Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Emails from the folder marked "bad"

In my Outlook personal folders I have two folders that i review sporadically. “Email examples: good” and “Email examples: bad”.

Somewhat depressingly I tend to add to the latter folder far more than the former. From time to time, like today, I review what I have put in there and share some thoughts on the stunning array of email marketing incompetence that has been slung my way.

So, with no axe to grind other than the asking that we all try to make email a little more clever and strive for “relevance” over “bombardment” so that email marketing has a future, i wanted to share a few of my all time favourites bad emails...

“Sorry, do I know you?”


This is the most common sin of email marketing that I see, and the most easily fixed too. Below are a few examples where the senders have used their own names in the “sender name” field. Now this is a very good strategy IF your audience know who you are.

If not, then you really should be using the most recognisable name/brand you have. For example, with both the Haymarket emails (and i have many from them from nearly every employee in their b2b events team) they should use the brand name of the magazine-related event they are promoting.


It is as simple as changing it to say “Brand Republic” in the sender name.











Why is this important?

We all receive so much email that we have precious little time to ponder who somebody is and what they are sending us. Especially important when somebody returns to a bulging inbox, we must ensure that the sender name (and subject line and preview pane) make it clear exactly who the email is from and what it is about – to help somebody make the decision to keep the email and not simply delete alongside the many others they are not sure about or don’t have time for.

Speling mistekes happen

Your email marketing is only ever as good as your least literate marketer. These few examples show why it is so critical to ensure there is a good sign-off process for any emails you send out. It is so easily done – that misspelt word here, that data error here.

It’s a weird anomaly that Direct Mail gets far more love and attention at sign-off than email, but tat email will likely be seen by far more people than the DM.


Ignoring what your data is telling you, or just making wild assumptions

This first one was actually sent to an old colleague of mine. This colleague is 32 years old and received this email having bought two tickets to see the Kings of Leon in concert. He did not at any point express any interest in the theatre and he certainly didn’t age some 33 or so years between the booking and this email being sent to him, to make him a senior!



Do I really look like a woman to you?

I am nearly two metres tall. I weigh about 90 kilo’s. My name is Steve and i am a man. I signed up to the Boden email newsletter having bought some men’s clothes from them recently.

Now Boden may not know all of the above, but they certainly know my title (“Mr.”) and my previous purchases, neither of which gave any indication that i may be enticed by an offer for 25% off ladies jeans...

Oxford. Now part of Lancashire?

Oddly this has happened to me twice recently, and embarrassingly the culprits are the IDM and the DMA.

Segmenting your recipients based on where they live is an excellent idea. It is not such an excellent idea if the underlying data is wrong, not been captured or whoever maps the segments doesn’t know their geography.




I am still pretty sure Oxford, my home, is not in the North.





Stuck for what to buy that tricky Mum that has it all?

I am a member of the Staples business rewards programme. I occasionally buy stationary from them; pens, paper, paper clips and ink, that sort of thing. At no point in time have I ever expressed a desire to shop for my loved ones in their store.

Ok, so although this has not misused data it does grate me that such a blanket email can go out to their entire base. Do they really believe that many of their recipients will be inspired to buy Mother’s day gifts from them?

I don’t fault the enthusiasm but i do fault the damage this kind of email does to the long term value of the email base. Nothing turns a recipient off more than irrelevant nonsense. Sure they may not unsubscribe, but as the vast majority of every email base is dormant, simply deleting without reading, you can’t afford to alienate anyone.

Vans. They often deliver me internet shopping. That’s where my interest ends.

Somehow I have ended up on the email list for the GoCompare vans newsletter. Hmm. Now I have used them to quote for insurance (i don’t recall if it was for car of home or both, but i know for sure it was not to quote for van insurance)

I have never owned a van. It is highly unlikely I will ever own a van. More importantly Go Compare, i have never, ever shown any interest in vans to you, so why would you taint our relationship and send me a series of emails about vans?


Being too smart for your own good.

As a lecturer on digital marketing I like to shoe-horn an email from Expedia into every session I do. It is their “Welcome back” email. Simply sent the day after the date of your return flight you bought from them. It is a wonderful use of a triggered email. It goes to the heart of using collected data to personalise a relationship and to make you feel like you are special.

Alas when this goes wrong, it goes very wrong. This trigger email was sent to a colleague of mine who was trapped in Spain for over a week, due to the volcanic ash clouds. This email was not a welcome sight for sore yes. Sore eyes from the 39 hour coach and car journey home.

Many brands now use this form of technology, and very powerful it can be too. BUT, the rules that govern the timing of the trigger messages is key. From time to time you need to be able to stop them. Or review the timing of when they are sent.

This email on the left was sent to me by UBM, organisers of Internet World. according to them I did not show up for day one of the event.

Alas they auto-sent this email at 3.15 pm. I turned up some 10 minutes later to give my keynote presentation at Internet World at 3 .45 pm and i can probably ask about 150 people who saw me speak to vouch for me!

Why is this important?

As you can see form the examples, when triggers go bad, they go really bad. The vast majority of recipients will not have a clue that the message they are receiving is a triggered, computer-generated message. This allows an excellent opportunity to use email for a 1:1 relations ship. That’s until your trigger messages go bad and make it very obvious that your well thought-through programme is nothing more than a line of code and “if” statements written by a developer.


The one email that makes me angrier than any other.

I have a rocky relationship with HSBC. It is a subjective thing, but they are my super-hate brand. We all have one, the brand that has done enough in the past to leave you with a biley aftertaste at the very mention of their name.

However, HSBC are not alone in this heinous crime. For years and years we customers have put up with this kind of lazy marketing behaviour from many institutions, but do we have to put up with email too?


This email offers an enticing credit card deal. However there are two critical flaws to this campaign:


1. I already have this HSBC credit card. I am a customer and have had this product for year. I don’t need two. I doubt they will give me two anyway
2. The interest rate I pay as a long-standing customer is much higher than the rate they are peddling to any other Tom or Dick who happens along. What about customer loyalty and reward huh?

The reason this email makes me so annoyed is not that it is from HSBC. It is about the fact that this could so simply be avoided. By referencing their email recipients against their “products bought” database they could easily spot that i have this product and instead send me an email to up or cross sell me another service.

Alas this is not the case, and is so often not the case. Many marketers prefer the “Have to get this bloody email out by 3 pm otherwise my boss will kill me” approach which results in poorly executed campaigns and even more apathetic people in the email base. Apathetic recipients that they will find it nigh on impossible to reengage and who will do little more than “delete without reading” any future emails from that company or organisation.

"Breath and count to ten, slowly"

There, you get the idea. In the interest of my temper and your sanity, I will not go on endlessly with the examples I have in my possession.

The above examples were chosen on the basis that every single mistake could have been easily avoided if the sender had taken the time to step back, think and recheck what they were sending and why they were sending.

With our inboxes being bombarded by more and more emails every day, it is vital that the channel is used respectfully and that email marketers use a bit of clever (where I work we would advocate using a bit of “Cyance”) to cut through the dross and continue to use email as an effective way to a personalised relationship with customers and prospects alike.