Monday, July 21, 2008

Oh No! When E-Mail Marketing Goes Wrong

Earlier this month, one of my favorite local businesses experienced a major e-mail marketing mishap. I cringed as I watched it all go down, and though it pains me to recreate for you what happened, it’s an important object lesson for small businesses using e-mail marketing.

Company X uses e-mail to announce special events and promote new products. That’s the good news. E-mail marketing is a great thing for Company X—and for you—to do.

The bad news is that they do it “the old-fashioned way,” by keeping newsletter subscribers in their address book instead of an opt-in database. When they e-mail their subscribers, Company X either blind-copies them or sets up some sort of association between and all of the individual addresses. As I said, there's no “opt-in” function. No unsubscribe function. Just an informal e-mail from Company Owner to Customers, with appearing in the “To” field.

If this is the way you handle your e-mail newsletter campaign, may this story persuade you to change that ASAP.

Guess what happens when someone on the newsletter list hits “Reply All?”

Every single one of the newsletter list members gets a weird note from someone we don’t know that says, “Hey, Company X, I’ll definitely be coming to that event, it sounds great! Signed, Not-So-Savvy Customer at Company ABC, online at”

Giving Not-So-Savvy Customer the benefit of the doubt, I’ll presume that she hit “Reply All” to send her message to as well as because she really thought that was the best way to make sure her email got through to an actual person. But I sort of suspect that it was an intentional guerilla marketing stunt by someone who knew what she was doing and who replied to everyone on the list as a way of promoting her own company to the e-mail list of Company X.

Either way, she deserves the title of Not-So-Savvy, because not only does she look stupid, but her single action prompted a cascade of additional e-mails, ranging from the helpful to the confused to the angry.

“I’ll be there, too!”

“Sounds good, but I’m out of town that weekend.”

“Hey, Company X, you have a problem with your email. I’m getting emails that are meant for you.”

“Why am I getting e-mails from people about this event?”

“How did you get my e-mail address? Why are you e-mailing me?”

“Take me off your e-mail list.”

“Everyone stop hitting reply all and these messages will stop!”

“I asked to be taken off your e-mail list a year ago. I don’t even live in Portland anymore.”

“This is ridiculous. I don’t have time to manage your business as well as my own. Take me off your list.”

And so on.

By the end of the day, I had dozens of angry e-mails in my in-box and spam folder.


What a way to piss off your customers.

Don’t let something like that happen to you.

If your customers are willing to give you their e-mail address and receive contact from you, respect their privacy and protect it! It’s easy and inexpensive to do with an e-mail marketing service partner.

There are lots of companies to choose from for e-mail marketing services, to name a few:
Constant Contact
Vertical Response


Any of the above companies enable you to create your e-mail newsletters and store your subscribers’ e-mail addresses and information in a safe, secure database. Each of these services offers your subscribers privacy protection and a quick, easy, one-step unsubscribe function. For you, they also help ensure delivery of your e-mails and to track opens, click-throughs and forwards (you have always wanted to know if anyone actually READS your e-mails, right?).

The products above are quite inexpensive, easy to set up and maintain, and many can be customized to fit your business needs. For really tight budgets, use one of the templates provided by the service. If your business's brand is important enough to spend, say $250-$450 for a one-time design fee, you can have the e-mail marketing company custom create a template that matches your business image, allowing you to easily insert your news and content.

Whether you have a service business, a retail store, manufacture or distribute products, are business-to-consumer or B2B, you should use an e-mail marketing service for your electronic newsletters. The small fee you pay to send the e-mail is worth every cent for protecting your customers’ privacy and showing them your respect for their personal information.

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