Everything I Tell You Is Wrong

Well, not everything. But many of the tips shared here are "wrong" in the sense that my advice or recommendations might or might not be the right approach for your company, resources or situation.

As overworked and under-resourced marketers, we constantly search for the definitive answer. What is the optimum number of fields in a form? What color should the "submit" button be? What is the best day of the week to send?

Ah, if only it were so easy. As I, and others, have said before, the "right" answer is almost always, "It depends." Nearly every email-marketing issue has many gray areas that are unique to your business situation.

I do believe universal best practices exist. I call these "Generally Accepted Best Practices" (GABPs): motherhood-and-apple-pie practices like gaining permission, using welcome emails and optimizing for blocked images. Most marketers probably would not disagree with these.

They might disagree over how to implement them, though. A three-part welcome series is optimal for one company; for another, one or two. Outdoor-equipment retailer REI has a 10-part welcome series, but that is probably overkill for most companies.

When reading advice in columns like Email Insider, focus on the logical aspects in the debates over these best-practice recommendations. Then, test, test and retest to see what works best for your company.

Three Hot Topics Where 'It Depends' Is the Answer

I expressed my personal preferences on these three issues in my 2008 column  "Email Industry Disagreements: Where Do You Stand?" -- but I know each side of the argument can make a compelling case.

What's a marketer to do? First, ignore the hyperbole from people who say you'll get fired if you use one practice over another. View these industry debates with a level head rather than taking a black-and-white, one-size-fits-all approach:

1. Single opt-in (SOI) vs. double opt-in (DOI)?  This debate usually boils down to, "Do you want a larger list right away or a slightly smaller but cleaner, and potentially more responsive, list?"

That is the wrong question. As my esteemed colleague Deirdre Baird, President & CEO of Pivotal Veracity, told me recently, "If you aren't using DOI, you should at least use confirmed opt-in (COI)."

DOI is not intended to make opting in more difficult for new subscribers, but to minimize bad addresses and malicious subscriptions and to ensure people want to receive your emails.

We can argue all day about this last point. However, COI and DOI weed out bad addresses and help with deliverability. Your decision to add an extra step with DOI depends on the countries you operate in (some require DOI), your acquisition practices and business goals, whether you use prechecked or unchecked boxes, etc.

If your email practices have run afoul of an ISP, it might require you to use DOI in order to send through its network.

It's irresponsible to say only one way works. We can argue that DOI is the "better practice," but you might have a dozen reasons why SOI works for your company.

2. Remove or retain inactive addresses? Do you remove subscribers who haven't purchased, opened or clicked on an email in, say, 18 months? If you are Dell or Acura, and your customers buy only every 2.5 to 5 years, you might say, "Hell, no!" Or, you might decide they are clearly no longer interested and remove them to clean your list and ensure optimum delivery.

This is where these arguments become lunacy. No one in the "remove" camp is telling you to simply cut all inactives. Rather, send special offers, surveys and other messages to these subscribers to try to reactivate them first. Or, just treat them differently by mailing less frequently and with different offers and content.

There are also related deliverability realities to consider. Among them: Some of your older inactives might be ISP honeypot addresses that can lead to blocking or filtering if not removed.

Once again, "Remove or retain?" is the wrong question. Instead, ask, "How do I treat these two segments of my database differently to maximize deliverability and ROI?"

The kicker: Are you ready to eliminate 40% to 80% of your list? Yes, your analysis will most likely find that one-third to three-quarters or more of your list is inactive. Removing inactives may or may not be the smart approach, but try telling your management that you've decided to purge two-thirds of your email list.

3. Prechecked vs. unchecked opt-in box. The simple argument is that a pre-checked box leads to a larger list, and an unchecked box yields a smaller but higher-quality list.

Not all forms are created equal, however. One form displays the prechecked box prominently and explains it clearly, but another form hides the box or uses vague language.

Further, spam laws vary from one country to another. In the United States, using a prechecked box means that you have not obtained affirmative consent; therefore, your email must include a statement that it is an advertisement.

Intellectually, most marketers might agree that an unchecked box is more customer-focused and creates a list of only willing subscribers. But that could be a tough argument to have with your boss in the current economic environment.

The Ultimate Best Practice: Listen, Observe, Apply, Test

Listen to what the supposed experts have to say. Observe what your peers and competitors are doing. Apply the practice that makes the most sense to your business. Test it and measure ROI over the long term to determine what the right practice is for your company.

And the next time someone tells you that 10:17 a.m. on Tuesday is the best time to send emails, tell him to take a hike.



1 comment about "Everything I Tell You Is Wrong".
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  1. Shea Park from, March 13, 2009 at 6:37 p.m.

    Oh I don't know Loren, pretty much everything you ever have had to say feels pretty right on to me! Thanks for the great bits above and below!. Shea Park,

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