%.
A friend and colleague of mine with whom I hadn't communicated recently sent me an email with the subject message, "Let's get together for breakfast!" So I immediately understood, even before opening the email, what the purpose of her message was. The exclamation point communicated to me that she was enthusiastic about the idea. That's a great start.
Compare that to an email that says "no subject," or even one that says "Hi." Even if I know the sender, I'm not as eager to open it and may skip over it.
The Second C: Connection. Here's the key question we ask about Connection: Is the message speaking to the recipient on a personal level? Does it really matter to him or her?
If the message is not relevant or doesn't address a topic or area of concern of interest on a rational or emotional level, then it's not making a Connection. Think about the number of times you've pressed the DELETE button just by seeing some words in a subject line that were frivolous, not interesting, or otherwise irrelevant to you.
For instance, whenever I get an email from my publishers with the words "your book" in the subject line, I'm inherently interested. It makes an immediate and critical Connection for me — both rationally and emotionally. Email messages need to connect on a personal level too.
The Third C: Credibility. This is the critical "C." To assess credibility, think who, what and how.
- Who. Does the message make sense coming from this sender? Is the sender himself or herself credible?
- What. Is it something you expect from this sender? If the message or the tone of the message doesn't sync with your expectations, the message is more likely to lose Credibility.
- How. How is the message executed? How is the message worded, and how does it strike you? If the sender is trying to convince you of something, are you "buying" it?
Remember the example of my friend's invitation to breakfast? The tone was definitely motivating to me. Think about the potential effectiveness of your next email message in terms of:
- Energy. Is there a sense of energy around the message? Is there something in the headline or opening sentence that makes the reader want to continue reading?
- Newsworthy. Does it offer a new way to view the sender? This will likely mean the message and/or the sender is more memorable.
- Unique. Is it competitively differentiating? Does it stand out from the hundreds of other emails in the reader's inbox that week? Obviously, there's an opportunity to do this in the subject line, as well.
- Emotionally charged. Does it evoke a vivid emotional response? Here's an example of how, if your tone is off, the emotional response may be completely negative.
- Motivation. Does it motivate the target to do something? Will the target hit REPLY or DELETE?
You can accomplish this same desirable effect in your own emails by using the 4Cs every time you compose an email — or any other piece of communication. It's one of the easiest and best ways to create memorable messages and boost your overall communication skills.
About the Author
Isabelle Albanese is a leading marketing consultant for Fortune 500 companies, and the author of The 4Cs of Truth in Communications: How to Identify, Discuss, Evaluate, and Present Stand-out, Effective Communication (Paramount Market Publishing, 2007). View her website at www.Consumertruth.com.