What Your Email Says About Your Brand

Do you cringe when you see a Hotmail address? Laugh at terrible email signatures? It's time to take a closer look at email as a branding opportunity; here are some of the best and the worst.

It’s something you take for granted, something seemingly trivial, even mundane. When executed thoughtfully, however, it makes a splash. It says, "This guy is sharp—I want to work with him!"

What is this opportunity, obvious but overlooked? It’s the bookends of your emails: your address and signature block—often, the first and last thing your recipients will see. For better or worse, your email bookends are powerful purveyors of your brand. What are yours conveying about you?

Your Email Address

Consider just the address. As the Oatmeal has observed, the domain you choose is like a Rorschach test, betraying your sophistication, or lack thereof. A few examples:

Bad:

  • Until recently, my accountant went by the moniker "taxplaya at hotmail.com." In retrospect, it’s easy to see why no one I referred to him ended up as a client: His email address was telling the world, "I can't be taken seriously." (While each address here derives from a real one, I’ve tweaked each one to spare the owner embarrassment and spam.)
  • Similarly, when I needed a reference and the HR woman couldn’t get a former colleague on the phone, I was asked if my contact had an email address. He did—but "bigbadbobby at gmail.com" doesn’t exactly scream credibility. I politely told the woman I’d contact Bobby directly and ask him to call her.
  • Years after savvy netizens had moved from an email address issued by their Internet service provider (ISP) to a free service like Gmail, Hotmail, or Yahoo, a colleague still clung to his @verizon.net inbox. By sticking with a provider favored (by default) by digital rubes, Rachel was announcing to the world, "I talk the talk, but I don’t walk the walk."
Don’t be Rachel the Rube. Your digital footprint is your calling card. If you’re still employing an email address you got in 1996, bite the bullet and switch to your own domain.

Good:

  • David All founded the (recently shuttered) David All Group. His email address: "david at davidallgroup.com." This me@me syntax sends two messages: (1) "I work for myself," and (2) "You’re talking to the boss."
  • A colleague, who with her husband runs a website agency, goes by her nickname rather than her full name. Hence her address: "steph at creative3.com." This lets people know, "I work for a casual small business."
  • My friends at Chief, a branding agency, send emails from @mybigchief.com. This choice is exactly right. If you pop in to Chief’s headquarters, you won’t find the Chieftains wearing suits; this is a place where they write on the walls and hold meetings on couches. So while @mybigchief.com may not reel in a stodgy client, it’s the perfect way to bait the brands Chief wants to work with (the round pegs in the square holes).

Your Email Signature

By using a credible, compelling email address, you establish brand equity. Yet perhaps more important is what happens when someone opens your email. Here, your signature block offers a golden opportunity to distinguish yourself. Again: What brand are you broadcasting? A few examples:

  • For years, I eschewed an email signature (unless pitching a blogger). I was so turned off by the MySpace-ish trend to exhibit a parade of colors and a quote in large text that I planted my keyboard in the opposite direction: I used nothing. To my mind, I was acting on the KISS principle—Keep It Simple, Stupid—but what others heard was, "Don’t call me; I’ll call you." (Indeed, your brand isn’t what you say it is. It’s what they say it is.)
  • A young lawyer I know does something that makes me cringe. In her email signature, Abby lists her law school and college, each followed by the year she graduated. But after you’ve hung your diplomas on your wall, is citing them in your everyday emails necessary? Is it even beneficial? If it were me, I’d prefer to be judged based on my accomplishments, not my age or alma mater.
  • How you end your email is not an academic question; it can fuel new opportunities. That’s why a friend who runs a video production agency harnesses social media to supercharge his signature. Tom begins with a call to action: "Check us out!" He continues with links to his website, his social media channels, and his latest blog post. Taken together, these four small steps proclaim, "I’m socially savvy."
  • A crisis communications company isn’t the kind of outfit you’d expect to be active on seven social networks. Yet for Levick, practicing what you preach is paramount. That’s why every Levicker’s email signature includes seven icons, together with links to Levick’s website and blog. This all comes after Levick’s logo and tagline, which comes after the sender’s job title, office phone, mobile phone, fax number, and address. At least you won’t see a disclosure notice. Wait, you will—70 more words. (Disclosure: I consult for Levick.)

Overkill? Maybe. The thing is, the Levick signature block is visually stunning. That’s because it wasn’t an afterthought, but an integral facet of the firm’s branding. For example, not only do Levick’s emails share the same red, gray, and black color scheme of its website (which is branding 101), but not even the traditional blue for hyperlinks is allowed to intrude on this uniformity (branding 201). In fact, Levick guards its brand so keenly that its email template is centralized in its IT department (instead of letting each employee create his own). As a result, nobody with an email @levick.com goes rogue (by, say, admonishing recipients to "think twice before printing this email").

For these reasons, Levick’s email signature achieves an impressive trick: It communicates a cutting-edge embrace of technology without undercutting the firm’s gravitas.

Your Brand

Whether you know it or not, a brand is trailing you everywhere you click. But your brand isn’t only what appears when your name is Googled, how you stage yourself on LinkedIn, and what you tweet about. Your brand also encompasses what you—and most people you know—no doubt spend unending time keeping up with: your emails.

Indeed, digital branding starts in your inbox. After all, more people likely view your emails than view your social media posts. That makes your e-bookends—your email address and your signature block—prime real estate on which to build your brand.

You can do a number of things to own this brand, or you can sit back and let casual decisions define it for you. You can brand yourself, or you can be branded. The choice, as always, is yours.

Jonathan Rick is the president of the Jonathan Rick Group, a digital communications firm in Washington, D.C. He brands himself daily on Twitter and LinkedIn.

[Image: Flickr user Sam Javanrouh]

Add New Comment

17 Comments

  • H. Jude Boudreaux, CFP®

    This is a good piece, thanks!  I like my wisestamp signature, but have never been able to do anything as nice from mac mail. I'll need to invest some time in figuring that out!

  • Melanie

    Excellent article. I wish more individuals and businesses would subscribe to this philosophy When I see a gmail account my first reaction is business or personal? Established or just starting out. I respect branded uniform emails. Personalized outlook stationary, cute seasonal or animated graphics and personal quotes take away from that image.

  • Wigmore

    Rarely has something as stupid as "Years after savvy netizens had moved from an email address issued
    by their Internet service provider (ISP) to a free service like Gmail,
    Hotmail, or Yahoo, a colleague still clung to his @verizon.net inbox. By
    sticking with a provider favored (by default) by digital rubes, Rachel
    was announcing to the world, “I talk the talk, but I don’t walk the
    walk” been posted.

    Yes, I want to tell everyone that I'm using a service like GMail that is reading every single email message I write as opposed to Verizon where I have privacy.

  • reader

    Although I like the article's main point about email signature signaling some information about the brand or the person, I cannot disagree more on one of the "good" points - david at davidallgroup.com.  Rather than "i work for myself and i am the boss", which is not quite right because the domain name already gives that out, and thereby repeating same info twice, it actually gives off ego-centric signal, as 'i am all about myself and that is why i was forced to found my own company because nobody wants to work with me'

  • Jason Love

    A few examples of email signatures would be nice.

    I mean actual images.
    I really like using social media in a signature  the question is how do you word it and have it look like your not begging for people to "like" your page.

  • Asad Ali

    Great article. We use various signatures in our outgoing emails. They consist of linkedin, twitter, our upcoming seminars, and a picture of a video, this takes you to a video testimonial from some of our large clients, banks, media groups etc. This also changes dependent on whom we are emailing. We have several setup in outlook and select one every time. 

    Your signature is a sales tool. The option to sell additional services and products. 

    As a digital marketing consultant, we teach our clients to wrap their email links in some Google Analytics, especially if it is coming back to the company website. This ensures you can measure what is working in your signature and what isnt. It also comes in handy when reviewing your website traffic at the end of the month and will show you how many people came back to your website from your signature.

  • Ellen OJ

    Interesting. Just yesterday at my p/t job I mentioned to someone that we hardly get folks w yahoo accounts. It is all about gmail. When I see yahoo or hotmail I immediately think...really? Who has a hotmail account in this day and age? Get with it people...

  • Modern Job Seeker

    Love this! We have this conversation  all the time with job candidates. What may have seemed like a hilarious email moniker in college, is not going to win you any favors on your Resume. Anyone with an AOL or Hotmail email address is going to come across as old and out of touch.

  • Joffre (J.D.) Meyer

    Great cautionary article. If I wasn't disabled, I'd worry about my email/Mexican-Czech alias "bohemiotx" It's an attempt to go beyond the hippie fad of the 60s and link with the original bohemian communities. OK, I'm a Richard Florida fan. Before, I entered the internet, I called myself El Bohemio del Eastside when I sang Tejano karaoke in the 90's--a takeoff on Gary Hobbs, El Borrado del Eagle Pass--the only 3/4 Anglo singer in the genre. Feedback desired.

  • Michael Montague

    I would would get your own domain and just use JD@____.com. I love short email address because they are easy for people to use, spell, and remember. 

  • George Dearsley

    Logos and brands and synchronised colour schemes are all very well...but I see senior PR executives (company owners even) misspelling the names of famous people or guilty of typos and appalling grammar errors in Tweets and status updates. A few even make similar errors in blogs they are using Twitter to publicise. And when someone points these things out they just laugh it off. I wonder anyone gives them work but they do.

  • Jingwei LI

    It really explains when I was doing the foreign trade, the persons received the email rarely reply....

  • Ann Druce

    This is so true.  But a gmail address is somewhat of an anomaly; of course your own domain looks so much more professional but where a hotmail address screams amateur, gmail doesn't have quite the same turn-off power.

  • Nixon Virtual Strategies

    But, Ann, if you already own a domain and have a website, why in the world would you choose to use a Gmail account for business correspondence? My Gmail address is for friends, recipe newsletters and other non-biz correspondence only. I pay for my domain and dammit, I'm using it!

    Cordially,

    Patricia Nixon

    Nixon Virtual
    Strategies

    http://www.nixonvs.com

     

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