Just as language evolves over time, the way we communicate in business has changed. Phone calls and letters seem almost archaic now. Email is the foundation that most businesses’ communication and marketing strategies sit upon. And this is why you need to know not only how to craft a well-written email but strike the right balance between business formal and business casual (too informal too soon).
Too Informal Too Soon
Becoming too informal too soon can leave your reader feeling uncomfortable and perhaps confused. This is not the message you want to send. It’s kind of like when you go shopping for a new car. The salesperson follows you around the lot trying desperately to become your new best friend. The harder they try to bond with you over jokes, personal stories, or whatever psychological tricks they try—the more turned off you are.
Just as you can quickly sense when someone is acting overly friendly towards you, your email recipient can feel it as well. For example:
I’m so excited we met at the small business conference and I just know going forward we are going to get along wonderfully! I’ve been dying to meet someone with your amazing talent! I felt an immediate connection with you and am certain you can help me with my company.
Please, please email me back soon!
Your Biggest Fan,”
Yikes! If your email is too informal too early, it will sound superficial and desperate. Therefore, it’s important to identify an appropriate voice and style and to know when you’ve crossed the line. A better approach would be:
I was delighted to meet you at the small business conference last week and I am writing to follow up on our conversation. I would like to learn more about how your marketing plan could help my struggling company.
I look forward to hearing from you.
So much better! This conveys the same message but in a professional way, and is more likely to be taken seriously.
Informal Email—When Is It Appropriate?
Timing is everything. There are occasions when an informal email is perfectly acceptable. Knowing your audience will allow you to incorporate the informal human voice—not robotic corporate-speak. At these times, the informal approach will help you build personal connections.
Your business brand is also a factor in knowing how relaxed or informal an email can be. Context is king; if your brand is ultra-relaxed, you can ignore the rules and write in the style your target audience expects.
For example, an email marketing campaign in the cosmetic industry might look like this:
“Hey, Fabulous Friends! Have you heard the buzz??? It’s time to restock your stash of honey-based organic lip balm. Because your lips deserve to feel bee-utiful!”
This promotional email breaks more than a few writing rules, but who cares? The message is clear, fun, and motivational to the target consumer.
You can adapt your email writing style to meet the needs of your readers. Just don’t go too far overboard and damage your credibility, reputation, or trustworthiness.
What to Avoid
When you realize the timing and audience does not allow for an informal email style, here are a few things to avoid:
- Informal or casual greetings
- “Hi!” or “Hey Jane,”
- “How’s it going?” or “What’s up with you?”
- Using ALL CAPS
- “I’m SO HAPPY we will be working together!!!” Using all caps is equivalent to yelling at the person. You may be hoping to convey excitement but your reader may feel attacked.
- Using contractions—“don’t” or “didn’t” instead of the formal “do not” or “did not”
- “Why don’t you tell him he shouldn’t go to the meeting? He’s gonna be late anyway.”
- Colloquial or outdated terms or slang (a common cause of misunderstandings or offense)
- “That video excerpt was really the cat’s pajamas.”
- “I think you should go for the manager position. YOLO.”
- Office gossip/jokes
How to Achieve the Perfect Balance
Consider your reader or audience. What is your relationship status? Are they a prospective new client or customer? A new employee? A vendor you’ve worked with for years? The depth of your relationship with the person will determine how informal your email can be.
To illustrate: An informal email that is extremely casual in grammar, style, and tone sounds like a conversation you would have with a close friend. That person that you can say anything to, and they get it. They understand you and are not quick to judge.
Now picture having a conversation with a stranger or someone you recently met. Would you speak to them in the same manner as your close friend? No. There’s no history between you. You need time to build a level of trust, see their personality, and understand their sense of humor.
It is essentially the same with writing emails. You can adjust your level of familiarity depending upon how well you know the person. When an email borders on sounding too informal—overly friendly or intimate—it can quickly get creepy. Don’t presume that your business relationship is deeper than it really is.
Remember the goal of your business email: To convey your message in a professional yet friendly, conversational style.
Avoid Sounding Too Formal
Avoid going to the other extreme—sounding too formal. As the culture of business has relaxed, a more laid-back approach to business communication has flourished. Many of the “formal” writing rules we grew up with have become obsolete. If your writing is too formal, you may come across as unfriendly, arrogant, and stuffy. Use wording that is easily understood.
Yes, it can be a struggle to find the right style and tone for your business emails. But, with a little practice and skill, you can learn the art of writing the perfect email that is never too informal.