Email campaigns that failed

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The ultimate email fail

The more experience you gain as an email marketer, the more you come to understand the true purpose of an email.

It isn't simply to blast something to subscribers without relevancy or reason. It isn't to make a quick, dishonest buck off them. It isn't to pull off a massive bait-and-switch. It isn't even to release the hounds on the competition. It's about nurturing, building trust and relationships, and ultimately increasing and solidifying the reputation of your brand.

Every email sent must have a purpose and needs to personally relate to the subscriber. If the email lacks personalization or has no purpose, you're taking a risk that may cause subscribers to not only opt-out of your emails, but also mentally and emotionally opt-out from any future engagement with your brand. When this happens, the recipient immediately becomes emotionally unsubscribed. We in the industry identify it with a very technical term: email marketing fail.

Everyone fails at some point. A recent study by Return Path discovered that up to 20 percent of top brand marketers continue to send emails to addresses on their lists that have unsubscribed -- more than 10 days after a confirmed unsubscribe request.

Sending to an unsubscribed address is definitely Fail No. 1. This is a violation of CAN-SPAM, and results in complaints and possible legal trouble. You may find your email reputation soon relegated to that of a spammer. This is a slippery slope. When a brand has degraded itself past the point of no return with so many email marketing fails, it has basically strung itself out on spam. At that point, batch-and-blast spamming may be the only way to get in front of enough people to make a few sales. To avoid this, it's important to find the silver lining in a fail. Learning from mistakes will actually strengthen your skills and refine your habits as an email marketer.

Not learning from mistakes and getting strung out on spam is just one negative result of an email marketing fail. When campaigns are poorly executed, or give in to the temptation of slash-and-burn email marketing revenue, they forfeit any likelihood of meaningful, long-term customer engagement, not to mention powerful word-of-mouth or even viral campaign exposure. This is what separates poor email campaigns (fails) from excellent ones (wins).

So, what does an email marketing fail look like? Here are some examples.



Andrea Mocchi
Andrea Mocchi July 8, 2009 at 8:33 AM

Hi Dylan,

very useful article. Analyzing emails and showing mistakes is useful not to make the same mistakes!

I'd got a question for you: you say (concerning Fail 9, Technorati)
"As I read through it more, it seemed to be a straight marketing message. The problem is this email was disguised as a transactional email and didn't have the CAN-SPAM compliance in the message."

Reading this, I can argue that transactional emails do not need an explicit CAN-SPAM compliance, isn'it? And only explicit makerkting emails need.. I am italian, I am sorry but I don't know how CAN-SPAM works..

Thank you very much!

Kevin Sonoff
Kevin Sonoff July 6, 2009 at 7:10 PM

I've always believed that the key to successful email campaigns is solicit feedback from your recipients. Put in place a mechanism that allows them to easily submit suggestions and ideas to help make the next email correspondence even more relevant to their needs.

Kevin Sonoff
Founder, Digital Marketing Buzz

Anthony Green
Anthony Green July 6, 2009 at 9:35 AM

Great article Dylan. You picked some (not so) great examples. I particularly liked the Constant Contact entry - ESP's should be LEADING the best practice!!