Monday, December 3, 2012

Push emails are like good spam

I’ve become a fan of push email to serve up information at Zingerman's Mail Order. By push email I mean a note that arrives in your inbox without you asking for it. It's like spam but good spam. The useful more tasty kind. It tells you something you need for your job—or maybe it doesn't but you might get something out of it anyway. (We don't usually limit the recipients of push emails because it's easy for the crew who don't need the information to delete it.)

For example, we use push emails at ZMO to share information about new foods on Friday product launch days. We announce our web launch with a push email every Tuesday. We share our current financial information both weekly (big email) and daily (shorter one).  In some cases push emails have taken the place of meetings altogether.

You don't want to overdo it. Too many unbidden emails and it turns to spam. This is far from rocket science but I have learned some things that help make push mail work better:

Put a lot of information in the email
Go for a lot of data in one email versus many emails with light information. People can scan vast amounts of data quicker than you think.

Use titles like this
They organize the email and make it faster to scan.

Make a consistent structure
Keep the format of the email—headings, sections and so on—the same each time so readers know where to search—and what to skip—for the info they need.

Put new stuff on top
If something is different mention it at the beginning of the email. Many regular readers will skip to the section that's relevant to them but they almost always have to skim from the top to get to their section.

Get right to the data
Nuff said.

Use bold, use color
Spare use of bold type makes scanning quicker. Colors that are clear—when in doubt, stick to red for bad things, green for good ones—speed up scanning, too.

Use a fixed, repeating delivery date, usually once per week
This might be the most important feature. An email that comes every week allows people to wait to see if their question is answered before asking it. It's easy to remember that the email about new products comes out every Friday. You can have longer waits between delivery times—every other week or once a month—but it becomes more likely someone will need a question answered in the intervening time and call you. More problematically, folks will forget when the next delivery of information is due so they'll ask anyway. 

The main benefits I've seen from a push email is that it lets you communicate with less waste. It reduces back and forth by offering a reliable, regular beat of information. Often you'll find you're communicating less frequently but people think you're communicating more.

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