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Email – When Branding and Efficiency Collide

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Google Inc.Image via WikipediaI’m jumping to gmail. Plain, vanilla, no bells and whistles gmail. As a marketer and writer, I hate giving up the my “” email address, but for me, the need for efficiency has finally trumped the desire for consistent branding.

My email was hosted on AT&T and ran on Outlook. I started having major service interruptions about two months ago when AT&T started changing servers and never let me know. All of a sudden my email stopped working — a major problem when your business runs on email.

Descent into email hell

Getting help from the AT&T service desk proved to be frustrating in the extreme. They are too big, too bureaucratic, and make it way too difficult to find someone who can solve your problem. I wasted literally 16 hours in one week drifting through their customer service and tech support departments. When I finally found a technician who knew how to reconfigure my Outlook email settings, it took him about 10 minutes to fix the problems. You know what? I would have been happier if it had taken 10 minutes to find the problem solver and 16 hours to fix it.

But problems recurred and recurred. One- and two-hour long service interruptions. Inability to sync with BlackBerry. Warning emails from Yahoo that my email would shut down unless I configured SSL, but no instructions for how to do that. Ports that worked one day and didn’t work the next. After a month or so of this, my email again stopped downloading to my BlackBerry. No warning, no explanation. It was the last straw. I switched over to my generic gmail account.

The bigger email picture – branding versus efficiency

My recent experiences reinforced the feeling I’ve always had that email service should be set up as cleanly and simply as possible. This is very difficult to accomplish, because of the number of email technologies out there and the complex interfaces among them. In my case, the combination of AT&T and Microsoft was an accident waiting to happen. I already talked about the nightmare that is the AT&T bureaucracy, but I’m sure at least some of you have had the misfortune to learn all about that.

Add to that the need to mesh with Microsoft’s exceedingly complex, over-engineered products, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. When I discovered that AT&T had partnered with Yahoo for their email service, well — time to jump ship.

I’ve never been impressed with Yahoo from an ease-of-use standpoint. And considering Yahoo’s management upheavals, who knows what will happen to their email partnership with AT&T? Whether Jerry Yang, Carl Icahn, or Steve Ballmer ends up calling the shots, I don’t see how any of them make Yahoo a better email provider.

Keep it simple for me, please

I would have moved to gmail long ago, except everybody told me a email would look more professional and convey a consistent brand. It’s true. And hey, it may be a mistake to give it up. But having email that works is more important to me right now than having email that looks good. I know Google offers upgrade email services for business to deal with the branding issue, and that there are other workarounds within standard gmail.

But I keep thinking, why complicate matters? Why add functionality and increase the number of ways something can go wrong? I’m not a technician; I’m just an entrepreneur who doesn’t want to call an IT technician every time there’s a software/hardware malfunction. I’d rather save those calls for problems that really matter, like an infected hard drive.

Google and BlackBerry do keep it simple
Importing my contacts from Outlook to gmail took about 3 minutes following these simple instructions.

After using gmail for a couple days, I couldn’t figure out how to stop emails I sent from downloading to my BlackBerry. One minute of searching led me to this gmail discussion string, which led me to this BlackBerry help page. Problem fixed in less than 10 minutes. Versus 16 hours plus from the AT&T -Yahoo – Microsoft morass.

The three s’s of SSSimple

Google and BlackBerry, which I’ve used for years for various services, are consistently straightforward, seamless, and safe. The entrepreneur’s dream. I love to promote my brand, but I don’t mind promoting theirs one bit.

Questions about branding and email

Let’s talk!

What do you think? If the choice is between branding and efficiency, which way would you go? Would using a gmail or yahoo email address hurt your business? As a buyer of products and services, would you be turned off by sellers using a generic email?

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20 Responses to Email – When Branding and Efficiency Collide

  1. Hi Brad

    It’s even more challenging for us in the UK as we’re limited to a clunky googlemail address (unless I set up a dummy ISP in a different country which was beyond my technical ken! and took me to some very dodgy looking sites as I explored the option).

    I’m still using email hidden; JavaScript is required though – it was very easy to set up so mail arrives and goes from that account – wouldn’t that be an option for you so you could keep the word sell address?


  2. Jackie, My dream has been to have one email I could use universally for everything. Simple, easy to maintain, etc. Now I’m living the dream. It remains to be seen whether it will turn into a nightmare. The feedback I’m hearing from you and Joanna, people I respect as clear thinkers, makes me a little nervous, but we’ll see!

  3. I have 2 different “business” e-mail addresses. One of my choosing – the other because if my links with the training programme I deliver and which reinforces their credibility and professionalism ( as I understand it). Like Joanna I have both of these bounce into my personal AOL e-mail for ease of management. I suppose this does not help though if your host for your business e-mail is not reliable – just a thought though.

  4. I wouldn’t worry Brad – I am sure it will work for you! maybe we put too much store in little details. It is a bit like SJP’s mole. She looked fine with it and now she doesn’t have it she still looks fine ;-)

    And thanks for calling me a “clear thinker” – that has made my day.

  5. Brad, I moved to Gmail after I switched to AT&T for internet and TV. I could not get AT&T to work with Thunderbird or Outlook and a post from Nick Cernis led me to just use Gmail as primary. The good news is that you can still use wordsell with Gmail. I have my business email forwarded to gmail and like Outlook & Thunderbird, you can set it up to respond from your business account. Gmail is easy with gobs of storage space and I love the threaded conversations. There is also a Remember the Milk plugin for Gmail that makes task management a snap. It took awhile to adjust but Gmail has worked like a charm for me.

  6. Hi Jeanne, that’s a really good idea, and simple, as most good ideas are. I may wind up doing what you suggest. Thank you!

  7. Brad,

    May I recommend setting up a second G-mail account for Word Sell (i.e., email hidden; JavaScript is required)? That way, you can keep your basic branding and also keep your personal and business e-mails separate. I opened a second G-mail account for Writer’s Notes not too long ago — mainly because I didn’t want to post my personal e-mail address to my blog. (Orble doesn’t provide e-mail service to its bloggers.)

    While I still receive the majority of my e-mail at my personal e-mail address — including business e-mails — I feel that my personal e-mail address is a little more secure this way and a little less vulnerable to e-mail spam. Of course, I do also receive the branding benefits of having an e-mail address which includes the name of my blog.

    G-mail has many benefits, which you’ll continually discover as you use the service. Personally, I’ve barely scratched the surface of all they have to offer, and I’ve been with them for quite some time.

    Enjoyed this post!

  8. Oops! Didn’t mean to post a live but non-functioning Word Sell e-mail address! Definitely wasn’t thinking when I wrote that comment! My apologies! (Better hurry and set up that second account!)

  9. No problem, Brad! Glad to help!

  10. Cath & Lillie, so far, gmail has worked perfectly (I’ve had a gmail account as a backup for a while. If gmail continues to perform, I think this will have been the right decision. Sorry you had difficulties, Lillie. I’ve never heard that before, but hey, there are lots of people who swear by AT&T.

  11. Hi Brad – It’s a tough one. While branding is important – a brand which comes over as inefficient isn’t good either.

    I too like efficiency. And I use AOL for all my email right now, because like you, I like simplicity. I would change it for the sake of branding, but not to someone like AT&T.

  12. Brad,
    I’ve had a gmail account for a long time as a backup to my main e-mail. I’ve had to use it only a few times as backup, but I signed up for Google Alerts at that address so continued to check it regularly. Awhile back, when I logged in to Google mail, the inbox would load but I couldn’t get to any messages–I’d click on the message and would end up back in the inbox. I tried Firefox instead of IE, and it worked for about a day then it started doing the same thing. I’ve tried several things to fix it but have given up. Like you, I don’t want the complications, and for me, my e-mail address from my Web host is much more efficient and functional than gmail. In about six years, I’ve had very few problems, and those were short-lived. Hope you have better luck with gmail than I did–and I know millions of people swear by it. Just wanted to say … it’s not foolproof, either.

  13. Brad, I think you’ve hit on the battle between technicians versus entrepreneurs and businesspeople.

    Technicians seem to delight in creating hugely complicated offerings with bells and whistles all over the place. Entrepreneurs and businesspeople just want something which ‘bloody well works’ without any fuss. (Oh, sorry, can I use that type of language on your blog?)

    Personally, I’m with the entrepreneurs and business people on this one. I don’t care how many bells and whistles there are – I just want it to work and work every time.

    I can relate to the sixteen hours you spent reading those technical manuals. Personally, I have a different problem in Korea, since most of the support documentation is in Korean, which I can’t understand!

    If I’m lucky, they’ll be a number which I can ring and say “Annyonghaseyo. Yeong-eo haseyo?” (“Hello. Do you speak English?”)

    Sometimes, they put me through to an English speaker. Other times, I face extreme difficulties in getting my problem solved!

  14. Hi Andrew, are you trying to learn Korean? Seems like a daunting language. With all that going on, I can see why you don’t need technical hassles.

    Robert, I’m going to do a post comparing Outlook to gmail after I get a bit more experience on gmail. Maybe that can help you decide.

  15. Gee, maybe I should think about gmail too. Glad to have read this discussion, Brad. Food for thought, indeed.

    Hey, Andrew, are you sure that’s what that means? I might mean, “Hello, I don’t speak Korean. Please string me along until I hang up.” :-D

  16. Hi Eric, thanks for visiting! I’m checking out your blog now, and ditto. What are the odds that two Westerners reading this post know Korean?

  17. Wow, just checked out your blog Brad, pretty good topics you have, I will come back more often.

    Andrew: that is cool you are learning Korean. I actually lived in Korea for 2 years and learned the language (but never fluently, probably to like a middle-school level); it was one of the hardest things I ever learned, so good luck!

    We do have two korean students coming to live with us this summer though, it should be fun. I will have to cook some more kimchi and bulgogi when they come~ Good stuff, go eat some for me!

  18. Eric, I’m curious, what part of Korea did you live in? I live in Boeun, a small town in the Chungcheongbuk-do province. Eat some bulgogi and kimchi – sounds like a great idea to me.

    Robert, part of my problem when talking to strangers in Korean is that I can actually tell them quite easily (in Korean) that I can’t speak Korean. And because I can tell them that one sentence clearly, they don’t actually realize that I actually can’t say much more than that, let alone understand their reply.

    Brad, its amazing what happens on blogs, and the fact that two Westerners who live in or have been to Korea meet on your blog is testament to the diversity of your blog.

    The Korean alphabet, hangeul, is remarkably well constructed and is simple to learn, but still, Korean is challenging because it is vastly different to English.



  19. Brad,
    There’s one, simple solution to your problem of wanting to use, but have the efficiency of Gmail: Google Apps for Your Domain. One of the free services they offer is, but with the Gmail interface.

    You could also just set up your brand email to forward to your Gmail address.

  20. Hi Carl, Good suggestions. I’ve looked into them a little, but I’m still so shellshocked from my recent problems, I’m leery of any customization. Still, I know lots of people do what you’re suggesting and it seems to work fine, so that may be where I wind up. Thanks for the help.

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