Mo’ Emails, Mo’ Problems

“It's like the more [emails] we come across
The more problems we see...” 
— The Notorious B.I.G.

Most companies add email marketing to their stable of tools with the intent to convert those contacts into customers eventually or retain the people who are existing contacts with thoughtful content. Over and over we’ve been able to prove, even internally, that well-planned and carefully executed email campaigns are extremely effective in helping companies hit their goals. 

Sometimes, if not carefully orchestrated, those email marketing programs can run completely amok and start having the opposite effect on your audience: making you sour existing relationships or turn off prospects.

Teams fail at email marketing because they lack proper planning. 

How many emails are your contacts receiving from you?

I don’t know about you, but I have to do a quarterly KonMari of my email inbox. And I’m a hard contact to get. I don’t sign up for everything and I keep my email information almost as confidential as my cell phone number (all four of them). Even so, this morning I spent the better part of 90 minutes sifting through my varied inboxes and hitting the unsubscribe link on 99.9 percent of email marketing messages I received. 

While I was cleaning, I noticed several things:

  1. I received the same email to different email addresses. 

  2. I received two, three and sometimes four (!!) different emails from the same company on the same day (sometimes in the same 90-minute period), dealing with different things. (Shame on you The New Yorker magazine) None of them were transactional.

  3. Amazon, my all-time favorite internet vendor, never emailed me anything promotional.

  4. Only one vendor, Creative Market, sent me free stuff I could use immediately.

  5. I found at least 10 emails I don’t recall ever signing up for, from companies I’ve never purchased anything from.

  6. Two emails from companies where an employee is an acquaintance, but that I’ve never agreed to receive emails from.

  7. Two emails didn’t have an unsubscribe button. I reported those as spam.

Your email plan should be clear enough that you’re able to answer “how many emails are your contacts receiving from you every month” regardless of whether your list has 1,000 or 1 million contacts in 10 minutes or less.

Marketing lore includes tales, told in whispers in the dark by a campfire, of single human beings being set to receive 100 emails in a month from a single company. I feel for those human recipients, but I feel more for the marketing team that thought 100 emails in one month was a good marketing strategy. 

How does that happen? 

In a larger company, it’s hard to keep track of who’s sending what when. For example, let’s look at a certain medical device company I used to work for. 

They had several departments emailing people about different things: 

  • Transactional messaging, sent by the e-comm department. 

  • Sales messaging. 

  • Holiday messaging or seasonal messaging. 

  • An in-person event in your geographical area.

  • An invitation to an upcoming nationwide event, outside your geographical area. 

  • Promotional webinar about a product update, which you qualified for depending on a previous purchase. 

  • And finally, someone in customer service wants you to leave a review of your most recent transaction.

Say you haven’t purchased anything in the last 60 days, the list still would look like this: 

  • Transactional messaging, sent by the e-comm department. 

  • Sales messaging. 

  • Holiday messaging or seasonal messaging. 

  • An in-person event in your geographical area.

  • An invitation to an upcoming nationwide event, outside your geographical area. 

  • Promotional webinar about a product update, which you qualified for depending on a previous purchase. 

  • And finally, someone in customer service wants you to leave a review of your most recent transaction.

The larger your organization, the more chances of getting trapped into a scenario like the one above. If you want to know if you qualify for one of these scenarios, randomly pull five to 10 contacts from your database and see how many emails they have received from your company (not just your department) over the last six to nine months. 

How many emails should your recipient expect?

Every email your company sends, no matter what department it comes from, should be part of a larger scope document. Your calendar should have different levels of granularity: quarterly/monthly/weekly/daily. But the key ingredient should be that most adults prefer when they receive promotional emails once a week or once a month.  

How do you prioritize which emails go out?

Strive for a healthy mix of promotions and non-promotional emails. Promotional emails will try to get the recipient to perform a specific action upon receipt. Non-promotional emails are less timely and are focused on building a relationship and providing value to customers. Our article about email types you can try for your marketing is a great next step to decide which kinds of emails can be sent.

How clean is your list? 

Do you have the same contact with different email addresses? Are they receiving the same email on each email address? There are several paid services, as well as popular CRMs, that allow you to clean your contacts in a way so you’re not sending the same message across several email accounts, or even worse, sending different email messages to different accounts for the same contact. We also recommend centralizing all email sends for the company on the same platform. It’s harder to keep clean lists on different platforms.

Your email marketing needs to look good from different angles.

The big picture is important. Your campaigns should be segmented and targeted to different audiences, depending on their stage inside the funnel; the products they’ve purchased or have expressed interest in; their geographic location or other demographic factors.

The granular picture is equally important. Try to randomly pull the number of emails people in your database receive, and continue challenging yourself to keep that number to no more than once a week (excluding transactional emails triggered by purchases). Work to find - and avoid - list overlaps. 

Give your email marketing an owner. 

Even in a company where several departments send email campaigns, the “owner” of email should be only one person or team to serve as a traffic cop, keeping up with the project plan, tracking changes, and analyzing the data. In some companies, this is a project manager. In others, it’s someone in the marketing team. The person’s specific placement in the company org chart is not as important as their position as the “keeper” of the master plan. Having all campaigns routed through the same desk helps avoid the scenario we dealt with at the beginning where several teams are sending email unchecked and you land in “mo’ Email, mo’ Problems” territory.

Treat your email marketing like a plant

Unless you own a cactus (those are hardy little mofos), you’ll agree that most house plants need water, light and to be checked every once in a while for pests or tender loving care. Similarly, your email marketing plan (like your website and any other marketing tools) should be treated as a living, breathing organism. You should be checking in on at least once a month, track your progress against your original plan; but also not be afraid to make changes once you start collecting data from your reports. Also recommended? Running experiments on calls to action, subject lines, A/B tests, etc.

Regardless of what your final email strategy looks like, email marketing remains a great way to reach almost every age group. More than half of us check our email before we get out of bed in the morning. So there is ROI in spending some time getting your email marketing plan set up and implemented sooner rather than later, especially if it’s been more than 30 days since you last looked at it.

So, go ahead, dig your plan up and give it a once over. And if you haven’t seen it in a while, maybe it’s time to sit down and draft a new one. 

We love to talk about email marketing and anything that can help your growth. For more information, reach out to us at info@growthguild.co.


Astrid Storey