• Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

Email marketer?  Me? No, I'm a garbage collectorIt’s true; research has actually proven that email marketers are even dumber than previously thought was possible.  In the interest of fairness and full disclosure, I have to tell you I am an email marketer.  Although, sometimes when I meet someone new I lie and say I’m a garbage collector. Most people like what garbage collectors do for a living.

It’s not the size of the boat; it’s the motion of the ocean.

The crew at recently concluded a 19 month study into how email marketers handle non-responsive addresses.  I don’t know what the researchers expected to uncover, but the results were shocking, at least to me anyway.

I’ve told you before, it’s a good idea to purge addresses from your mailing lists if you know that those people have never, ever opened or clicked on your messages.  I mean, why make your math more complicated and lower your results because a few people don’t want (or never see) what you send them?

I think I’m safe in saying that if left up to the people that actually push the “send” button, mailing lists would be as lean and clean as possible.  Unfortunately, many are stuck with bosses that believe when it comes to mailing lists (and probably other things), size matters – and bigger is better.

Which brings us to the first finding of the study; 73% of the 40 companies studied continued to send email to completely non-responsive email addresses for the full 19 months of the study. SEVENTY-THREE PERCENT! Come on – are you serious?  I can almost understand not wanting to mess with your math during a current campaign year, but why not start the year with a nice clean, fresh, VALID mailing list?  Let’s get those lists cleaned up, you can do it, just call it spring cleaning – or maybe fib a little and tell your boss it’s a can-spam requirement and you have to do it, I promise I won’t tell.

OK, so 73% is surprising, but in the big picture not terribly harmful to anything in the long run, right?  Wrong.  There is a better than average chance that the reason the emails are not being opened is because they’ve been tagged as spam. If that’s the case, each additional message you send is another nail in the coffin of your email marketing program as your reputation gets worse and worse and you get added to more and more of the spam blacklists.

Opt-in means I want you to be my friend, not my stalker.

What I found most shocking in the Return Path research was the sheer volume of email that these companies were sending.  On average these companies sent 10 emails a month.  That means an email every three days.  Think that’s bad?  It’s almost tolerable compared to the two top offenders.

Neiman Marcus sent an average of one email a day over the 19 months.  Every day? Really?

However, the worst offender was a company named “BlueFly” which from looking at their website you might be fooled into thinking they “get it”.  You’d be wrong – at least as far as email marketing is concerned.  BlueFly started the test with an average of 30 emails a month and ended it with 54 a month. Yep, two messages a day.  Can you imagine if other retailers did this?  You might have that that pimple-faced kid from McDonalds at your door a couple times a day … “What do you mean you’re not hungry? You bought a Big-Mac from us two months ago, how can you not want an apple pie – or a delicious shake?”

I wonder if the e-marketers and executives at BlueFly tolerate that behavior as consumers.  I suspect not. So why do they do it as a company?  Do unto others but not unto me?  Do as I say, not as I do?

How many of the “real” people that get all those messages from BlueFly get so frustrated they drop out, or worse – tag them as spam?

NOTE: I reached out to BlueFly via twitter to see if they would mind answering some questions about their techniques, if I get anything from them I’ll post an update.

What’s the right way to do email marketing?

If you’re an e-marketer, how do you handle non-responsive addresses, let me know in the comments.

If you’re a consumer, what do you consider the right frequency for companies to send you email, let me know in the comments.

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6 Responses

  1. 1
    heather richards  //

    Amen! I signed up to receive some information on publishing a book from an online company and it started with one email a day and after about 3 weeks it was up to 3 a day. I did not, however, send the to my SPAM list. I unsubscribed.

  2. 2
    Jack Leblond  //

    Three a day?! Wow. That’s why I tell people I’m a garbage collector. Thank you for not tagging it spam, even though they probably deserved it.

  3. 3
    Miranda Victoria Arizona  //

    The ReturnPath study results surprised me as well. I would have expected worse findings sadly enough.

    As much as BlueFly may have been overkill – I’ve seen much worse from retailers.

    One in particular, that shall remain nameless: I give a tagged address, in store to the guy, so I can get coupon. 10 emails by the time I drive home. Within a month, 100s of mails daily from similar retailers, within 2 months phishes and pill spam. Tried them again for good measure (with different address) same results. :/

    As a consumer, the number of emails I will tolerate per month from a marketer varies. It is inversely proportional to the mean amount of promotional content, and directly proportional the mean amount of informational content and the usability thereof.

    Yeah thats probably the only situation where I would unsub rather than report as spam. IE, if I request it and it sucks, I unsub and convert address to spamtrap. Otherwise, or if they continue sending post unsub, report as spam, and add to local blocklist.

    You seem potentially sane (for a marketer that is.) I like that you’re using COI, and like that the confirmation message isn’t full of ads. (yeah i just signed up) So that brings the grand total to two (2) marketing lists to which I subscribe.

  4. 4
    Tiep  //

    I gave up email marketing a long time ago and moved to SEO and social networks for current marketing methods. It’s really hard to make people feel ok with emails from strangers.

  5. 5
    sparky  //

    My wife made the mistake of ordering something from Bluefly. Lucky for her, she used MY email address. I get 2-3 crap-filled emails a day from these jerks. They are a good example of worst-practices…
    -make you fill in your email address (even when you click the unsubscribe link from one of the 100’s of emails you get).
    -tell you it will take 5-10 business days for your “request” to take. Total bullshit.
    -actually never pay attention to your unsubscribe pleas at all… 3 weeks and counting. MAKE IT STOP…

  6. 6
    Jack Leblond  //

    If you’ve followed the process they give for unsubscribing and they have not done it, start forwarding the emails to “”. For more information on how to report spam, visit