Email signatures: informing, branding, bragging or bamboozling? (29/08/2012)

Whew. This is a fraught issue, jam-packed with dilemmas. To keep it small or make it beeg? To brand the guts out of it or opt for plain text humility? To include every accolade in your life or wait for people to ask? Before we dive in, I have a story.

A few months ago I wrote a column for Bizcommunity, and then for Ideate, and then for MojoDojo, in which I roundly condemned those little quotes at the bottom of email signatures. You know the type: ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge – Albert Einstein.’ I also slated the ‘Do not print’ bossiness, which annoys me.

And… I got hate mail.

There were a few compliments but on the whole, the response was venom. And that’s when I realised how personally people take that tiny little piece of digital real estate. So it is with no small measure of trepidation that I again approach the issue:


There are the littlies, with name, email address and cell number. There may or may not be a small image or a link to a website or other web-hosted profile.

  • Up-side: These are unlikely to annoy anyone, munch bandwidth or demand excessive scrolling time.
  • Down-side: Those without logos and detail don’t do much for professional or personal branding, which is not ideal in a creative industry.

There are the biggies, with name, professional description, email address, phone number, fax number, website URL, company details (VAT number, registration number), academic degrees, industry affiliations, logo, bells, whistles and more.

  •  Up-side: If you’re new to the industry, or a new freelancer, there can be a sense of stability in the detail and some good solid branding in the logo.
  • Down-side: Contacts can become annoyed by the huge chunk of messaging at the bottom of every email. Biggies are unfriendly to mobile screens.


There are the simplies, with the bare minimum of ra-ra info provided – just your name, surname, professional designation, contact details and possibly logo.

  • Up-side: These are the most humble. They tell people who you are and how to reach you and there’s no risk of coming across as brash or pushy.
  • Down-side: Signatures without details on your range of offering/s don’t yield strong potential for cross-pollination; i.e. if a client doesn’t know that you do photography as well as design. Also, a small measure of self-promotion is healthy, especially in freelancing where no-one else will do it for you.

There are the braggies, containing every achievement, accolade and piece of recognition you’ve ever earned, as well as nudges to read your newsletter.

  • Up-side: These are the most likely to earn you work because they invite enquiry about the multiple things you do. There’s also credibility and a strong sense of expertise in showcasing awards and industry affiliations.
  • Down-side: You’re increasing the brain burden on already time-poor readers, by asking them to read more – and there’s the ever-present temptation to include an inspirational quote (my worst thing in the whole world).


There are the plain texties, which are typically moderate in length and detail and look the same on most devices and for most viewers.

  • Upside: They’re reliably uniform.
  • Downside: They’re deeply boring.

There are the brandy-brands, which are saved as images, created using special software or stored on a web server with a linked file.

  • Upside: These do the most to establish your unique industry presence and they look the most professional.
  • Downside: Signatures that are saved as images are not a good idea because certain settings don’t allow your readers to view them. Special software, like Rocketseed, can get pricey. And making an HTML signature with a linked file can be fiddly and requires help from a smart techie. There’s also the very real risk of going completely overboard with these.

Some freelancers, especially those using Gmail, rely on WiseStamp for their signatures. I’m going to stick my neck out and say that I can’t bear WiseStamp. It’s cheap and cheerful, yes, but that does nothing good for a brand that I can see.

So, what’s the solution? I don’t have one, but I can tell you what I’m going to do:

  1. Scrap the (small-ish but branded) JPEG I’m currently using.
  2. Get a techie friend to help me create a branded HTML signature that we will host on my website.
  3. Gird my loins and remove every spare word of text I don’t absolutely need.
  4. Create a plain text version for emails from my iPad, iPhone or Google Group.
  5. Hope for the best.

Open email. See signature. Vomit. Delete.

Published on on 29 08 2012 (