Email: Effective Electronic Communication

You get hundreds of emails every week, and may send nearly as many yourself. How many of them are memorable and resonate with you or your recipient? Follow these 4 Cs of communication to make your emails more effective.

American workers get hundreds of electronic messages every week. How many of those emails are memorable, compelling, and effective?

Conversely, how many times have you pressed SEND, only to regret that you didn’t look at it just one more time to tweak the language or the tone? Or perhaps the recipient’s reply made it abundantly clear that he or she didn’t fully understand your message–and now you have to Ping-Pong back and forth to clarify your original message and make sure your recipient now “gets” it.

Business missteps, wasted time, misunderstandings, no reply–these are just a few of the issues that are caused, largely, by ineffective electronic communication.

I’m not the first to write about the delicate nature of email communication, and I likely won’t be the last. While it is tempting to be lured into thinking an email message is just like having a conversation, it isn’t.

Conversations are spoken–they have the benefit of tone of voice, inflection, and if someone misunderstands, the opportunity for instant clarification. This is always a critical distinction from the written word, where nuances in voice inflection that convey a tongue-in-cheek “I’m just kidding,” or a dead-serious “I really mean this” obviously don’t exist.

Email messages are more likely to be taken very literally, and they can be passed from the intended recipient to the unintended. In fact, if not executed correctly, email messaging can backfire on its intent, threaten relationships, and even endanger careers.

The 4Cs of Truth in Communication
Enter the 4Cs of Truth in Communication. Originally developed to evaluate and improve advertising and marketing materials, the 4Cs are an equally useful tool when applied to email communication. The 4Cs stand for Comprehension, Connection, Credibility, and Contagiousness.

Let’s see how they can be used to make your emails more effective.

The First C: Comprehension. It may seem obvious, but it’s important that your recipient simply understands the message contained in the email. And this has everything to do with language, vocabulary, punctuation, and tone. It is highly important that the proper tone be understood when reading an email message.

One great way of ensuring instant comprehension is the subject line. Think about it: Other than the sender’s name, it’s the only piece of information readers see before they open the email. Therein lies the opportunity to either invite the recipient into your message and open it, or “save it” for later. And you know what that means? The likelihood that it will get read in the future is about 50 percent.

A friend and colleague of mine with whom I hadn’t communicated recently sent me an email with the subject message, “Let’s get together for breakfast!” So I immediately understood, even before opening the email, what the purpose of her message was. The exclamation point communicated to me that she was enthusiastic about the idea. That’s a great start.

Compare that to an email that says “no subject,” or even one that says “Hi.” Even if I know the sender, I’m not as eager to open it and may skip over it.

The Second C: Connection. Here’s the key question we ask about Connection: Is the message speaking to the recipient on a personal level? Does it really matter to him or her?

If the message is not relevant, doesn’t address a topic or area of concern to interest on a rational or emotional level, then it’s not making a Connection. Think about the number of times you’ve pressed the DELETE button just by seeing some words in a subject line that were frivolous, not interesting, or otherwise irrelevant to you.

For instance, whenever I get an email from my publishers with the words “your book” in the subject line, I’m inherently interested. It makes an immediate and critical Connection for me–both rationally and emotionally. Email messages need to connect on a personal level too.

The Third C: Credibility. This is the critical “C.” To assess credibility, think who, what and how.

  • Who: Does the message make sense coming from this sender? Is the sender himself or herself credible?
  • What: Is it something you expect from this sender? If the message or the tone of the message doesn’t sync with your expectations, the message is more likely to lose Credibility.
  • How: How is the message executed? How is the message worded, and how does it strike you? If the sender is trying to convince you of something, are you “buying” it?

The Fourth C: Contagiousness. This is the area where tone, one of the most important components of email communication, steps in and takes charge. If the tone of your email message is exciting, motivating, or differentiating, it’s likely to deliver your message effectively.

Remember my example of my friend’s invitation to breakfast? The tone was definitely motivating to me. Think about the potential effectiveness of your next email message in terms of:

  • Energy: Is there a sense of energy around the message? Is there something in the headline or opening sentence that makes the reader want to continue reading?
  • Newsworthy: Does it offer a new way to view the sender? This will likely mean the message and/or the sender is more memorable.
  • Unique: Is it competitively differentiating? Does it stand out from the hundreds of other emails in the reader’s inbox that week? Obviously, there’s an opportunity to do this in the subject line as well.
  • Emotionally charged. Does it evoke a vivid emotional response? Here’s an example of how, if your tone is off, the emotional response may be completely negative.
  • Motivation. Does it motivate the target to do something? Will the target hit REPLY or DELETE?

Try this: Apply the 4Cs to some emails in your inbox. For each email, did you instantly “get” it? (Comprehension) Did the message resonate with you emotionally? (Connection) Did it feel genuine? (Credibility) Did the message really stick with you? (Contagiousness) You’ll discover that it’s rare to get an email that accomplishes all 4Cs. But when you do, notice how it stands out from the crowd!

You can accomplish this same desirable effect in your own emails by using the 4Cs every time you compose an email–or any other piece of communication. It’s one of the easiest and best ways to create memorable messages and boost your overall communication skills.

Isabelle Albanese is a leading marketing consultant for Fortune 500 companies, and the author of The 4Cs of Truth in Communication  (Paramount Market Publishing, 2007 Learn more at her website:

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