7 deadly email marketing sins (and how to avoid them)

Pride in your work and greed for others’ results will only land you in marketing hell. Here’s how to stay on a more righteous path.


Several people have compared my obsession with refining return on investment (ROI) and open rates to a religion, so I took the logical next step and identified the sinful motivations behind seven common email-marketing traps.

The deadly sins, according to Christianity, are pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth. Those seven sins can prove tempting to a rushed email marketer, and they can have a negative impact.

If you’re interested in optimizing your campaigns, steer clear of the following email marketing sins:

1. Pride

The results of your most recent email campaign are an enormous success. Not just good, but better than anything you’ve done before.

But incredibly good statistics are just as much a warning sign as incredibly bad ones. Your first instinct must always be to take a closer look at what’s going on, and then consider all the statistics you see. Do those phenomenal open rates also translate into click-throughs? Do those click-throughs translate into conversions? And so on.

Pride in your work is great, but remember that software and people can both act in some very odd ways. Be sure to track every anomalous result to its source before you break out the champagne.

2. Greed

As soon as an email marketing campaign starts delivering real results, I have to resist the urge to expand it to cover a broader list.

Someone who is subscribed to my newsletter and follows me on Twitter has to be approached in a completely different way from someone who bought a product from the company once and opted to receive only occasional updates.

If you expand your campaign simply for the sake of increasing quantity, you are going to run into some serious problems, including subscriber churn and people flagging your emails as spam.

3. Lust

Sex does sell, but it’s too risky to put it in email. Anything designed to prey on lust has been done a thousand times by spammers, from herbal supplements to Russian brides to scams.

Even if you have a sexy product, keep the language low-key to help your email get past those spam filters.

4. Envy

Have you ever asked yourself, “How do they get those results when I struggle?”

They’re working for a bigger company, their target audience is subtly (or significantly) different, they have a trustworthy IP that has been around forever—the number of factors that are completely out of your control makes envy completely useless, and anything useless is a drain on your time.

If you try to ape a campaign just because it worked for someone else, you will probably get less-than-optimal results. Instead, pay attention to your brand’s identity and craft your campaigns accordingly.

5. Gluttony

In email marketing I see gluttony as almost the opposite of greed.

The greedy email marketer expands his or her emailing list too far and too fast in an attempt to grab more and more.

The gluttonous email marketer, on the other hand, bleeds his core audience dry, constantly targeting, cross-selling, up-selling, and never letting up. In moderation, doing so is a superb practice, but when taken to excess it will leave many readers feeling ambivalent toward, or even annoyed by, the brand. That’s when people unsubscribe.

The cutoff point between good email-marketing practices and annoying pestering is not always clear, so some trial and error and apologies will likely be in order along the way.

6. Wrath

I shouldn’t have to explain this one, but if you’re working in any form of marketing and you get angry with a customer for being angry with you, you’ve already lost.

Turn the other cheek, and avoid becoming a viral hit for all the wrong reasons.

7. Sloth

Sloth and apathy come calling when your email marketing campaign is chugging along nicely, producing a decent ROI, satisfactory click-through rates, and healthy open rates.

If you think you’ve hit a formula for writing good email marketing copy, trust me, you haven’t. You’ve found a way to sell based on your natural personality and charm that got people to listen to you in the first place.

Keep making your emails snappier, funnier, and more sophisticated than the last, and you’ll keep improving the statistics that matter. Experiment with link placements and adding or removing images.

Stay curious and engaged, and you’ll keep your readers curious and engaged, too.

Punishment for your sins

I’ve never experienced any recipients trying to pull a Se7en on me, though I’m sure there must have been one or two who thought about it when I went through a brief pun-fixation phase a few years back.

The punishment for these seven email sins is usually too slight to notice. A campaign can look like it’s running fine when it has the potential to run beautifully. That’s what is so sinister and powerful about these seven deadly sins. They spring from an attitude of complacency—the one thing you can never afford in email marketing.

James Duval is a freelance journalist, and technology and business expert for GKBC. A version of this article originally appeared on Marketing Profs.

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Topics: PR

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