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Seven Deadly Email Marketing Sins, and How to Avoid Them

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Several people have compared my obsession with refining ROI and open rates to a religion, so I took the logical next step and identified the sinful motivations behind seven common email marketing traps.

The deadly sins according to Christianity are pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth. All of those seven sins can prove tempting to the email marketer in a hurry, and they can have a seriously negative impact.

If you're interested in optimizing your campaigns at all, you'll steer well clear of the following email marketing sins...

1. Pride

All the results of your most recent email campaign are an enormous success—not just good, but better than anything you've ever done before!


Except...

For me, incredibly good statistics are just as much a warning sign as incredibly bad statistics. Your first instinct must always be to take a closer look at what's going on, and then relate to each other all the statistics you're seeing... Are those phenomenal open rates also translating into click-throughs? Are those click-throughs translating into conversions? (And so on.)

Pride in your work is great, but remember that software and people can both act in some very odd ways. Be sure to track every anomalous result to its source before you break out the champagne.

2. Greed

As soon as an email marketing campaign is delivering (real) results, I have to resist the urge to simply expand it to cover a broader list.

Someone who is subscribed to my newsletter and is following me on Twitter has to be approached in a completely different way from someone who bought a product from the company once and opted in to receive only occasional updates.

If you expand your campaign simply for the sake of increasing quantity, you are going to run into some serious problems, including subscriber churn and your emails' being flagged as spam.

3. Lust

Sex does sell, but it's still too risky to put it in email. Anything designed to prey on lust has been done a thousand times by spammers, from herbal supplements to Russian brides and scams.

Even if you have a sexy product, keeping the language low-key can help your email get past those spam filters.

4. Envy

"How do they get those results when I struggle?"

They're working for a bigger company, their target audience is subtly (or significantly) different, they have a trustworthy IP that has been around forever... the number of factors that are completely out of your control makes envy completely useless, and anything useless is a drain on your time.

If you try to ape a campaign just because it worked for someone else, you will probably get suboptimal results. Paying attention, instead, to your brand's own identity, and crafting your campaigns accordingly, is the path to take.

5. Gluttony

In email marketing, I see "gluttony" as almost the opposite of "greed."

The greedy email marketer expands his or her emailing list too far, too fast, in an attempt to grab more and more.

The gluttonous email marketer, on the other hand, bleeds his core audience dry, constantly targeting, cross-selling, up-selling and never letting up. In moderation doing so is superb practice, but taken to excess it will leave many of the targets feeling ambivalent toward or even annoyed by the brand—and that's when unsubscriptions happen.

Where the cutoff point between good email marketing practice and annoying pestering is not always clear, so some trial and error and apologies will likely be in order along the way.

6. Wrath

I shouldn't have to explain this one, but if you're working in any form of marketing and you get angry with a customer for being angry with you, you've already lost.

Turn the other cheek, and avoid becoming a viral hit for all the wrong reasons...

7. Sloth

When your email marketing campaign is just chugging along nicely, generating a decent ROI, healthy open rates, and a satisfactory CTR, that's when sloth and apathy come calling.

If you think you've hit a formula for writing good email marketing copy, trust me... you haven't. You've found a way to sell based on your natural personality and charm that got people to listen to you in the first place.

Keep making your emails snappier, more sophisticated, or funnier than the last, and you'll keep improving all the stats that matter. Experiment with link placements and adding or removing images.

Stay curious and stay engaged, and you'll keep your list curious and engaged too!

Punishment for Your Sins

I've never experienced any recipients trying to pull a Se7en on me, though I'm sure there must have been one or two who thought about it when I went through a brief "pun fixation" phase a few years back.

The punishment for these seven email sins is usually too slight to notice. A campaign looks like it's running fine... when it has the potential to run beautifully.

That's exactly what's so sinister and powerful about these seven deadly sins. They spring from an attitude of complacency—the one thing that you can never afford in email marketing.

Author's note: This article was inspired by insights from friends over at Comm100, a provider of customer service and communication solutions, including email marketing services.


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James Duval is a technology and business expert for GKBC and a freelance journalist.

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Comments

  • by Justine Mon Jan 14, 2013 via web

    Using a classic methodology to emphasize the harmful habits of email marketing is clever. Way to go Mr. Duval!

  • by James Duval Wed Jan 16, 2013 via web

    Thanks very much Justine! I think that the implied point you make is correct. These are *habits* rather than conscious mistakes, and we need to make a real effort to stay out of them.

    Cheers for the comment!

  • by Donna Williams Mon Jan 21, 2013 via web

    Hi James

    I really loved the quirky nature of this article and couldn't agree more! I too, have been known as an ROI obsessive but my feeling is that with a media that can be tested and improved upon in so many different areas, why wouldn't you be?!

  • by James Duval Mon Jan 28, 2013 via web

    Absolutely! I can't think of another medium where the ROI is so easy to measure, and where so many metrics are available, I'd be kicking myself if I didn't measure every conceivable variable I could...

  • by Toby Marshall Tue Jan 29, 2013 via web

    Great email marketing analogy, James! It’s very important for businesses to take note of these “sins” so that they don’t make those mistakes, regardless if they are a B2C or a B2B!

  • by James Duval Wed Jan 30, 2013 via web

    True!

    I think I was mostly considering the B2C angle when writing this, because with those I have experience on both sides of the equation. The differences between B2B & B2C email marketing campaigns are mostly of scale and of degree rather than of type, in my opinion - but my B2B marketing friends often disagree with me here.

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