Email Bloopers

Has someone turned the email spigot wide open? Email marketing messages are flooding my inbox faster than ever.

Granted, this is partially my fault. In an effort to keep an eye out for best practices in the business-to-business (B2B) space, I’ve signed up for more free e-newsletters and product or service updates than I can count.

The result is that I’ve got a front-row seat to email marketing messages — and the view isn’t pretty. More and more unsolicited messages — spam — are pouring in. But equally distressing is that email-marketing bloopers abound from companies I’ve given permission to contact me.

Let me give you a sampling of the bloopers bloating my inbox. Call it a “worst practices” list. I’m feeling curmudgeonly, so bear with me while I vent a bit.

The Subject Line

Subject: DISCOVERED! Debbie’s secret to a #1 Yahoo Listing

Let me be perfectly clear to the sender of this message: I don’t know you, and I don’t want you to address me by my first name. OK, I probably did visit your Web site and sign up for information, so this message is not spam, but I sure as heck don’t remember when.

While I’m at it, let me emphasize that your use of all caps is off-putting, if not offensive. DON’T SCREAM AT ME!

And please don’t be presumptuous enough to think that you know “my” secret. If you had re-read this subject line before hitting “Send,” you might have noticed that calling it “Debbie’s secret” distances me from whatever it is you’re trying to sell me.

Here’s a subject line that screams “delete”: “Debbie, I’m finally spilling my guts…” And another: “Debbie, Do I Have Your Permission?” Notice that using initial caps looks sales-y (as I pointed out last week).

The “From” Line


Yanik, I don’t know you. (I’m repeating, but this is a central point.) Remember the thrill of communicating by email way back when? It was personal; the messages came from someone you knew; and just seeing that person’s name in the “From” line was enough to make you want to click.

Not all that much has changed in terms of our email experience. If a message is from a known business colleague or company, we want to open it. If it’s not from a person or source we recognize, many of us hit “Delete” — and poof, it’s gone.

So don’t underestimate the importance of the “From” line. If I don’t know you — or, as is more likely in the current blizzard of messages, don’t remember you — then just be straightforward. Use your full name or your company name.

A rule of thumb (which has exceptions) is to use your company name if it is a well-known brand or you think your recipient will recognize it. Otherwise, make sure that your full name (versus “”) is visible as the “From” line.

After a sensible “From” header, hit me with a killer subject line! You’ve got four words to grab me. Make them count, and you can still get me to open your message. They’ve got to be interesting. How about the following instead of the one “personalized” for Debbie: “Step by step to a top Yahoo listing…”?

Some email programs will display a long subject line, so it’s really not a faux pas to continue on.

Email Preview Window

As we all know (but seem to forget as email marketers), many people are using the preview function in their email programs to screen their messages.

This means that email marketers have three basic weapons at their disposal to get recipients to click and open: the “From” line, the subject line, and the first three or four lines of text, depending on the preview window of the email program.

Here’s an example of a common blooper: A successful niche-business site sells information products to medical professionals and sends out a weekly e-newsletter to upsell to the company’s existing customer list.

Take a look at the “From” line, subject line, and first three lines of copy:


    Subject: Accreditation Connection 5/29/01

    [Body copy starts:] Accreditation Connection, Tuesday, May 29, 2001

I could be picky and say that “Accreditation Connection” is not a scintillating name for an e-newsletter, but that’s not the point. The real estate available to email marketers to get a click is so limited… and this is an example of completely wasting it. (Do I really need to be told twice that this is the May 29 issue?)


OK, enough venting. What’s the takeaway here? It’s pretty simple. Using email marketing for prospecting and customer acquisition is more difficult than ever. With the volume of email messages we receive increasing at an unprecedented rate, you’ve got stiff competition for responsive readers.

What’s the solution? As always, go back to basics — and then take at least two more steps back. Examine your customer acquisition and retention strategies. Be ruthlessly precise about who constitutes your target market. Ask yourself what the best way is to reach the business professionals in your industry and niche.

Then place email marketing in the context of your overall direct marketing program. Maybe you should be sending fewer prospecting emails and using more direct mail (if your budget will allow it). Perhaps you should be doing a lot more testing of your email message (subject lines, offers, HTML versus text versus rich media, etc.). Or relying more on your house list to turn existing leads into customers.

Whatever you do, don’t forget that receiving a marketing message by email should provide a pleasurable and interesting moment — just like those first messages from a friend that you used to receive long ago.

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