The Kings and Queens of Skim

This is what they read because they miss ninety percent of it.

It is absolutely mind-boggling to me how many people do not read their emails.  Or letters.  Or anything, really.

We are the kings and queens of skim.

Partly this is due to the fact that we are being gently trained by our culture to receive all our information at super-fast speeds, and we don’t really ingest it.  We glance over it and pick out the important bits.

I was at London Heathrow airport recently and was absolutely shocked at the amount of fast information that ran in front of my eyes simply between shops.  And everything was electronic – there were hardly any ‘still’ signs or notices.  The same goes for television.  I don’t own one (and that is, incidentally, how I answer the question, “How do you do so much?”), but every time I watch it, I can hardly take it in.  The ads are so fast I can’t even remember what they were for, and when you watch the news there are items scrolling on the bottom of the screen and the right-hand side of the screen and just about everywhere else.

So it’s no wonder we don’t read our emails.  We’re in a hurry.  And we expect our emails to act in the same way the airport adverts and the television news programmes do.

The problem is, they don’t act in the same way.  Not yet, anyway (for which I am thankful).  It’s still, solid words that are the same every time you look at them.  And because of that, my experience is that most people don’t read at least 50% of the emails that I send.

It starts to annoy me after a while (even though I know I miss information, too).  I write out a clear answer to someone’s question, with three careful bullet points, and they come back asking something I’ve already answered.  One time I sent an email saying “What do you think about this?  Should I send a quote?  I think he’s already a client”.  The response I got back was, “From memory, he’s a client.”  No response to my real question, and it took us three emails and a phone call to sort it all out.

My point is (you knew I’d get there), if that’s the case for me, and you, and the world’s population, then you had better re-think your marketing.  If you babble on for pages and pages, it’s not going to get read.

It’s a fact that people spend:

–        Less than 10 seconds on a website before they decide to click further or leave the site entirely

–        A few seconds “reading” an email before they reply

–        About a second looking over a letter before deciding to keep it or bin it

And those are the high estimates.

So now that you know that, here are some tips for writing – well, anything:

Personal Emails

If you need a simple answer, make sure you ask a simple question.  A friend of mine is an administrative assistant for an extremely busy man.  An email came in that was about 2 pages long, and my friend’s boss took the printout, glanced at it, handed it back to her, and said, “What does he want me to do?”  That’s the question we’re all asking.  Make sure you answer it.

Separate things.  Use paragraphs and spaces and bullet points and bold letters.  It helps people find things.  Ifyourunitalltogetherit’shardtoread.

Group Emails

Make them simple and easy to read.  Less text, more pictures.  Links to videos.  Links to websites and blogs.  Links to Facebook.  Give them a quick summary and let them decide if they read on.

Keep it clean.  No matter how much you have to communicate, leave enough space so that their mind isn’t overwhelmed.  Crowded emails don’t get read.

Put important stuff at the beginning.  If they’re spending a second glancing at it, they may not make it to the end.

Always, always give them an option to unsubscribe.  If they don’t want to read it, you don’t want to be sending it to them.


This could take up an entire marketing tip (or book).  Suffice to say that the same principles that apply to group emails apply to your website.  People don’t take long to make up their minds.

Also, use clear calls to action – everywhere.  Invite them to download something, watch a webinar or video, sign up to an email list, go on to another page. Anything.  Small steps.

Hard copy letters

Include something – a pen, post-it notes, a memory stick, a keychain, anything.  They are 45% more likely to open the envelope and read the letter if you do so.

Generally, keep it to one page.  There are times when 2-3 pages are better, but not often.  If needed, include a brochure or leaflet.

Use a postscript at the end.  It may be all they read.

Enjoy what you read this week!