Yesterday, we opened a discussion about points of contact – places where clients encounter your branding. One of the most neglected points of contact is the business letter. So many travel agents now use email that the art of writing a business letter is nearly forgotten. Yet, there are times when a business letter is a far better communication alternative. Poorly written, however, the business letter can give your clients or potential clients the wrong impression of your agency. Here are a few tips for getting it right and conveying the brand image you hope to inject into every one of your brand points of contact.
Business letters have a structure. Unlike personal letters, business correspondents should not deviate greatly from the anticipated, standard format. Remember that business letters are often filed and require a response. In order to assure the recipient acts on the letter in a timely fashion, it is important to provide a structured framework and information.
Begin with your logo and letterhead. Take care with the quality of the presentation. Good stationery and graphics are an important first impression. Poorly produced logo graphics send the wrong message and is the first sign of a non-professional correspondent. Choose a professional font, typically avoiding hard to read “script fonts” and left justify the text.
While we will not pour over every structural aspect of a business letter here, a good guide to business correspondence is important. Your office should be equipped with a reference book that demonstrates proper formatting of a business letter. Most word processors come with templates for business letters as an alternative. Most importantly, however, pay strict attention to being concise, to diction, grammar and spelling. A wrongly chosen word, poor grammar or a misspelling can doom your letter to the discard pile. Write it, read it, lay it aside and come back to your effort in a few hours for proofing and editing.
Use a date line, and place the date near the top of the page. Use a format that will be understood internationally: either “September 22, 2009” or “22 September, 2009.” In business correspondence, the date is important to move the recipient to respond promptly and may even have legal impact. Avoid using the abbreviated “9/22/09” which in some instances can be misunderstood internationally. Your address should be included either immediately after the date or in the signature block. Alternatively, you can let your stationery carry this burden if your address is pre-printed. The recipient’s name, title and address come next. If possible, write to a specific individual. Use the U.S. Post Office format for addresses. If international, be sure to type the name of the country in all-capital letters on the last line of the address block.
For the salutation, use the same name as you used in the address block. Skip a line and move to the body of your letter. Be to the point and clear in your objectives. If there is an action item for the recipient, request the response as close to the end of the letter as possible, clearly stating your desire. If there are enclosures, list them in standard format a the bottom of the letter, below your closing.
Tedious? Perhaps, but the attention to detail will provide dividends in generating the appropriate response to your business requests.