Why Most Email Marketing Messages Suck

I certainly would not classify myself as the average email consumer. A big part of my job involves email marketing. I subscribe to hundreds of email lists and am constantly critiquing emails. (Note: I use Gmail filters to label and auto-archive most messages.) Friends, family, acquaintances, clients, industry peers, and co-workers send me dozens of emails asking for feedback. Some forward messages with notes like, "Wow! Can you believe this one?"

63% of All Email Marketing Messages Suck

To be clear, I'm referring to just those that end up in my inbox (i.e., not spam). Doing the quick math (100-63) means that 37% "don't suck." Yes, I made up those numbers, but stick with me -- the percentage doesn't matter as much as the reasons why.

I'd argue that most email marketing messages suck because of one or more of the following reasons: Laziness. Lack of education. Human error.

The first one is inexcusable. The second keeps me employed. The third I can forgive.



Let's break them down.


This is the one that drives email folks (snobs) like my peers and me batty, with emails that:

  • Are one big image.

  • Include blurry or grainy images.

  • Are sent without testing first.

  • Have "no reply" as the "from" name or include "Please do not reply" in the body.

  • Include spelling/grammar errors.

  • Have an ongoing trend of decreasing open/click-through rates.

    There is no excuse for any of the above. The information (best practices) is well-documented and easily accessible, often free.

    Eliminate laziness today.

    Lack of Education

    Remember, information on the basic, intermediate, and even "advanced" email marketing techniques is widely available for free. Blog posts, articles, webinars, conferences, and tweets provide content to ensure you're successful. (If you are new to your job as an email marketer, you may have a steep learning curve.) Challenge your email service provider to help make you a better email marketer. Push your client service manager to work with you to get the most juice out of your email marketing campaigns.

    Educate yourself.

    Human Error

    To err is human. We've all sent that "oopsy" email. We've all hit send, only to have our boss (yikes!) forward you the email that went out to 1.4 million folks with a spelling or grammar error - or (oh no!) a bad link. As they say, "stuff" happens.

    Now, if every third email you send has a spelling error or "Enter subject line here" as your subject line, it may be time to find a new gig. However, an occasional human error makes us just that: human. Don't fret about it too much. I can promise you that every single email marketer makes at least one "mistake" in his or her career. We do this for a living at Blue Sky Factory, and even we make mistakes.

    Get over it. Move on.

    3 Steps to Ensure Your Email Marketing Messages Don't Suck

    Write these down on a post-it and keep them by your computer. Trust me.

    1. Don't be lazy. Think before you hit send. Test. Do a spelling/grammar check. Show your email to a friend or co-worker before sending.

    2. Educate yourself. Attend email marketing webinars and conferences. Read blogs. Challenge your client service manager to help make you a better marketer.

    3. Learn from your mistakes. We're all going to make them. Get over it. Move on.

    Finally, remember there is a 37% chance that your email marketing messages will not suck. The good news is that you have the power to be in the minority. You have the power to move the needle. What are you waiting for?

  • 8 comments about "Why Most Email Marketing Messages Suck".
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    1. Stacy Dahl from NanaWall Systems, Inc., May 10, 2010 at 4:19 p.m.

      Do you have any webinars, seminars, blogs, etc. that you would recommend?

    2. Dj Waldow from Blue Sky Factory, May 10, 2010 at 4:34 p.m.

      Stacy -

      It would be hard for me to not recommend my own company - Blue Sky Factory - right?

      Our blog:
      Our webinar page:

      DJ Waldow
      Director of Community, Blue Sky Factory

    3. Chad White from Litmus, May 10, 2010 at 4:40 p.m.

      "Laziness" may be oversimplifying the situation for some email marketers who have limited resources at their disposal and wear multiple hats within an organization. It takes time to test and do QA, and lousy collateral for email designs isn't completely email marketers' fault for sure. Most email marketers need the support of their CMO and CEO to avoid sucking, and clearly not all of them have that support.

    4. Dj Waldow from Blue Sky Factory, May 10, 2010 at 5:06 p.m.

      Chad - Very very good about laziness. Easy for me - the guy who does not actually manage and email marketing program to simply the issue as laziness. I agree that most email marketers have limited resources. Maybe CMO's and CEO's will read this article and help their marketing team out with another smart hire. What do you think?

      DJ Waldow
      Director of Community, Blue Sky Factory

    5. Scott Cohen from InboxArmy, May 10, 2010 at 5:21 p.m.

      DJ: I'm in agreement with Chad--having knowledge of the limited resources argument very much firsthand.

      I think you're right to have the hope that CEOs/CMOs will read this and think hard about adding budget to that "line item" for possibly another hire. We'll see how many of these articles, blogs, and arguments need to be made before more attention is brought to email marketing, its capabilities, and its opportunities.

    6. Ryan Phelan from RPE Origin Digital, May 10, 2010 at 5:52 p.m.

      I would have to agree with the assertion that there is not enough "time" or bandwidth. With the increase in the "hats" that marketers have to wear, it becomes increasingly hard to implement programs that make sense outside of sales focused. Many marketers "want" to do good marketing, but the pressures from the C-Suite prevent the implementation of programs. If you can get 1 solid program implemented, then sometimes that is a considerable win.

    7. Dj Waldow from Blue Sky Factory, May 10, 2010 at 9:57 p.m.

      Chat, Scott, Ryan: Forget what I replied earlier. I'm sticking by my guns. Multiple hats, limited resources, etc are not an excuse for laziness. Email marketing messages that...

      *Are one big image.
      *Include blurry or grainy images.
      *Are sent without testing first.
      *Have "no reply" as the "from" name or include "Please do not reply" in the body.
      *Include spelling/grammar errors.
      *Have an ongoing trend of decreasing open/click-through rates.

      Seriously! When are we going to stop blaming others and start taking ownership? *Note: I'm on 3 hours of sleep. I wrote this article on the red eye ... so ... maybe that's why my replies are a bit punchy!

      DJ Waldow
      Director of Community, Blue Sky Factory

    8. Scott Cohen from InboxArmy, May 11, 2010 at 11:35 a.m.

      DJ: I agree that there are some on your "Laziness" list that are definite no-nos. I can speak for the "wearing-many-hats marketers" in that I find time to test at least once per message, and I do my best to proofread before I send out. Absolutely, any writer would tell you the same.

      And since you're like me and we're writing everything we produce on three hours of sleep, there will always be a measure of punchiness to what we put out there.

      Here's my question to you: Are you sure the "no-reply" is due to laziness? Or is it on purpose? I'm sold on not using it, but I'm not sold on it being due to laziness. Maybe you can convince me otherwise.

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