10 email transgressions your mom would ground you for (if she were your boss)

Growing up on a farm in Iowa gave me many fond memories of my mother and the wisdom she imparted to me (or tried to, anyway) over the years.

Growing up on a farm in Iowa gave me many fond memories of my mother and the wisdom she imparted to me (or tried to, anyway) over the years.

She also grounded me for all kinds of infractions. But almost worse than the groundings were what she would say while she was doing it:

“I’m so disappointed in you.”

We all know how it feels to have people you love say that. It’s as if they pulled out our very souls and crushed them.

The same is true in our jobs as email marketers. There are at least 10 email-related transgressions that could get you grounded for life if your mom were your boss:

1. Testing only the subject line

Your mom would be so disappointed in you if the only thing you ever test in your emails is the subject line. Your job is to do more than to get an open. If you test only that, you’ll get better only at getting opens on that email.

2. Not making your emails mobile-ready

How many of us know our emails don’t look great on mobile but don’t do anything to make them better?

Consumers are cautious and worry that malformed emails could be fraudulent. But they also expect the brand people who send them email should be smart enough to know how to make them look pretty on their phones.

3. Assuming teens have abandoned email for texting and Snapchat

How many times did you say, “My kids would never do that!” only to find out later that they did? If you think teens don’t use email, you’d be just as wrong.

Adestra’s upcoming 2017 consumer study found that 61% of teens say they prefer to get brand communication in email. It goes up to 77% if you do email and SMS together.

4. Buying an email list or appending a list with email

The last time I checked, email is a permission medium, whether we’re talking best practices or the policies of every ESP and ISP, not to mention the laws in nearly all countries that regulate commercial email.

Some will say that email append is a legal practice, so why not do it? But append doesn’t respect the channel or the consumer. Not only do you generally get poor results from appending and purchased (not rented) lists, you could also end up in the spam folder or even get blocked.

That’s the email industry’s ultimate timeout.

5. Not playing with others

My mom always wanted us kids to have friends, to make friends at school and with our neighbors. You should do that, too, by joining email-focused organizations to further your career, meet your peers and move our industry ahead.

Learning from others is the best way to avoid the kinds of mistakes that get you grounded for life. Plus, getting involved in the industry makes you smarter and our industry better. Start with these: the Email Sender and Provider Coalition, the Email Experience Council and the International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP).

6. Not taking a vacation

One of the enlightening things I’ve learned about working with my email-industry colleagues in the UK and Europe is their dedication to taking time off. This allows them to set their phones down, shut off their computers and walk away from the office for a while, to divorce themselves from day-to-day operations, enjoy quiet time and unclog their brains.

In the U.S., we’re too likely to forego long vacations because we’re worried we’ll miss something. But what we’re missing is the opportunity for achieving clarity of thought.

Take my advice: Take a vacation. Set up office redundancies, write a clever out-of-office notice, and unplug. Trust me, when you return, you’ll be shocked and amazed at the new perspectives you’ll gain on your email program and your approaches to it.

7. Not showing Mother your work

Your emails should be good enough to show your mom and to boast about at the family dinner table. That means your templates reflect your brands, and the content reflects your customers’ interests and preferences.

Every email you send should be something your mom would want to print out and post on the refrigerator. If you can’t show it to your mom, why would you send it to your customers?

8. Thinking about your strategy, not your tactics

My dad always taught me to think about how I would do something before I did it. Too often we become tactical geniuses, even though the key to successful email marketing requires us to focus on strategy.

If you know what you’re doing to do, and why, before you do it, you’ll do it a lot smarter. We’re good at the “how” (tactics), but we struggle with the “why” (strategy). Still, the “why” must come before “how.”

9. Not embracing First-Person Marketing

My mom always wanted me to be and do the best I could. For email marketers, this means embracing data, embracing commitments to your customers, thinking about your email database not as a list of addresses but as individuals and understanding that the email address is the most valuable piece of information on the web.

That’s what we should all strive to achieve and what smart marketers are doing – evolving from broadcasting to First-Person Marketing.

10. Focusing on quantity over quality in acquisition

The basis for all email marketing is getting your subscriber’s real, or primary, email address. So many of us are focused on capturing as many addresses as possible that we’re not looking at how good that address is or how necessary it is as the customer’s identifier across channels.

Something else is going on here, too. Research shows consumers will give you that high-value information if you show them you are worth trusting and consistently deliver good information.

Conversely, Adestra’s newest consumer study shows people have three or more email addresses on average, and nearly half of them have an address for emails they rarely expect to open.

That’s the address you’ll get if you don’t give them reasons to give you their primary addresses.  You’re sacrificing the opportunity to identify your customers and to target them in those all-important first 30 days after they opt in.


The email space is evolving at a record pace. Marketers don’t have time to sit on the sidelines and just send more email. Nor should they hang their heads in shame as if email were some archaic channel that wrecks people’s lives.

My top 10 list is made up of challenges we see marketers struggling with every day. No, you won’t get grounded if you make mistakes, but you will be – by your management and your customers – if you don’t try to change anything.

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