E-Mailers: Watch Your Manners in Germany

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BONN, Germany -- Global e-mail marketers interested in targeting German Web shoppers had better mind their manners. Those who don't lose prospects and customers fast.

A recent survey of 2,518 online Germans found that 60 percent resented e-mails without subject headings.

Equally vexing for German consumers are follow-up e-mails asking if they have received the first e-mail. Half of those surveyed, primarily women, resented being addressed in the familiar rather than the formal tense.

This is important for American companies that often ignore the subtle difference in address that has not existed in English since the Quakers stopped using "thee."

Just as annoying, Germans said, were e-mails without any salutation whatsoever.

Some 40 percent of those surveyed disliked e-mails without a formal closing. A majority wanted some indication upfront as to how urgent the e-mail was. An exclamation point would do, they said.

Nor have Germans taken to the shorthand many American e-mailers use. They want e-mail senders to spell out "by the way," for example, rather than using BTW.

Inge Wolff, who chairs a workshop on international manners in Bielefeld, a town in Germany's Ruhr region, said that "not everybody needs to know these abbreviations people use in e-mails.

"Just because the Web blurs social borders because I don't see anyone in front of me doesn't give e-mailers the right to flatten me with a steamroller.

"Whoever shows such little respect to his virtual partner and does not differentiate the circumstances in which his e-mails are read should not be surprised when his e-mails are the last to be answered."

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