The TV show Seinfeld, which reigned as the most popular sitcom for most of the 1990s, inspired many a workplace water-cooler conversation with its quirky characters and hilarious, often absurd plots. Although the show might not seem the most likely source of practical advice, some of its most memorable moments provide lessons for improving your email marketing.

'Seinfeld, four!'

Jerry, George, and Elaine become frustrated when the maître d' in "The Chinese Restaurant" (Season 2, Episode 6) repeatedly promises a table in "five, ten minutes" but keeps them waiting much longer. After seating customers who appear to have arrived after the trio, he explains, "No, no, they were here before." Finally, Jerry and his two friends lose patience and leave, hungry and dissatisfied. Just after, of course, the maître de calls out, "Seinfeld, four!" to seat them.

Although Seinfeld and gang are not happy with their treatment at his hands, the maître de, by extending favored status to his best customers, is actually engaging in savvy business practice. Segmenting his patrons enables him to customize the restaurant's interactions and relationships with them.

While you shouldn't snub prospects as the maître de did, you should use your knowledge of your customers to segment your list, vary your offers and messages, and construct autoresponse campaigns. More relevant, targeted interactions with your subscribers will result in greater engagement and more conversions.

'Take the pen!'

In "The Pen" (Season 3, Episode 6), Jerry, while visiting his parents in their Florida retirement community, encounters their abrasive neighbor, Jack, who is extremely proud of his pen. "This is an astronaut pen; it writes upside down," he explains. "They use this in space."

When Jerry makes the mistake of expressing interest in the pen, Jack insists that Jerry take it. "Do me a personal favor," he pleads. "Take the pen!" Jerry's acceptance sets the entire retirement community into an uproar. Jack later claims, "He practically begged me for it."

Jack's confusing call-to-action—he urges Jerry to take the pen, but he doesn't really want Jerry to take the pen—creates acrimony and harms relationships. You might be doing the same to your relationships with subscribers if you have poorly conceived calls to action. They should be concise, action-oriented, and specific about your offer and what you want your reader to do. "Get a free consultation now" is clearer and more powerful than "Contact us to see how you can get a free consultation."

'But, I don't want to be a pirate!'

In "The Puffy Shirt" (Season 5, Episode 2), Jerry pretends to hear and understand Kramer's "low-talker" girlfriend, who speaks in a largely unintelligible murmur. As a result, he commits to wearing for his appearance on The Today Show a shirt she designed—a puffy, ruffled pirate-style shirt. Kramer's contention that the pirate trend "is gonna be the new look for the '90s" fails to console him. Jerry's appearance on the show in the shirt embarrasses both him and the designer.

Jerry may be off the hook for this one, as the low-talker was nearly inaudible, but you should actively listen to what your subscribers are telling you by what they don't do as well as by what they do. Are your "silent unsubscribers"—those who stay on your list but never seem to open your emails—waiting for a seasonal offer, forwarding the emails to others, or maybe opening them with images off?

Investigate to determine which subscribers you can "win back" to activity and which you should cleanse from your list.

'I'm out there, Jerry, and I'm loving every minute of it.'

Kramer's doctor recommends he wear looser undergarments in "The Chinese Woman" (Season 6, Episode 4). Kramer eschews jockeys for boxer shorts, but then rejects them. When a frisky Kramer shows up feeling "unfettered," Jerry realizes why. "Don't you see what's going on here? No boxers. No jockeys. The only thing between him and us is a thin layer of gabardine."

By experimenting, Kramer learns what works for him and is a happier man as a result. Likewise, you should implement a "test and learn" culture for your email marketing. Active experimentation with template designs, subject lines, list segmentations, and calls-to-action will work to your benefit—provided you measure and learn from your results.

'No soup for you!'

Arguably the show's most famous line comes from "The Soup Nazi" (Season 7, Episode 6). A soup stand's offerings are so delicious that, according to Jerry, "You can't eat this soup standing up; your knees buckle." But there's a catch. As Jerry explains to Elaine, "the guy who runs the place is a little temperamental, especially about the ordering procedure." When Elaine muffs her order (as does George in another episode; see clip below), the owner bans her from the soup for one year, yelling, "No soup for you!"

Similarly, your email marketing program can suffer if you fail to follow established practices around email formulation and list maintenance. Break the rules of Internet or email service providers, and you risk a poor sender reputation that could even get you banned from subscriber inboxes. You should, therefore...

  • Establish a graceful onboarding program that establishes a relationship with new subscribers.
  • Use double opt-in to confirm that your new subscribers' want to receive your emails.
  • Construct your templates such that they present well in mobile as well as in desktop environments, with and without images.
  • Set performance targets and use metrics, with the goal of continual improvement.

'Yada, yada, yada...'

After almost a decade of success, the Seinfeld show left the air at the top of its game and still runs in syndication today. Although Jerry and his friends may not serve as great role models, the show does offer some lessons about email marketing that can help you operate at the top of your game as well.

Can you describe other memorable Seinfeld quotes that inspire email marketing lessons? Let us know by commenting below.

(Image courtesy of Bigstock: Success)

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'No soup for you!' Email Marketing Lessons From Seinfeld

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Dave Calibey is the founder of BigThunk, a digital marketing and strategy company that helps its client use websites, email, social media, and local search listings to grow their businesses.

Sky Calibey is an associate at BigThunk, a digital marketing and strategy company that drives business results for its clients via online customer engagement. He will be entering his senior year at the University of Connecticut in the fall of 2012.