• Monday, July 06th, 2009

Rarely is the easiest solution also the best

As a professional email marketer, it really irks me when I see companies, both small and large doing it badly.  I’ve ranted in the past about other failed e-marketing I’ve been subjected to,  and unfortunately, I suspect this won’t be the last time I do it either.  I blame the surveys.  It seems barely a week goes by when yet another survey comes out showing how fast, easy and cheap e-marketing is; that anyone wanting to survive the economy better be doing it soon.  Please, somebody stop them.

All images in email = e-marketing fail

Because of the wide variety of computer systems, email client software and human languages on the Internet; it is a practical impossibility to ensure that what you send will look the same to the reader as it does to you (even when sending plain text).  One of the most abused methods bad lazy uninformed email marketers attempt, is to create the message entirely from an image, or group of images.  Seems like a simple solution,  right?  WRONG!  While sending your email as just embedded images could make it look the same to the reader as it does to you, it does not guarantee they will ever even see it, or understand it.  In fact, it actually lessens the likelihood of it being seen.  Many spam filters consider email made up of just images to be junk and as such will block them.  Example of bad email marketingThose that don’t block the message, will usually block the images themselves so that all your reader will see is red X’s where your image(s) should have been.  The image shown here is a small piece of an email I recently received from an e-marketer who clearly does not understand how email systems work.  The thing is HUGE!  I had to patch three screen shots together for you to see the entire email at once – it’s more than a foot wide and two feet long.  The only part of the email NOT made of images is the link at the bottom advertising for the company they used to send it.  All I (and probably most of the recipients) saw was a lot of red Xs alerting me that outlook had blocked the images.  What about that mess could possibly entice anyone to allow Outlook to download the pictures that it had blocked – nothing.  The sender didn’t even include alt tag descriptions to give me a hint at what I might see if I downloaded them.  Other than professional curiosity, this message gives me no reason at all to not just delete it.

Follow the rules

At first glance it appears that the sender of this gargantuan message neglected to follow any of the <sarcasm>rather clear</sarcasm> can-spam requirements – such as providing a valid postal address and a method to opt out of future mailings.  However, when we view the offending email with images turned on, we can see that they did at least try to comply, they just put all of that information within the images – where no one would ever see it.

Speak the language of your readers

Looking at this email with images turned on also reveals that the message was clearly intended for people that can read Turkish, of which I am not one.  There is one line of the message written in English “Winner of the Best International Tour Operator WTF China 2008”.  Why did they bother?  Does the fact they won an award in China make anyone want to get this message translated?  I seriously doubt it.  That also reminds me, be careful how you use abbreviations.  I don’t know what “WTF” means in Turkey or China, but I’m guessing it’s not the same thing as it means in the U.S.A.

Don’t buy generic email lists

Would you buy the New York City phone book hoping that half of one percent of everyone in it might be interested in what you have to say if you called them?  Of course not.  So why do businesses continue to pay money for lists that have addresses like “webmaster” & “info” in them?  I’ll tell you why – because they are short sighted.  They can buy a generic list of 10 million names for $50 or a targeted list of 20,000 names for $1,000. And, they know that it takes the same work up-front to send mail to all 10 million addresses as it does to send to just 20 thousand, so why not save the money and just do it?  Let me ask you this; How much is it worth to have your brand image not be that of a clueless spammer?  How much is it worth to not have your I.T. staff deal with 8 million bounced back messages? How much is it worth for your company to be able to send email every day?    I’d wager that each is worth more than $950.

Sadly, I don’t think many e-marketers realize that having email flagged as spam has a greater potential impact than just one pair of lost eyes.  Many email systems now report spam upstream to larger, shared lists of spammers – blacklists from which no mail will be accepted.  Many of these lists feed from each other, get your company on one and soon it’ll be on several.  Blacklists are one of the easiest thing to get on, but some of the hardest to get off.  Get your company on one of these blacklists and it’s not just your marketing emails that are block, it’s ALL e-mails.  Do you want to explain to your CEO that he can’t email pictures of his precious miniature yorkie’s puppies to his sister in Phoenix because you wanted to save the company $950?  I didn’t think so.

Read, read, read – then send

It seems like such obvious thing, but make sure you and someone else proofs your message (more than once) before you click “send”.  Our friends at Ragan Communications were recently reminded of this the hard way;  They sent a daily e-newsletter out twice on the same day, about 30 minutes apart.  Why?  Because the first one had “ExxonMobil”  spelled as “ExxonMobile” in the subject and in the body.  A subtle, but important difference.

Ragan Communications Bad e-mail

You get what you pay for

It’s true, email marketing does have a lower upfront cost than many traditional forms of marketing, it does have a much shorter production time and is the only form of marketing to give such rapid and accurate results.  However, just like with Saturday night dates you really have to do things the right way.  Cheap and easy may sound like a good way to get what you want – but after the test results are in, you’ll probably wish you had taken a different approach.

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8 Responses

  1. 1
    @joannalord  //

    Wow. This is not only a great read, but is full of “reminders” that all of us marketers need to keep in the forefront of our minds when embarking on e-marketing initiatives.

    Thanks for writing this up and for reminding us that “just like with Saturday night dates you really have to do things the right way.” Ha. Classic line.

  2. 2
    Keri Morgret  //

    From an end-user perspective, don’t change your “from” email with each mailing. My email clients have an option to always display images from a specific email — I want to be lazy, and I don’t want to have to enable images each and every mailing because you’ve decided to use a different from each time for tracking purposes.

  3. 3
    Jack Leblond  //

    Great point Keri! e-marketers need to stay consistent in order to maintain a relationship with their readers.

  4. 4
    Kenneth Yeung  //

    Great blog post. I especially enjoyed your rules to speak your reader’s language. Often when I put blog posts about email best practices, I talk about standard rules and interpret them – usually I assume that it’s assumed, but I guess the adage about assuming is true, huh? Thanks for reminding me about how to write copy for my emails. And the example about Exxon Mobil was hilarious. I think I’ve burned myself like that at least once – not a pretty sight.

  5. 5
    Tim Staines  //

    Good stuff Jack. My wife is working on several email campaigns right now and one of the most frustrating things about them is the display consistency between all the different email clients. Since using all images is clearly a no-no from your perspective, do you have any suggestions for obtaining more consistency? Are there any specific resources resources you would recommend on the subject of creating emails with cross platform consistency?

  6. 6
    Jack Leblond  //

    Thanks Tim – using HTML tables containing a mix of images and inline CSS is what I have had the most success with. You can not rely on images to deliver the meat of the message, just to help strengthen it. The best way for her to know what works best is to test as much as possible. Create a new layout, then send it to 10% of her list and see what happens to her metrics.