Michael Russer, a.k.a. Mr. Internet®, is CEO of Russer Communications. He is a leading speaker and author in the real estate industry and has been writing about Internet marketing and virtual outsourcing since the dawn of the commercial Internet.
Branding Your E-mails
Customized e-mail stationery gives your messages a professional look and reinforces your real estate brand.
February 1, 2006
You always use company letterhead when sending letters to clients; it looks professional, reinforces your brand, and contains your key contact information. You should be doing the same for your e-mail messages.
E-mails that are designed in HTML format — with color, graphics, and text — look much more professional and polished than plain-text e-mails. By using e-mail stationery that’s centered on your brand, you reinforce your professional image with every e-mail message that you send.
What’s the best way to design and implement your branded e-mail stationery? It makes the most sense to work with one of the many companies that specialize in doing just that. Here, I’ll explore the services of two such companies that take completely different approaches to the task of creating custom e-mail stationery. Both of these companies have experience servicing the real estate industry.
The first company, Lake Mills, Wis.-based Stationery Central Inc., can replicate the design of your paper stationery or your Web site’s home page and turn it into branded e-mail stationery. A very high level of customization is available. To order e-mail stationery from this company, these are the steps you would have to take:
- Send a sample. If you want to replicate the look of your printed stationery, send the company a scanned high-resolution color image of your paper stationery. You can send the document by e-mail as an attached .jpg or PDF file. Or, if you want the e-mail stationery to look similar to your Web site, send the company your Web site address.
- View drafts, provide feedback. Stationery Central’s designers will start working on your e-mail stationery design and send you drafts for your feedback. This process continues until you are satisfied.
- Install the stationery. You will then receive an e-mail that provides step-by-step instructions to install your new e-mail stationery. Once installed on your computer, the e-mail stationery is ready to use.
The process is really quite simple and the look can be stunning. I asked the company to replicate my printed stationery — which has a subtle design — and I was quite pleased with the results.
You will notice that my e-mail stationery includes links to my Web site, e-mail address, a Google map of my office, and even a link to my Vcard, which makes it easy for recipients to save my full contact information. You can view other examples of e-mail stationery created by this company, including those of real estate sales professionals.
These are some things to consider when using Stationery Central to create custom e-mail stationery:
- It only works with certain software. This stationery will only work with Microsoft Outlook, Outlook Express, Act! (PC version), and Goldmine (PC).
- The service is a bit pricey. The service costs $165 per template. However, the company will design the e-mail stationery exactly the way you want it.
- E-mail business cards are an option. For an additional cost, you also can have Stationery Central create branded e-mail business cards — which is a graphic signature designed to look like your business card and can have links to your Vcard and your Web site — and digitized signatures.
If it’s critical that your e-mail stationery match the look of your other marketing materials, then using a custom service like Stationery Central is the way to go. But if you’re not picky about the look, you’re in a hurry, or you’re trying to cut costs, there is another, completely different approach to having your own branded e-mail stationery.
Less Customization, More Flexibility
The second company we’ll look at is AddBranding.com, a Web-based e-mail stationery service in Vancouver, Canada. Your stationery resides on their servers, not your computer, which offers some unique advantages.
AddBranding.com does not give you the ability to create fully custom e-mail stationery. Instead, during the setup process, it walks you through a series of online forms on which you choose colors, fonts, logos, and borders that will be part of your stationery. The design layout is essentially the same for everyone; only those details change.
AddBranding.com lets you try their e-mail stationery service at no cost for the first 20 e-mails. Here's how you set it up:
Click the Try It Free link at the top of the Web site, then enter your primary e-mail address and create a password.
- Specify your preferences. Use the E-mail Stationery Wizard to choose how your stationery will look. This takes a few minutes because there are up to six pages of forms to complete — mostly making choices about colors, fonts, or image uploading.
- Preview the stationery. Click “Preview” to see what your stationery will look like, than make any necessary adjustments. For an idea of how it will look, view an example of my AddBranding.com e-mail stationery.
- Install to your e-mail program. Once satisfied, click the “Install” button and follow the instructions to install the AddBranding.com buttons to your e-mail program. AddBranding.com does a good job of providing installation options for nearly every kind of e-mail software or system.
If you use Microsoft Outlook, installing the AddBranding.com stationery will add two buttons — “Preview” and “Send Branded” — to your compose e-mail window. To send an e-mail using your AddBranding.com e-mail stationery, just type your message as you would normally do in Microsoft Outlook. To see how it will look before you send it, just click the “Preview” button. When you’re ready to send the e-mail, click the “Send Branded” button. Your e-mail is then redirected to theAddBranding.com servers, where your text message is embedded into your e-mail stationery and sent out to the intended recipient.
Because of the Web-based nature of this e-mail stationery service, AddBranding.com offers a lot of flexibility as to how you send your branded e-mail. For example, you can set up your e-mail stationery to be included with any message sent by your MLS on your behalf. Or, you can use it to send branded e-mails to wireless devices. These are features that appear to be unique to AddBranding.com. Also, if you need to use someone else's computer to send an e-mail, you can include your stationery by simply adding ".addbranding.com" to the end of the recipient’s e-mail address.
After playing around with this service a bit, I identified these pros and cons:
- Useful features. The ability to send branded e-mail from MLS systems or to wireless devices is very useful.
- Price is right. This service is relatively inexpensive at the current $39.95 annual subscription.
- Limited design choices. The biggest complaint I have with AddBranding.com is the very limited design choices. I want my e-mail stationery to be unique and replicate the look of my brand faithfully — and you can’t do that with this service in most cases.
- Not consistent. This service doesn't always work the way it’s intended. For example, every time I sent an e-mail using the e-mail stationery to myself, it bounced saying I was using the wrong e-mail address.
- Buttons may not show up. If you try to use Microsoft Outlook's “Resend” feature to resend a message that has already been sent, the AddBranding.com buttons fail to show up in the compose message window.
There is a way you can use a combination of services to portray your brand “look and feel” accurately while still having the ability to use branded e-mail for MLS and wireless devices.
First, have custom e-mail stationery designed via Stationery Central or some similar service. Use this anytime you send e-mail from your computer. Then, also sign up for the AddBranding.com MLS stationery service — it's currently $29.95 per year — to include a semblance of your branding when sending out e-mails via your MLS.
And if you have a significant portion of your prospects and clients that use wireless devices, you can include wireless AddBranding.com stationery for only $19.95 per year.
The Power of Branding — Use It or Lose It!
There are many misconceptions about using HTML e-mail and whether its use causes delays in transmission or blocking by spam filters. Graphics are not embedded in HMTL e-mails, so the size of an HTML e-mail would not be significantly larger than a plain-text e-mail to cause any sort of major delays in transmission.
Also, the content of e-mail messages is what triggers spam filters, and not the format in which it is sent. According to a recent study by Berkeley, Calif.-based Lyris Technologies, 81 percent of e-mail users surveyed said they prefer receiving HTML e-mails rather than plain-text e-mails. Three out of four said they have their e-mail programs set to view all images.
There is no question that a well-designed branded e-mail will have a positive effect on your business. Branding is a powerful differentiator and the more you promote it, the harder it works for you. The beauty of branded e-mail stationery is that once it is set up, it’s always working to bring you more business, and you won’t have to give it a second thought.