Marketing Bootcamp

Unleash the Full Power of the Email Auto-Reply

“The death of email has been greatly exaggerated.” No truer words have been spoken. In fact, Radicati Group, a technology marketing-research firm, predicts the total number of email accounts across the world is expected to increase from nearly 3.9 billion in 2013 to more than 4.9 billion by the end of 2017.

The number of email newsletters alone being sent alone is staggering. MailChimp, one of several companies that send and track email newsletters, issues billions of email newsletters a month on behalf of its customers. Many news and content sites, like this one, offer newsletters. Even content sites aimed at a teen audience offer email newsletters. Newsletters provide consumers news and discounts.

Related: How to Write Better Emails (Infographic)

Since email only continues to grow as an important communication tool, how you present yourself professionally and personally through your email communications is worth a review. One of the least thought about email types is the auto-reply. The auto-reply email speaks volumes about someone's personal and business brand.

Auto-reply emails can take many forms: The out-of-office message is one that people use to let friends and colleagues know they are not checking email while on vacation or extended business travel. Companies use auto-replies to confirm online orders or acknowledge customer-support inquiries. For the most part, the following tips can apply to either type and really any email you send:

Related: How to Get Them to Email You Back

Using the auto-reply to express your brand.

Creating an out-of-office message is usually the last thing someone does before turning off the lights for a few days of well-deserved rest and recuperation.  “I’m out of the office from 7/8/14 returning on 8/9/14. Contact my manager, John Smythe at john@mycompany.com for immediate assistance. I will respond to your email when I return” is the typical missive tapped on a keyboard before someone dashes out the door.

You can do better than that. While you want to convey that you are out of the office and not checking or responding to emails, that standard message doesn’t set you apart. Whether your personal brand has characteristics such as humor or creativity, you have an opportunity to impart a bit of your distinctive value to email recipients by adding a sentence. Here are some examples:

“While I am away, you might want to peek at my latest blog article on (fascinating topic and link here). I look forward to your thoughts the next time we talk.”

“These few days away will give me the opportunity to brush up on my reading. I’m going to enjoy digging into Stephen King’s latest book. If you've already read it, please don't send any spoilers.”

Not only is your message short and memorable, it also provides a little about you to recipients to remind them of your value and why they do business or share a friendly connection with you. And with a little adjustment, you can add personal notations like these to order confirmations and support acknowledgements. For example, try this:

“Thank you for your order. We’ve summarized it below and are now rushing to get it to you. Our support team is known for excellent customer care so your order is in good hands. It was recently featured in our local newspaper. Here’s a link to the story.”

Related: Social Media Is Hot But Email Packs Digital Marketing Power (Infographic) 

Keeping it professional.

Whether you opt to add a personal branding touch, keep in mind a few basic dos and don’ts for your auto-replies:

Don’t forget to proofread. Typos, broken links and a poor layout say you hastily sent an auto-reply without any thought for the recipient.

Don’t take shortcuts on the date's format. In the example above, a recipient might interpret it as July 8 to August 9. Europeans may view it as August 7 to September 8.

Consider writing a subject line that invites the recipient to open the message.

Be sure to use noncommittal terms about when you can respond. Unless you plan on responding to every email on the day you return, say you’ll respond after you return instead of when you return. Likewise, the person handling matters in your absence will appreciate not being on the hook for "immediate assistance" instead of just "assistance."

Don’t include your standard signature block of contact information with a mobile number or office number. Your sign-off should include only your name unless you want your voice mail box filled up or your vacation interrupted by calls on your cellphone.

Set up filters and folders to filter out email of less importance. Any gains from a peaceful retreat evaporate when someone returns to a stuffed inbox and the fear of missing an important assignment or message. Instead, create filters so that emails from important people (perhaps a manager, top customers and family) are the ones in your inbox. All other email can be filtered into folders that you can check after you have caught up on important matters.

Use modern mobile email applications that enable you to adjust notifications. If you must be available to an important customer or family member, create a filter so you receive a notification from only that person.

Make sure your auto-reply program is optimized for mobile viewing. A recent study indicates that 72 percent of U.S. Internet users check email on their mobile devices.

Don’t forget to turn off the out-of-office message upon your return if your email service doesn’t let you to set an end date. I find leaving a Post-it note on my computer screen before I head out the door is a helpful reminder for when I return. It also lets those who stop by your desk know you are out.

What tips can you share for using auto-replies to extend your personal or professional brand?

Related: The Top 10 Ways to Re-Engage Dead Email Subscribers