Four Signs Of A Dysfunctional Email Program

A friend of mine recently shared with me an article that her office was sending around. Titled “7 Signs of a Dysfunctional Company,” it was distributed by her company’s executive management team, who asked staffers to comment, honestly, on how they felt their company fared against the criteria mentioned in the piece.

As I read through the article, two thoughts immediately struck me.  First, one had better watch out for the sorry suckers at her office who step in that landmine.  I mean, c’mon. Executive management asking the staff if they meet the definition of dysfunctional -- isn’t that, in and of itself, dysfunctional? My second thought was that these criteria could also describe dysfunctional email programs pretty succinctly.

There are two ways of looking at this: one, to examine the dysfunction of email program operations; the other, to look at the content and strategy of the program itself. I figure we all know that email operations are grossly dysfunctional -- so I wouldn’t be sharing anything new if I focused there. So instead, let’s dive into the email programs themselves.



I have chosen four of the seven signs that I believe align best.  If you say “yes” to any of these flaws, then you may just be dysfunctional (er, your program -- not you specifically).

Ivory tower effect.  That’s when email content reflects the directive of the company and does not recognize or care about what the customer actually wants or needs. Organizations are doing an increasingly better job at recognizing that their marketing efforts (email included) are no longer about what wares they want to tout; it is the age of the customer. If you believe that your marketing messaging and email content is about company directives, though, then your program is likely an ivory tower (and probably not performing as well as it could).

Warring factions. Your email content has disparate focus. Multiple calls-to-action, muddled purpose and disproportionate use of space for the various purposes can make the meaning of your message moot -- and if that’s the case, then why send it? This occurs in organizations where every department has its own message it wants to communicate -- and rather than send customers multiple emails per day or week with standalone messages, they get consolidated into one, big, confusing mess. If this sounds all too familiar, test it.  Send the message out to your internal staff companywide, and then ask everyone to answer one simple survey question: What was the single purpose of the email? If they can’t answer it, the war is on!

Strategy de jour. The messaging you send to the customer is just a hodgepodge of offers and content, with little or no data to support its being delivered. Consumers are savvy and know that marketers have the ability to send content that is relevant – and based on their behavior.  Don’t just think the content being sent is right, prove it is. Use the data, test, and deliver what the customer wants.

Analysis paralysis. How many of you look at the numbers for your programs? Opens, clicks, conversion, lifetime value of your customer, incremental revenue for email, It doesn’t matter how complicated or how simple the performance metrics, if you are not using the findings to actually change, alter and improve your program… you’re paralyzed (and wasting quite a bit of time on the analysis, I bet).

So, how did you fare? Is your program grossly dysfunctional or just a little bit? It’s nothing to be ashamed of; we are all a little dysfunctional in one way or another. The first step in addressing it is admitting it. If you can’t admit it, then we have another issue entirely!

3 comments about "Four Signs Of A Dysfunctional Email Program".
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  1. Rita from FreshAddress, Inc., February 16, 2012 at 11:10 a.m.

    I read that original article, too, Kara, and had a similar reaction – regarding responses. However; your application for email is a reasonable review and with reference to Analysis paralysis, I would add that regular email list hygiene will support the integrity of the addresses you are mailing to, hopefully, an underlying list of recipients who are invested in your product and service. A robust cleaning is in order for Spring!

  2. Kara Trivunovic from Epsilon, February 16, 2012 at 11:40 a.m.

    Thanks Rita! I agree - starting with a clean data base is necessary for success. Cleanliness is next to Godliness after all :)

  3. Petar RADETA from service pub & sparta kakanjac, February 16, 2012 at 5:32 p.m.

    Thanks so much Kara TRIVUNOVIC,
    I am blogger and publisher
    my blog URL is
    business is over ..welcome

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