What I Learned About Email From My Old Uncle

1 February 2013

My great uncle is old. He is crabby and cranky -- and, in his own words, "ain't got much more time in these old bones." Keep in mind that he has been saying this for at least 20 years, so I don't worry too much about it anymore.

He recently moved into assisted living (he needs a little more help these days then the family can support), and so we have been going through all of his things. In all of the mess, we did discover something that I found very interesting: V-Mail.

In WWII my uncle was a Torpedo Man Second Class. And during this time, the government would provide V-Mail, or "Victory Mail" postcards that the enlisted and deployed could use to communicate back home to family and loved ones. His mother kept them, and when he returned home, she returned them to him. And so they sat in his house for a long time.

The words and images definitely hearken back to a different era, but there is still something to be learned from these messages dating back to 1942. And because I am who I am, I'm going to use them to reveal some fundamental principles that apply not only to email, but marketing in general. Here we go…


Use custom imagery to tell a story. Look, I know that stock photography is easy to get your hands on -- but do you think these images came from iStock? It may take a little more effort, but you can convey a whole lot of personality in your brand using custom imagery. If you want your brand to stand out, your images should help it do so, and using the same images available to everyone else won't help. Much like corporate art, stock images lose something when they are created to appeal to a mass audience.

Keep your message short and succinct. Sure, there was all kinds of content my uncle could have sent on this postcard. I am sure his mother would have love dto know where he was, how he was doing, when he was coming home – but since most of the information was classified, it was better to just get to the point. We could all learn from that. Why say it in 500 words when you can say it in five? We need to practice some restraint and keep our email short, sweet and to the point.

Build in controls. You'll notice that each of these messages was reviewed by naval censors and stamped with their approval before being sent out. I'm not saying you want someone in another department to censor your messages, but having a point of control or review cycle to ensure that emails aren't sent out with "test" message in the subject line or broken dynamic content is not a bad idea.

Keep your messages current. These V-Mails are an extreme example. Messages like these wouldn't necessarily resonate today. It was a different time then, and just as the political landscape changes, so too does the consumer focus. Keeping your content current and relevant is critical to long-term success. Just because a message or approach worked once doesn't mean it will work again.


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