From the December 1999 issue of Entrepreneur

Once upon a time, if you wanted to reach out to another person properly, you put pen to paper. Today, the myriad outreach options would make Emily Post shudder. How is the well-mannered businessperson to correspond? Try these rules of thumb:

Computer-personalized letters: Instead of "Dear Sir or Madam" in mass-mailed letters, use PC-personalized letters to communicate to large audiences. Make sure spellings, titles and addresses are correct before you do your mail merge.

E-mail: For hard-to-reach people or for matters that don't require an immediate response, e-mail is the preferred method of communication. Keep in mind, though, that there are still people who don't check their e-mail regularly. When you do e-mail, avoid language nuances. Teasing and sarcasm tend to translate poorly--and sometimes offensively. And stay away from spamming--it can get you into hot water with recipients and, perhaps, the law.

Faxes: Legislation is tightening up on unsolicited broadcast faxes, so be certain you have the recipient's OK before you fax away. And don't fax sensitive information. You never know who will see a fax as it travels between the fax machine and the recipient's desk.

Online greeting cards: E-greetings can brighten someone's day, but they're really only appropriate in the most informal situations.

Handwritten notes: Essential for thank-yous, penned notes should be used to add a warm touch to situations where relationship-building is key.


Charlotte Mulhern contributed to this article.

Gwen Moran is president of Moran Marketing Associates, a public relations and marketing communications agency in Ocean, New Jersey.

Brand-Aid

Don't have an identity crisis. It's easier than you think to make your brand stand out from the pack.

Branding is often considered the be-all and end-all of creating company recognition. Indeed, some studies have even valued brands such as Microsoft and Coca-Cola in the hundreds of millions of dollars. But how does a bootstrapping entrepreneur compete with multimillion-dollar corporate image campaigns?

The answer lies in a few basic principles, says Elizabeth J. Goodgold, co-founder of The Nuancing Group (http://www.nuancing.com), a San Diego consulting firm that helps businesses find and refine brand identities.

Watch your language. Think you've got the perfect name? You'd better test it in other languages to avoid embarrassing translations. One example Goodgold cites is Rogaine, the popular hair growth stimulator, which is the name of a soft drink in Japan.

Be consistent. According to Goodgold, your "look"--including colors, typefaces and messaging--should be consistent throughout your materials. Your Web site domain name, toll-free vanity phone number and other key communication vehicles should closely tie together.

Overall, says Goodgold, smaller companies must reinforce their brand identities at every opportunity. "Find a voice for your brand. Develop a brand personality--it can be whimsical, fun or staunch. Then stay true to it."

Fast Track

NAME AND AGE: Robert Peters, 38

COMPANY NAME AND DESCRIPTION: Doober Inc. manufactures Peters' innovative product, the Doober--a baseball cap accessory made of wet-suit material that fits over the strap, ensuring comfort when the hat is worn backwards.

STARTING POINT: $30,000-plus in 1997. (Think patents, licenses and equipment.)

DON'T GET BURNED: The Doober, hailed by hat heads the world over, effectively prevents what many refer to as "strap burn." Peters got the big idea while bartending in Hollywood, California, after a capped customer complained that the plastic strap was a real pain in the forehead.

2000 SALES PROJECTIONS: $600,000

BIGGEST BREAK: When boxing champ Oscar De La Hoya and Rick Fox of Lakers fame donned Doobers in view of screaming fans. (A major publicity score--and all for free.)

RUMOR HAS IT: Peters has since heard about "Doober-spottings" at the Cannes Film Festival, professional boxing matches and other sporting events. Exposure is key, since each sighting generates more interest and more sales.

ADDED PLUS: The Doober even acts as a marketing vehicle for customers themselves. The strip of wet-suit material can be imprinted with the logo of choice.

HATS OFF: Sales hit an impressive $300,000 in 1999. Doobers (http://www.doober.com) are now licensed to more than 60 colleges nationwide and come with most Little League uniforms. Peters has even negotiated several professional-sports licenses.

AN EASY SELL: Says Peters, "We invented a product designed for comfort. When people see it, they love it--so getting more people to see Doobers is important."