Bad Email Marketing

After 17 years in the industry, I still look at what shows up in my inbox, shake my head, and ask myself how it is that so much email still sucks in 2014. And then I remember: Bad email is too easy to do.

Really, getting email out the door isn’t hard at all. Get set up with your ESP, load a list of email addresses, dump some content into a template, and send. Voila! Would other marketing channels be handled so carelessly? A TV ad? A direct mail campaign? A billboard even? I doubt it. But then, those channels are costlier to pull off, and so get more attention—much more attention—from the marketing department or a traditional agency. I’m not saying all email marketing is bad. In fact, it’s getting better all the time. But I am saying still too much of it is bad, given how long we’ve been doing it now, and how much more effective it would be if done well.

Bad email marketing is simply too easy to do because:

  • It’s easy to get email addresses.
  • It’s easy to dump content into a template.
  • It’s easy to send.
  • It’s easy to email over and over again.

You know what’s not easy?

  • Building a quality list
  • Creating great content
  • Segmenting audiences for relevancy
  • Testing
  • Analyzing reports

The lazy approach gets emails out the door. The calculated approach gets customers in the door. I guess it boils down to a marketer’s goal: If the goal is to get emails sent, the easy approach works. If the marketer’s goal is generating revenue for the organization, it doesn’t. The problem is, the lazy email marketers make it harder for everyone else. Their approach leads to more inbox clutter, more spam complaints, more undeliverables, and more discontent with email as a channel. On the other hand, however, those same marketers do make it easier for the thoughtful marketers to stand out in the inbox. I’d guess one in 10 of the emails that I get is done well, with a relevant message and a timely arrival, from a brand I’ve explicitly permitted to email me. And that’s the one I open and read. The rest I don’t bother with, other than to shake my head at them. Bad email is easy to do. But that doesn’t mean you should.

About the Critic: Scott Hardigree is Founder of Email Industries (Indiemark, BlackBox & FormSwell). Connect him everywhere, here.