The Email Cliff

1 May

If you’ve had someone skim your email and click delete without reading it all, you’ve experienced this fact firsthand: our readers are only willing to give us a certain amount of attention before moving on.  The more words you write, the harder it is to get people to read them

 Illustrating that statement might look something like this:

Email not

This is close…but not exactly how readership works.

But that’s not really how readership works.  It’s not a linear function, where increasing your blog post or advertising email by a certain number of words means that you’ll lose a predictable number of readers.

How does it work?  Have you ever decided to read or not read an online article based on its page length?  Or received an email at work and condemned it to some buried folder after reading 1/3 of it because you had to scroll for days to see all the text?

At some word count, at some unfortunate sweet spot, our audience decides that our written message is too long to engage with and stops reading.

At this word count or page length, the majority of our audience clicks delete or x’s out the brower window, creating a steep, ugly decline in readership.  I call this steep decline the email cliff:

Ouch...your audience fell off the cliff, but you're the one hurting.

Ouch…your audience fell off the cliff, but you’re the one hurting.

For all of us that want to be read instead of deleted like spam, the email cliff means we should do two things:

1) An extra sentence doesn’t necessarily mean losing a small number of readers.  It might push the majority of your readers over the edge of the email cliff.  That’s why when we’re debating whether we need another bullet point or sentence, we must scrutinize whether that extra bit is really needed.  

2) Different audiences have different cliffs.  Your mom might read pages and pages of an email before she decides to stop reading.  Colleagues will probably jump off the cliff sooner.  And potential customers?  They tumble off the cliff after a paragraph or two (if we’re lucky).  We need to think hard about the audience we’re writing to and craft a message accordingly.

Email Cliff 4

If you think about the cliff, you’ll be a click-through champion.  And more importantly, the important things you have to say will be heard!

Criticism, Calm, and Clicking Reply

20 Apr

Here’s what I saw the first time I read an email:

Subject Line: You Suck!

You slavish boor,

You should be damned to a lifetime in hell for every minute of my team’s time you squandered.  Your moronic suggestions are signs of an addled mind.  How dare you question my God-like intellect?  If you want to continue to make an ass out of yourself, you should think twice (if thinking happens to be in your skill set) and then vow never to speak again.

I hate you,

XXXXXXXXX

What the email actually said:

Subject Line: A Concern

Dear John,

I wish we would have known about your opinions before our team put together this initial draft.  I understand your concerns, but I disagree for these reasons.  My experience tells me our plan will work.  If you want to continue this discussion, please brainstorm with your boss and take a look at other prototypes that we’ve created.

Have a great weekend,

XXXXXXXXXXX

This is me 2

Criticism does weird things to our eyes.  It makes us see things—personal vendettas, disrespect, and embarrassing insults—that just aren’t there.  My first reading of the email above left me shaking in anger and unable to think of anything else.  Twenty minutes later, I read the email again.  The condescending tone and personal jabs that were shouting at me were no longer there.  The email was a civil criticism of my work and nothing more.

Too often, we interpret criticism through the lens of our own insecurities, not through the actual words of our colleagues.  When we’re heavily invested in a project, when our work reflects our blood, sweat, and tears, it’s natural to perceive criticism of our work as a personal assault.

But it’s not.

For your own sake, when you receive criticism, calm down and let the message simmer for twenty minutes.  Then read it again BEFORE you click reply.   You’ll be amazed at how your eyes fooled you and how the malicious tone of the criticism has melted away.

A Spy and a Surprise Party

19 Apr

With his marriage on the rocks, a spy plans a surprise party for his wife.

Self-exploding invitations, cryptically encoded messages, and threats of violence to anyone who leaks the surprise put the whole town on edge.

Surprise Party

Only at the end of the party, after near disaster, does the spy reveal his true trade to his wife and in doing so save his marriage.

Subtle Cues And Crabs

15 Apr

If you tug too quickly on the string, the crab drops the chicken and sidesteps away.  If you drop the net in the water too aggressively, the ripples frighten off your prey.  It’s only when you pull the string in one finger width at a time, when the crab realizes it’s being hunted only after it’s in your net, that you land your catch.

Crabbing

Click to see some crabbing on a string!

I recently began using an iPad in sales calls.  It’s a powerful tool for product demos, but it scared away my prospects.  Why?

To ensure I could quickly launch into a demo, I flipped open the case cover and logged in before sales calls.  In an industry where prospects give sales people a very limited amount of time to present their wares, I thought having my iPad ready for action would be a strategic advantage.

But as soon as I walked into a prospect’s office, his eyes shifted to my open iPad and his pupils dilated in fear.  The iPad was my net, and I had clearly dipped it into the water too early.  Before I even got to qualify, nonetheless demo my product, the prospect darted away like a crab.

Revealing our sales tools too early and rushing to make our pitch is a sure way to scare off our catch.   And sometimes, it’s just a subtle cue, a signal of the demo to come, that alarms our prospects.  In my case it was the open iPad.

As soon as I realized my mistake and closed the case before walking into offices, my prospects opened up to me again.

Are you scaring away your crab?

My Office Gave Me A Reputation

8 Apr

When I began my new job, I didn’t decorate my office for months.  Why?  Because I wanted to really hit the ground running.  Beautifying my work space could come later.

My high level of productivity and my Spartan office led co-workers to form these first impressions of me:

1)      I’m an extremely hard worker (which I am).

2)      I’m not creative.  Why did they think this?  My bare, slightly dirty walls gave off the impression of someone who hadn’t thought creatively about his office, and my colleagues took this as a sign that I wasn’t very creative.

I’ve struggled to shed this uncreative label ever since.

Your first weeks in the workplace are like your clothes on a first date.  They’re used by others to form opinions of you.  And for good or bad, work reputations tend to persist, whether they’re entirely accurate or not:

  • You will be given work based on these first impressions that will only strengthen that initial reputation.  If you’re deemed a creative thinker, you’ll be given creative projects to work on.  Your creativity working on these projects will strengthen your reputation for being creative.  Conversely, you may miss out on opportunities based on first impressions, which makes it harder to shed or alter those labels.
  • First impressions aren’t always reassessed.  The colleagues we work closely with  have constant contact with us on which to reassess and alter their opinions.  However, especially in larger companies, there are colleagues with whom we rarely interact.  These co-workers rely on their first impressions and hearsay when deciding what we’re like.  With these colleagues, a first impression is sometimes all you get.

 

My office today...still needs a little work, but at least there's something on the walls!

My office today…still needs a little work, but at least there’s something on the walls!

I’m not saying that first impressions in the workplace can’t be changed.  If you’re at a company worth working for (like mine), your work will eventually shine through.  But first impressions are an important reality of the work place, and we’re all served well by doing three things:

1)      When you start a new job or join a new team, think hard about how you want to be known and take action to convey those things about you.

2)      It’s worth taking the time to get to know people you don’t work closely with.  You owe it yourself to give these colleagues an idea of who you really are.  Don’t let first impressions or office talk determine what people think of you.

3)      Make extra effort to brag about yourself.  It’s worth doing modest self-promotion to highlight the qualities you want to be known for, especially when first impressions are so sticky.  My colleague posts an impressive day-by-day itinerary of her business travel on her door when she’s out of the office.  It’s a subtle, but effective way of demonstrating how hard she’s working.

And of course, decorate your office right away.

Are You Ready?

29 Mar

I ran a focus group yesterday to record product users (in this case 18 year olds) giving our product glowing endorsements.

What I captured on film instead is two of the most opinionated teenagers you’ll ever meet bashing our product.

These outspoken attendees called the product trivial, degrading, insulting.  You can hear the tension in my voice on the recording, the strain of me nodding my head and asking “explain further…” when all I wanted to do was lash back.  They’re wrong and I know it.

But it doesn’t matter what I know. Or what I think.  I seethed for hours after the focus group until I realized how naive I was to expect a love fest of a focus group.  How silly I was to think I could control the feedback they gave me for the camera.

Focus groups attract two types of people: those in it for the money, and those who want to be heard.  The second group is the only group that matters, and they’re often critical.  You’re not going to like everything they say.  The point isn’t to control their feedback.  It’s to have their feedback control what you do.

feedback

Be sure you can answer yes to all of these questions before you run a focus group:

Are you ready to listen?

Are you ready to be criticized and instead of arguing, push your retorts deep down into the pit of your stomach?

Are you ready to make changes?

Feedback is coming.  Are you ready for it?

 

The Story of The…

26 Mar

These mantras were pulled from the website of a well-known company:

  1. We perform comprehensive microbiological testing to ensure that all products meet our high quality standards.
  2. All employees sanitize their gloves and equipment every time they enter our work product areas. Employees leaving these areas for any reason must re-sanitize their gloves/equipment before reentering our facilities.
  3. Air entering our facilities is purified by air filtration systems designed to remove potential airborne contaminants.
  4. Using an independent certified laboratory, we conduct our own internal product audits at all of our facilities to ensure that our standards are never compromised.

Microbial testing.  Air filtration systems.  Independent certified laboratory.  Can you guess which company website these standards are taken from?

Kimberly Clark and its medical equipment?   Dial and antibacterial soap?

Nope.  These are from the Boar’s Head website.  We’re talking about sandwich meat. 

Boar's Head 2

NYC is a city with a deli at every street corner.  Walking the streets this weekend, I had a revelation: nearly every deli advertises its use of Boar’s Head cold cuts in its front window.   And then I had another: I can’t name another company that makes sandwich meats.

Can you?

Maybe Boar’s Head has become a meat monopoly because its high standards means its bologna just tastes better.   

But maybe it’s the Boar’s Head story we’re tasting when we take a bite.  The quality assurances, the rich history on the company website,  the obsession with brand control.

Why is Boar’s Head synonymous with cold cuts?  Because it’s mastered the story of the sandwich.  What’s your story?

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