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5 destructive email habits you need to break

Christopher Marriott
5 destructive email habits you need to break Christopher Marriott

How did any of us make an ass of ourselves as easily and on such a broad scale before the existence of email -- either in our professional interactions, our marketing communications, or both? In reality, we didn't have the tools to self-destruct so readily at hand. Let me give a couple of examples. Those of you who've attended a few rodeos will remember a time when memos were actually on paper. Yes, that's right, on paper! So if someone in your company needed to communicate some news to the staff, everyone got the memo. But if you had some snarky comment regarding the memo you wanted to share with its sender, you had to pick up the phone or walk over to her desk. Since email, however, you've had the opportunity to respond with your quip immediately. This wouldn't be a problem unless you mistakenly hit "reply all" rather than simply reply to the sender. If you haven't actually done this yourself, you probably know someone who has. Ouch.

5 destructive email habits you need to break

The same goes for your marketing communications. Before email, you didn't really have the ability to easily and quickly offend a large portion of your customer base. Email changed all that. We've all received emails that we know the sender would love to get back if they could -- whether it's a test email mistakenly launched to the entire list with a salutation of "Dear Stupid" (I got that once) or with a typo on pricing no one caught in advance and which is impossible to honor without taking an enormous financial hit.

What's the bottom line? Email is dangerous in the wrong hands, kids. There are so many ways in which we can step on a land mine in our professional emails or the ones we send to customers. Those are mistakes we don't intend to make. What's worse -- and the subject of this screed -- are the things we do on purpose which we need to stop doing right now if we want to emerge with our professional and marketing reputations intact! What follows is a list of email habits you need to break in your own business correspondence and in your email marketing campaigns.

The "please delete me" email train wreck

I've seen this happen several times over the years. One time it took the intervention of the CEO to shut it down. This gets started when someone in a company or on an email list inadvertently sends an email to a much wider audience than intended. The first thing that happens is a couple of folks respond to all with funny comments. And then it happens -- someone hits reply all and asks to be removed from the string. And then another person does the same thing. Soon, recipient after recipient on the email string is asking to be removed. The irony here is that there would be no more spam resulting from the first email if everyone would just settle down. Listen, we know you need to publicly declare you are too important to be bothered by this particular email thread. But so do 50 to 100 of your closet colleagues. The best thing to do when this happens is to simply stay off the string and delete the emails as they come in.

The auto fill wrong recipient debacle

I recently received an email that the sender definitely didn't want me to see. How did that happen? I happen to be one of several Chris's in his contact list and because Outlook will auto fill the address if you aren't paying attention, I got the email rather than the intended "Chris." Most of the time the message sent isn't necessarily sensitive information you don't want falling into the wrong hands. But even when it's not, you may not be aware that the intended recipient never got your message. And that can cause you problems down the road. You need to really pay attention to the list of people to whom you are sending an email. In the name of convenience, Outlook makes it too easy to screw up.

OK, now that you've blown yourself up among your office colleagues, let's look at the ways you can do the same thing with your email subscribers.

The cross-channel disconnect

I had the pleasure of speaking with a customer service rep of a large American airline recently trying to change the dates of a flight I had booked. Now we all know they suck the life out of you with change fees under normal circumstances, but this time I thought I had out-smarted them by purchasing a first class ticket. Apparently at this airline, all first class tickets are not created equal, and mine came with a change fee. After sputtering to the agent "since the dawn of man, first class tickets have always been fully refundable…that's why they cost so much!" I was basically told, "Tough luck." Now this is an airline with which I have flown more than one million miles. It has an excellent email marketing program that is well tailored to the individual and their status and travel routines. From reading the company's constant stream of email, you couldn't blame me for thinking my business actually matters to them. But when push came to shove on another channel, the email goodwill built up over time was blown to bits in less than a minute.

The lesson for email marketers here is that you need to be sure that the way you treat your subscribers in one channel is matched in other channels as well. Because what happens in other channels can irreparably harm the email channel for which you are responsible.

I don' wanna know!

The art of suppression is one that is not practiced as much as it should be in e-commerce and email. Consumers expect every purchase they make to be instantly registered throughout a company's infrastructure. And yet, how often have you made an online purchase from a company only to receive a site wide sale notice the very next day (or something similar)? Whenever this happens to me, I hear the song by REO Speedwagon in my head:

"I don' wanna do what I'm supposed to
I don' wanna wear what I'm supposed to wear
I don' wanna, I don' wanna, I don' wanna know"

Because your customers really do not want to know that if they'd waited one more day to buy that winter jacket, they would have saved an additional 20 percent. It makes you look disorganized (or worse), and it makes your customer angry.

All of your site transaction data should be made available as quickly as possible (instantaneously isn't too soon) to your email marketing database so that suppression rules can be applied against certain campaigns to ensure they are not sent to someone who would rather not know about your sale/double points/bogo. An additional bonus to having the information available quickly is that beyond suppressing someone who just bought, you can also use that purchase information to send a more relevant communication to that person -- people who bought your winter jacket also bought this.

I'll see you in September

There's another important thing you can do with transactional data -- stop hammering your subscribers with "buy now" messages every single time you interact with them. Depending on the normal purchase cycle of your particular product or service, the time between purchase can vary greatly -- from days to weeks to even months (even longer than that for automotive marketers). You obviously don't want to go silent in between those purchase occasions, but neither do you want to have your subscribers tune you out because your messaging is of no value or use to them at the moment. Because once they tune you out, you're going to have a lot of trouble getting their attention once again.

So what do you do in between? You're going to need to find other ways to engage with them, and that's where content marketing can come in handy. And the good news is, I've already written a column on this very subject, so you can learn the tricks of the trade here.

I have no doubt that there are a lot more bad habits that I could list here, and I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts. Some of the habits are things too many marketers don't do -- things like not sending a welcome campaign to new subscribers or not using transactional emails to cross-sell and upsell people who have just purchased from you. Other habits are things some marketers continue to do. Things like renting lists from the wrong people, not setting some sort of touch governance levels to avoid over-communicating to customers, or continuing to use a home grown email solution (I ranted about that recently). The email channel is not unique in the marketing world for having bad habits. Marketers have lots of bad habits, both in their places of work and in how they engage with their customers. But if you want to look better in your office and perform better with your customers, these five habits are a great place to start!

Christopher Marriott is the vice president of services and principal consultant at The Relevancy Group to register for a free subscription to the company's "The Marketer Quarterly."

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"Selective focus on the child with laptop computer" image via Shutterstock.


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