'I'm Mad as Hell...': My Top Email Marketing Pet Peeves

I must be getting cranky in my older age. Little things are starting to annoy me more now.

So, email marketers, I'm begging you to fix your email-marketing programs. Get your act together so I can enjoy my morning coffee without spitting it out in disgust.

My email-marketing pet peeves aren't just about aspects of your emails but also how you run your programs and processes. Here they are, divided into two categories, Program Management and Email Practices:

Program Management

In my advisory role, I meet with many email marketers each year, often discussing their email programs in great detail. Several consistent themes emerge in meetings and conversations, including:

  • Not owning transactional emails. I was pretty harsh toward a client about this recently, because I believe strongly that email marketers should drive all aspects of customer and subscriber emails. You own the whole customer email channel, not just the broadcasts you send from your email platform. 
  • Blaming IT for unfinished projects. This excuse is almost as old as "My dog ate my homework." As the email marketer, you are responsible for making the case to management to fund critical IT resources. Develop an ROI forecast, and show how much money the company leaves on the table every day that IT does not work on your customer-facing project. 
  • Asking "What's the best ...?" Really? Just stop. The "best" time of day, ESP, subject-line length or CTA wording doesn't exist. Yes, we have "generally accepted" best practices, frameworks and guidelines. But something that works for one brand isn't necessarily right for you. Figure out your specific needs, and test.
  • Being unaware. I'm amazed that many email marketers don't know the other marketing technologies their companies use -- or even basics such as the percentage of subscribers who bought at least once, average customer lifetime value or what percentage of subscribers they consider inactive. Understand the bigger picture, and you will be more successful.
  • Not knowing how to use Google. Almost every email-marketing question has already been asked and likely answered in some way. Through the magic of the Interwebs, most of these answers are available free, just for you. Here, let me Google that for you.
  • Not testing your own processes regularly. When was the last time you tried to update a preference or unsubscribe from your own emails? Whoops! That link no longer works.



Email Practices

I'm a daily email consumer, just like your subscribers. My next pet peeves are tactics I see every day when navigating my inboxes:

  • Administrative footer text in light gray, tiny font. OK, who started this practice? Are you wondering why people never click on your "Update Preferences" link? Why they click the spam button more than your "Unsubscribe" link? Hint: They can't find them.
  • Simple tasks made difficult. Don’t make me think or jump through hoops. See one of my biggest pet peeves, difficult email address change processes.
  • "FWD:" and "RE:" in the subject lines. I'm on to you. Hell, I've been on to you since Day One. The only thing worse than this stupid trick is the "Official Business Inside" stamp some shameless direct mailers print on their envelopes.
  • An individual’s name for the sender name. This overused B2B tactic works if you're Seth Godin or your name is your brand. For everybody else, I don't know who Mary Smith is or what company she works for. Building brand affinity is an important aspect of email marketing. Use the company, division or brand you want your subscriber to recognize.
  • Lazy pre-header text practices. Look at your email in your inbox and on a smartphone. Did you notice that right after your perfect subject line it says, “If you’d no longer like to receive these emails, unsubscribe here.” Or, “Email not displaying correctly? View it in your browser.” Useless. Learn what pre-header text is, and add some great content to the top of your email.
  • Finger-unfriendly emails. Virtually all mobile devices use a touch-based navigation. Please, please, please, put some space between those text links.
  • Tactics for tactics' sake. Want to use symbols in your subject line? Knock yourself out. But do it for a strategic reason. Don’t do something just because everybody else is doing it.

I'm out of space but not pet peeves. What drives you up a wall, whether as a consumer or industry observer?

Until next time, take it up a notch.

4 comments about "'I'm Mad as Hell...': My Top Email Marketing Pet Peeves".
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  1. David Gerbino from @dmgerbino consulting, October 2, 2014 at 11:45 a.m.

    I agree with you wholeheartedly regarding pre-header text. Actually, everything you mentioned. Thank you for sharing!

    Images without formatted alt-text used to bother me but since I use gmail and I get all the images now, I am not bothered as much as I used to.

    I now expect all my emails to be designed in a mobile first paradigm.


  2. Len Watson from Scope+Focus, Inc., October 2, 2014 at 1:24 p.m.

    Loren, et. al., what baffles me is that CEOs don't sign up with a number of pseudonyms and try to use their own system . They're content with listening to the webmaster (or whomever) tell them that, "Everything's fine." These are the same CEOs who don't call their help lines or customer service. Not enough time to do that? Man, there's not enough time NOT to.

  3. Jacquelyn Lynn from Tuscawilla Creative Services, October 2, 2014 at 4:57 p.m.

    The "sorry, I made a mistake" tactic -- especially if the "mistake" is a broken link (which should have been tested before the email was sent). Seems like those "mistakes" run in cycles.

  4. Rick Noel from eBiz ROI, Inc., October 5, 2014 at 3:20 p.m.

    Excellent article Loren. My 2 cents :

    1 when an email is cut up and does not render correctly (spaces and gaps in sections). Emails should be responsive an even those that are mobile first, should render correctly on a desktop and/or tablet.
    2 - Fools clicks - when email offer/CTA does not deliver on the promise - you click for one thing and are taken to a landing page that under delivers or worse yet, is unrelated, leaving the clicker feeling fooled

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