Things That Go Bump in Your In Box

How about some tales of fright? Everyone loves scary stories. With Halloween right around the corner, I’ll treat you to some real-life tales of email marketing madness and mayhem.

To set the stage, imagine we are sitting around a roaring campfire in the Adirondacks. The moon is full. It’s past midnight. There’s no one around for miles, and there’s a raw chill in the air.

Now listen carefully. You are going to hear some of the most frightening email marketing stories you’ll ever hear. Don’t run away, because the email boogey man is out there, just waiting for you. Stay close and listen carefully.

Go-o-o-o-o-d. Now rela-a-a-a-x, and let’s settle into those email marketing horror stories. Yes, they are real — they’ve happened to unsuspecting people — and they could happen to you, too!

Mary’s Tale of Mayhem

Mary was a conscientious worker. She had just started a new job at a well-known retail company on the East Coast and was looking forward to proving herself as the new Internet marketing manager. She was proud to tell her family and friends that all company email marketing efforts were her responsibility.

During her second week at the new job, Mary woke up with a gnawing feeling in her gut. She felt unsettled but didn’t know why. She shrugged it off, attributing the feeling to new-job jitters. She went about her routine and started the day off right by getting to work early. She had a lot to do, what with that big deployment to her house list slated for that day!

Mary got down to business. She segmented the list into nine smaller lists, double-checked the creative, and convinced herself the campaign was ready to rip. Mary, ever fastidious, checked and double-checked her work, but she still had that odd feeling. Instead of listening to her hunch, she deployed nine pieces of HTML email creative to the nine different lists. The creative for the New York stores went to the New York list. The creative for the Connecticut stores went to the Connecticut list. The creative for the New Jersey stores went to the New Jersey list. And so on. Done.

Not so fast! That’s what Mary thought she did. What really happened was the creative for the New York stores went to the New York stores — and the Connecticut stores and the New Jersey stores and to the six other lists! You got it. Your worst email nightmare.

References to specific locations and offers meant only for the New York stores were deployed to the entire list. So much for relationship marketing.

How could this happen? What did Mary do wrong?

First, Mary should have listened to her gut instinct that something was awry. Second, she neglected to test her campaign to ensure all systems were go before she hit the “send” button. Finally, she should have had someone else check and double-check her work. Because she neglected to take any of these important steps, the debacle left Mary with nightmares for weeks on end.

Lesson learned: Test, test, and retest.

Joe’s Tale of Woe

Joe was a nice guy. A people pleaser and number-one employee. The kind of guy you could always count on. He had heard email was a great medium for customer communications. He was new to the game but enthusiastically offered to head email marketing efforts. Joe seemed the obvious man for the job. How hard could it be, anyway?

Joe’s company had a strong reputation in the business-to-business (B2B) space, with name-brand recognition.

He decided to send his first email as a word document, with a PDF attached for extra pizzazz. The fonts were kind of fun and funky, and he used bold type as well. His supervisor was too busy to proof the work. “I’m sure it’s fine, Joe,” she said hurriedly. Joe continued with the task. He proofed the word document one last time and made sure the PDF file was intact — and attached. Then, he deployed the message to 45,000 names on his house list in — gasp, horror — Microsoft Outlook.

Joe forgot to check to see how the message would look when sent through Microsoft Outlook. Pretty bad, when it arrived in Eudora and in many other email clients as well. That PDF attachment made quite an impression — but not the desired one.

On the upside, right after the deployment everyone in the marketing department understood how important email messaging is to brand image.

What did Joe do wrong? He should have done his homework before blasting. Maybe he should have read more ClickZ or other Web articles. He could have considered reading leading-edge publications on email marketing, including Kim MacPherson’s book, “Permission-Based E-Mail Marketing That Works!” or Hans Peter Brondmo’s, “The Engaged Customer: The New Rules of Internet Direct Marketing.”

Penny’s Tale of Smoke and Mirrors

One more story, eh? OK, this one’s a classic. One day, Penny, an email marketing pro, received a phone call from Pat, a friendly salesperson.

Penny was between projects, so she decided to listen to the pitch. Penny loves to play with salespeople’s heads — she has this game where she tries to stump them with different questions.

Anyhow, Pat told Penny how her company excelled at HTML email creative. Pat’s claim got Penny excited. This could be awesome, she thought. Pat emailed Penny all kinds of fun samples while they were speaking on the phone. Penny decided to go ahead and use Pat’s creative because Pat said she’d throw in a free rental of 30,000 names to clinch the deal.

“It wasn’t expensive, so why not?” reasoned Penny.

The deal done, Penny deployed the graphic-laden HTML creative to Pat’s business-to-consumer (B2C) acquisitions list of 30,000.

Uh oh.

The creative froze the majority of recipient’s screens when they opened the email. Many had to reboot their computers! Several sent nasty-grams to Penny’s company.

What went wrong? Penny forgot to check the file size. The file was way too big. Pat, the overzealous salesperson, hadn’t a clue who the target audience was. She didn’t ask. She didn’t care. She wanted to make a sale. Most of the people on that list were on dial-up!

Penny should have known her target audience. She should have kept the file down to 25-30K and optimized the graphics. She should have asked Pat for a creative brief.

Lesson learned — Pat’s pitch was smoke and mirrors, substance to motivate the audience. The file was too big. Penny’s looking for a new job.

The Email Boogey Man

Before you get caught by the email boogey man — and believe me, he is lurking — do your due diligence.

If you’ve got your own email horror story, I’d love to hear it. Who knows — I may use it as an example in a future ClickZ article. Drop me an email. Your name and company will not be referenced… unless you want it to be!

That’s it from me this week — so long until October 23rd.

Until then, pleasant dreams!

–Lynne

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