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A recent humorous article about “killing the email signoff” filled me with a sense of relief as I came to the realization that I am not alone in my agonizing deliberation about email signoffs. I have spent way too much time, and thought way too deeply, about the appropriateness of signoffs and what meaning the signoff I was using conveyed. Using the signoffs “best,” “regards,” or “sincerely” often left me feeling empty and entirely insincere and signoffs such as “cheers,” or my all-time least favorite “ciao,” left me feeling fake, cheesy or unnecessarily pompous. Working in the context of the military makes the whole process much easier as everybody simply signs off V/R (surprise an acronym!), Very Respectfully, even if you have absolutely no respect for the person that you are emailing.

So I often just revert to “thanks,” but then am left wondering what I am thanking the person for. More often than not I just go with nothing and wonder if the person on the other end thinks I’m being rude.

As the article states, siImagegnoffs are a relic of actual letter writing (yes those pieces of paper that you put a stamp on and mailed) which was much more infrequently done and thus carried much more value and meaning than the multiple emails we send and receive daily. So if you receive an email without a signoff, don’t take it personal, it’s just part of a long overdue cultural shift.


According to the philosopher William James “all of our life is nothing but a mass of habits,” as picked up by a recent New York Times piece by Jonah Lehrer.

It’s true. We give little thought to what we do, once done. It doesn’t mean we can’t reflect and think or feel about what we’ve done, it’s just that we easily continue to ‘do.’ And once we do anything enough, it’s tough to stop.

Lehrer points out that recent scientific inquiry is coming to the consensus that habits are really just an extreme form of learning. Like those of us who swim or play the piano a lot, once you have it down, you just go at it.

The same may be true for shopping and the brands we buy. Products that communicate and convey messaging in line with our habitual natures are likely successes. Lehrer points to a case from Charle’s Duhigg’s recent book “The Power of Habit” where the P&G brand Febreze didn’t become a hit until it incorporated habitual behavior into its product messaging.

Seems that consumers neither understood the product nor its benefits when it debuted. That’s until P&G  revamped the advertising campaign to bundle its use with perfoming the usual household chores of making the bed, cleaning the kitchen floor, and then spritizing Febreze into the air as part of the usual routine. Nothing new, but an integral part of habitual weekend cleaning. Bingo!

The lesson learned? Don’t make ‘too’ much out of your product or service.  We see a lot of that here at W5. Clients spending so much time on differientating themselves or making their product or service special and novel. The goal, we think, is rather to communicate that it’s a part of the norm, the ordinary, the mundane of every day; bundle the product into accepted habits and practices: find a slot in the routine of people’s life, highlight it in a nuanced manner, and you’re home free. You are swimming with the tide.

As I watch the American debt crisis circus unfold, it seems to me what really sent the circus reeling was when President Obama told people he couldn’t guarantee Social Security and other government checks would be cut in early August. In other words, the government wouldn’t be handing out money in small amounts to guys and gals like you or me. Forget the billions that are bantered about, it’s when the guy in Toledo doesn’t get his $556 that all hell breaks loose.

Which made me think of what it’s all about: money. Will the money in my pocket be worth any less? And while we all have to admit we like having money worth its face value, why is it we disdain certain denominations to the point that some people don’t even like to receive it? I can easily make a case today for the general clunkiness of the dollar coin (e.g. the Sacagawea, or the earlier Susan B. Anthony) or the confusion brought on by the fifty (i.e. “it’s a fifty, not a twenty!”), it’s the two dollar bill that gets my attention.

I love the two dollar bill. I ask for them at banks and use them in stores as much as I can, for a few reasons. First, I turn a mundane transaction on its head, every store clerk does a double-take and sports a smile and the interaction always ends up being very pleasant. It’s a wink and a nod between two ships passing in the checkout aisle. Second, I think they make great sense in today’s world. Nothing is under a dollar. Cheap stuff is always a dollar and change, making the two a no-brainer to pull out. For this reason alone the “deuce” has a big future right now. Even its moniker of deuce is a cool word. It’s the ugly swan whose time has come.

It’s brand equity is simultaneously quaint-retro and forward thinking. It connotes an era of “then” while simutaneously communicating that the “buck” can easily be trumped by a deuce. And maybe that’s why the American mindset can’t wrap its head around the idea of a two. The American dollar reigns supreme. Or at least has as long as the U.S. Treasury can maintain its AAA credit rating worldwide. The buck is the world’s common denominator. A five is “five dollars” a ten “ten dollars,” whereas a two is not “two dollars” but “a two.” Is that why “a twenty” kind of looks like “a two?” Communication speaks volumes. Our language dosen’t have a place for it. Our notion of American superiority seeks to keep the status quo of our monetary system.

Maybe a two requires a Canada or Europe to work. Not only do they have a one dollar/euro coin, but also a two dollar/euro coin. And people use them, but not here where the eagle flies.

Dear Reader,

Consider how you open and close an email today compared to how you may have ten years ago. Do you start out strong, addressing the recipient by name, or begin more respectfully, showcasing your knowledge of old-English phraseology?

In his dissection of this simple, yet valuable subject, James Morgan explains that what we may have considered business-appropriate language years ago may seem overly intimate or unprofessional today. This sentiment strikes me as ironic, seeing as the “Hey” we resort to nowadays is just about the most casual way in which we could begin a corporate relationship.

So how do we seem genuine, professional, yet approachable at the same time? It simply depends on the situation. Some say “Dear” should be used when addressing problems or beginning a new professional association through email, given its old-fashioned, sincere connotation. However, lately even the most subdued professionals have been going with a more laid-back greeting, beginning correspondence with “Hey Folks” or no subject line at all.

The closer presents a similar conundrum. Your signature statement can be sincere and uber-professional or casual and conversational, depending on the nature of your business. What is paramount to remember in this situation is what every English 101 teacher tells their pupils on the first day of class: First and foremost, consider your audience. If we become familiar with the email recipient’s expectations we can best choose words that accommodate their style while maintaining our own.

Best Regards,

The ability to annotate maps has brought about a few interesting, creative uses of maps in story telling. Two recent examples I’ve come across include the New York Times map: Walking in Holden’s Footsteps and a map I discovered on McSweeneys’ titled Mr. Plimpton’s Revenge (shown below) that uses the map to tell a story.

Both are interesting examples of non-traditional story telling.

There’s been a lot of talk about social media lately. It’s hit the mainstream and all of the sudden Twitter and Facebook and their cousins are showing up in all kinds of places from CNN to Vitamin Water commercials. The buzz around social media being the next big thing is getting, well, a bit obnoxious. While it’s added more information and communication to my life, it hasn’t fundamentally changed it for the better or worse.

Gareth Kay wrote a great op-ed piece for Agency Spy that got me thinking. It’s all about having a conversation instead of a lecture. What’s interesting is that social media seems to be becoming less and less about having a conversation with everyone, more anti-social in a sense. A few sites I’ve come across recently have pointed that way for me:

  • HP came out with Gabble recently. As the New York Times puts it, the NotForYouTube. Essentially, it’s a social media site that limits the social. The user controls who sees their video and the scope of the conversation. Instead of seeing how many hits you can get to become the internet star of tomorrow, it lets you have a conversation.
  • Another site I’ve learned about (thanks to my wife Shannon) is Yammer. Essentially, instead of using Twitter to have a public discourse about the mundane details of your life, Yammer is about a closed circle of co-workers having a private conversation. 

Subtle inward twists on ideas that are typically used to broadcast and all of the sudden social media is more about using technology to converse than finding a way to self-broadcast. When you look at sites like these in combination with the forthcoming Google Voice, it’s becoming clearer to me that the social media revolution is going to be more of a shift in how we have conversations than a revolution in what we’re saying.