5 ways Bayer avoids internal email headaches

Simplification and targeting keep U.S. corporate communications relevant at the life sciences company. Popups also do their part.

Bayer email advice

In a large organization stretched across multiple locations, getting email into the right hands at the right time is one of communicators’ greatest challenges.

This goes double for a heavily regulated life sciences company such as Bayer U.S., which has a U.S. workforce of just over 20,000 employees.

Like most companies, Bayer’s U.S. division faced a challenge: how to get through to employees overwhelmed by today’s gushing hydrant of messages, both internal and external.

Bayer owes its success in part to email metrics, affording the firm better penetration among disparate employee groups, says Lisa Noury, Bayer’s U.S. deputy director of corporate internal communications.

Noury relies both on Bayer-specific data and PoliteMail’s aggregated metrics across its customer base to answer the question, “How can their benchmarking data help us get better?”

“In our strategy, simplification addresses content length, and then relevancy is addressed by targeting,” Noury says. “So we target communications to specific groups, and the messages are written with their viewpoint in mind.”

Here are a few lessons that Bayer’s U.S. communications team has learned:

1. Segment your audiences.

Bayer, a German company with a strong U.S. presence, has multiple employee populations with varying duties, interests and educational levels. As a part of the U.S. corporate group, Noury supports legal and finance, among others.

“Finance is a hotbed of activity,” she says. “There are always communications coming out of that group.”

Communicators often have to counsel and negotiate with people who insist their message merits an all-employee email, Noury says. She pushes back with questions such as these:

  • Why do you want to do that?
  • Who is this message really about?
  • Whom does this affect?
  • What are we trying to get them to do?
  • How do we best appeal to that group?

Noury’s team uses data from PoliteMail and other channels to fend off demands for all-staff, firehose messaging. She can prove that overbroad recipient lists reduce interaction with emails.

“We explain to them why it isn’t in their best interest to do that, and why it’s a better bet to target your message to the right people,” Noury says.

For example, she says, why send an all-hands email about changes to travel procedures? Not everyone in the company travels for business. Noury’s team can target emails more narrowly to the people who need this information, such as the administrative assistants who book travel.

“It gives you the opportunity to not only get to the right people, but to tailor the message to that audience as well,” Noury says.

2. Cut email volume through popups.

Communicators tend to be wary of sending too many emails. But volume can be defined not only by the number of times you hit the “send” button, but also by the quantity of recipients. Bayer is judicious, preferring more targeted, relevant messages to subgroups of the whole.

One way to reduce volume is to use popups on the internal portal where the information is needed. If you send an email detailing, say, a policy change for filling out expense forms, such messages get buried in inboxes. Instead, Bayer has a popup at the point of service, where employees are using the tool.

“The next time they go to the portal, the message pops up and is relevant to them right there, because they’re about to do something with the system,” Noury says.

3. Send it early.

The email software provides data based on the universe of PoliteMail users, allowing Bayer to ask, “How can their benchmarking data help us get better?”

When sending internal messages, “the best practice is to get out early in the week and early in the day,” Noury says.

4. Keep it pithy.

Ciceronian orations don’t cut it at Bayer. Its communicators strive to write at a seventh or eighth grade reading level. Simplification helps the workforce absorb messages more efficiently and move on; it is also more appealing to employees when an email is shorter and easier to read.

Recently Bayer communicators compared two all-employee emails from the same top executive of the U.S. division.

  • The first was 1,300-word message with a reading-ease level of grade 13, or freshman year in college. It took 6½ minutes to read, far more demanding than the organization’s average reading time of 2½ minutes. The metrics showed that only 58 percent of recipients read it.
  • The second—which performed 42% better—was 83 words at a third-grade reading level. Estimated reading time for the email itself was 30 seconds. The full message was in a video, which became the highest performer so far this year on Bayer’s U.S. video channel.

Even though the first letter included helpful formatting such as subheads, it performed far worse. By contrast, the second email revealed everything in one view, Noury says. No scrolling was required.

Employees responded to the latter with a flood of positive comments, Noury says. The executive was “over the moon” about the reaction, and he asked for a report on the metrics of that particular message.

“Not only did the message perform well—it got through to people—but the executive was extremely happy with the overall approach, the feedback, everything,” Noury says.

Bayer reports the numbers to all its communicators across the U.S. They can see how close the department is to meeting its benchmark goals.

Emails written according to Bayer’s pithier best practice “perform better,” Noury says. “So you’ll get a higher open rate. You’ll get a higher engagement level. You’re stacking the deck in your favor.”

5. Poll through email.

If something is considered a mandatory read, add a one-question poll in the communication to validate that you are reaching your goal, Noury suggests.

For instance, Bayer has mandatory performance goals concerning compliance with the regulations that govern what the company does. Because pharmaceutical companies have potential risk in certain areas, employees must understand and adopt specific protocols.

The first step towards implementing these five tactics is measurement. Bayer’s tools revealed important behaviors—such as message length and the best time to send email—helping communicators better understand the preferences and behaviors of its distributed workforce.

“So we’re measuring for things like awareness, agreement and action,” Noury says. “Did they actually take the action that was asked within the communication?”

This article is in partnership with PoliteMail.


5 Responses to “5 ways Bayer avoids internal email headaches”

    Dee Ann Adams says:

    Nice article. One of the hardest things to do is to convince dept. leaders that their messages aren’t relevant to everyone. By asking the five questions you listed, they will come to the conclusion on their own.

    Paul Felice says:

    Lisa Noury and her team continues to do impressive work in corporate communications at Bayer. Those “5 Questions” which are simple (and polite), should be the mantra of every person who has the responsibility of moving change through communications. Well, done.

    Mary says:

    Love all of these tips. What tool or method was used to determine reading levels of the emails noted in the Keep it Pithy section?

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