What Your Email Says About Your Brand

A Case Study: Your Emails

Digital branding starts in your inbox.

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?

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:


• Until recently, my accountant went by the moniker [email protected] 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 [email protected] doesn’t exactly scream credibility. I politely told the recruiter 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 her @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 (like JonathanRick.com).


• David All founded the (recently shuttered) David All Group. His email address: [email protected] This [email protected] 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: [email protected] 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.

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 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 these 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? Certainly. 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 rebranding. 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 at @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.

Follow me on Twitter and LinkedIn, where I brand myself daily. (A version of this blog post appeared in Fast Company on February 25, 2013.)

5 Ways to Transform Your Blog Post Into Endless Tweets

A version of this blog post appeared in PR Daily on February 18, 2013.

You just finished a killer blog post. Reliving the process: first you had to pitch the idea to your editor. Then you reworked the angle to satisfy his feedback. Then it was research time, wherein you bumped up against facts that challenged your hypothesis. Finally, you penned the piece, sweating over decisions as light as commas, as lofty as conclusions.

Now, the post has been published. And you, like a wide-eyed kitten mesmerized by a shiny new object, sit in thrall to the whimsies of the web—watching, waiting, wishing for the big payoff.

Slowly, the clicks come trickling in. But why settle for a trickle when these numbers could be a raging torrent? As soon as your article goes live, it behooves you to SHOUT IT from the rafters. You labored so long and hard on the writing, shouldn’t you reward your efforts with a little promotion?

Indeed you should. In fact, every hack must now be his own flack.

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How KitchenAid Pureed a Twitter Crisis Into a PR Coup


A version of this blog post appeared in Fast Company on October 4, 2012.

Everyone makes mistakes, the saying goes. It’s whether you learn from them that separates the brands that retain your loyalty from the ones you now drive by.

In this context, consider last night’s tweet from KitchenAid that mocked President Obama:

“Obamas gma even knew it was going 2 b bad! ‘She died 3 days b4 he came president’. #nbcpolitics”

Sent from your personal account, where your like-minded friends would compose the primary audience, the tweet would have been par for the live-tweet course: funny and frivolous. However, sent from a corporate channel, the tweet is no longer associated with a person but with a brand—and its products.

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What Tim Cook Knows That Steve Jobs Didn’t: How to Apologize

Tim Cook and Steve Jobs

The new master of the mea culpa

Apple and “apologize” don’t usually fall in the same sentence. In fact, Apple instructs its retail employees to avoid acts of contrition as a matter of principle. “Do not apologize for the business [or] the technology,” its Genius manual commands.

Following this playbook, when faced with the debacle that is Mapplegate, Cupertino’s flacks first tried spin. “We launched this new map service knowing it is a major initiative and that we are just getting started with it,” a spokeswoman told AllThingsD. But the brush-off backfired, hard. As Gizmodo put it, “The New Apple: It Doesn’t Just Work.”

Realizing that the story wasn’t dying down, the time came for the CEO to step up. Tim Cook needed to communicate two things—(1) an apology, and (2) a promise to do better—both of which he did with aplomb.

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How PR Pros Should Use Twitter


For today’s PR pro, the question is no longer whether to tweet, but what to tweet. This is, of course, a loaded question—akin to asking, What kind of pet should I buy?

Happily, the answer need not be prohibitively complex. While the specifics will depend on your specialty—crisis, public affairs, B2B, etc.—a variety of best practices cover our profession as a whole.

Here are eight that every PR pro should follow.

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How to Make Google Laugh: SEO Your Headlines

Why do search engines always rank certain websites so highly? Obviously, their content is kingly, but so is their search engine optimization (SEO). Indeed, for many sites, the search-engine spiders that crawl the Web deliver a third or more of their traffic. Perhaps the most famous example comes from the Huffington Post, which in February reeled in readers with the ingenious bait: “What Time Is the Super Bowl?

In protest, writers for publications such as the Washington Post, New York Times, and Atlantic each have taken turns slugging the SEO punching bag. The headlines describe their complaint: “Gene Weingarten Column Mentions Lady Gaga.” “This Boring Headline Is Written for Google.” “Google Doesn’t Laugh: Saving Witty Headlines in the Age of SEO.”

In other words, algorithms don’t appreciate wit, irony, humor, or style. As reporter Steve Lohr put it, they’re “numbingly literal-minded.” Alas, Oscar Wilde!

These laments ring true in a big way: it is one of the definitive 21st century truisms that in addition to writing for eternity, or for one’s mother, today’s writer must also write for Google. Yet, as always, the devil’s in the metadata. The secret of stellar SEO is that you can have your cake and eat it, too; that is, you can pen pun-based headlines all day long and maintain your journalistic integrity. You just need to draft a second headline that’s straightforward and keywordy.

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Why Your Press Release Needs a Blog Post

Blog Key on Keyboard

Like an old shoe, the press release has been around forever. Every year seems to bring another proclamation that it’s on its last legs. While the rumors are exaggerated, they emerge from a stubborn truth: the press release is being eclipsed by digital alternatives that are more flexible, more interesting, and more relevant.

A milestone was reached in 2010, when Google made a major announcement not by press release but by blog post. Five years earlier, a company of Google’s stature would have issued a boilerplate statement on a newswire. Now, a Google executive was crafting a more thoughtful, even heartfelt narrative that was published on the Official Google Blog.

This shift in medium and message represented a new era in corporate communications. No longer does a traditional press release suffice to make news. News now needs to be conveyed in an empathetic tone and delivered in a user-friendly format.

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With PR Pros Like This…

Virtual Handshake

Chris Abraham recently published a case study on the “art of writing the perfect blogger pitch.” There’s a lot to like here. For one, the time and thought Chris and his team devote to this esoterica are rare. For another, spilling your trade secrets takes guts.

And yet, for a purportedly “perfect” pitch, the Abraham Harrison technique, approach, and diction leave much to be desired. Here’s why (in web-friendly fashion, via a list with headings).

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Are You the Shoulder-Shrugger or the Commitment-Keeper?

Are You the Shoulder-Shrugger or the Commitment-Keeper

A version of this blog post appeared on Brazen Life on October 24, 2011.

“The dog ate my homework.”

Even though this famous excuse is rarely used, what it symbolizes is all-too-familiar: an aversion to admit accountability. What’s more, this urge to excuse one’s blunders rather than shoulder them betrays a bigger issue: a lack of character.

Let’s be honest: no wants to entertain excuses—even perfectly good ones. We value friends who are reliable, we promote employees who are consistent, we love spouses because when they wrong us, they rectify it. Not for nothing did the sign on Harry Truman’s desk proclaim, “The buck stops here!

To be sure, emergencies arise. We all screw up from time to time. Yet it’s how you rectify things that counts, that makes you who you are.

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Why No One Company Will Ever Monopolize the Internet


The next big thing is always around the click

The pace and power of Web-fueled innovation is stunning. One day we’re swearing by Outlook; the next, we can’t live without Gmail. These sea changes exemplify the beauty of the net: greener waters are but a click away. Indeed, the list of tech titans that could have surfed a wave to even greater heights, but missed the boat, is long and instructive.

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The Once and Future Bloggers’ Roundtable

A Bloggers' Roundtable

A version of this blog post appeared on Spin Sucks (September 12, 2011) and K Street Cafe (September 15, 2011).

Why you should host one, and how to do it

Bloggers’ roundtables have been around for a while. They’re especially popular for book clubs, with the Department of Defense, and among politicians. (One wag asked John McCain if he knew the difference between YouTube and MySpace.)

Yet roundtables never took off as a form of outreach. That’s too bad, because as a vehicle to engage many stakeholders at once, roundtables can be as effective, if not more so, than their headline-grabbing cousins, Twitter and Facebook.

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15 Case Studies to Get Your Client on Board With Social Media

The Conversation Prism

How to sell social media

In business, definitions are everywhere. They’re your first line of defense in mission statements, job descriptions, expense accounts, statements of work, accounting principles, and the like. If you can’t define something, you’re left with Potter Stewart’s famous but ultimately unhelpful maxim, “I know it when I see it.”

Understandably, this is why a plethora of pundits have sought to corner the elusive term, “social media,” within a dictionary. For instance, Duct Tape Marketing defines the phenomenon as “the use of technology combined with social interaction.” Wikipedia prefers “Web-based and mobile technologies.” Booz Allen Hamilton points to “electronic tools, technologies, and platforms.”

Got that? If you don’t follow, your clients won’t either.

While definitions are important, to sell the field that everyone talks about but few can illuminate, we social media strategists need to reframe the conversation. Instead of striving for Merriam-Webster precision, we would do better if we focused on case studies.

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The Power of Passion

Jump for Joy

“We’re gonna make your logo pop! We’re gonna make the IPREX globe spin! And we’re gonna make the buttons beautiful!”

“A button can be beautiful?” asked a skeptical Susan.

“Oh yeah!” beamed a confident Jesse.

It was at this moment that Jesse had Susan. He’d been muddling through the meeting, but this burst of bravura, energy and passion was sincere and infectious—a gust of fresh wind that I believe won him the contract to redesign SusanDavis.com.

Similarly, when I myself interviewed with Susan, things coasted along for the first 15 minutes. She asked about my experience; I provided conventional answers. Then she deployed her pet question: “If you were an animal, what would you be?”

“That’s easy,” I grinned. “I’d be a dog.” It was at this moment that I had Susan. With great pride and obvious pleasure, I regaled her with stories of my miniature schnauzer, Wyatt.

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9 Ways to Engage Bloggers

Mention the phrase “blogger engagement” to today’s marketer, and you’re likely to get an eager response, followed by self-professed ignorance. “We’d love to do that—we just don’t know how.”

To some, this scenario spells new business. (In part, this explains why many agencies separate their “digital” practice from their traditional ones.) Yet an honest blogger whisperer will let you in on a secret: If you can pitch a reporter, producer, or booker, you can pitch a blogger. After all, bloggers are just people—susceptible to the same relationship-cultivating techniques that every PR pro performs every day.

Indeed, the best way to understand bloggers is to view them as members of the media. Think of blogger engagement as public relations, albeit a new kind. Neither straight reporter nor pure pundit, the blogger is a hybrid creature who observes his own rules.

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