'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.

1 comment about "'I'm Mad as Hell...': My Top Email Marketing Pet Peeves".
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  1. Lydia Sugarman from Venntive, May 29, 2015 at 8:15 p.m.

    I'm right there with you! I just tweeted yesterday via @Venntive that using Re: and Forwarad: is poor marketing strategy. Just alienates and disrespects the very people who actually opted in to hear from you. And, yes! Amen, brother! Those small greyed out footers can backfire badly. Has anyone done a study on people using the Spam button in lieu of searching for the disguised Unsubscribe link?

    Outdated unsubscribe processes are also annoying. Since what year in the last millennium has it taken 10 days to be removed from a database? Or, why do I have to log in and go through a full page form to "update my subscription choices?" Oh, really? Guess I'll just click that spam button instead.

    Another practice that isn't yet obvious is the practice of "growth hackers" of scraping email addresses to build lists for their clients. This is actually a common practice by the growth hackers who work with the startups of one high-profile Silicon Valley incubator. This is a ticking time bomb for brand new ventures.

    Guess I'm cranky and curmudgeonly at this point, too.

    As a solution provider, our standard email templates don't allow our users to "hide" unsubscribe information. But, shady practices that generate a lot of spam complaints can lead to our terminating their accounts, with associated fines and locked accounts. High unsubscribe and bounce rates can not only negatively affect our IP addresses, they negatively reflect against the customer's domain and email addresses. This, in turn, impacts their deliverability, not to mention their reputation.

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