Email Marketing: How to Avoid the Spam and Unsubscribe Buttons

Email Marketing: How to Avoid the Spam and Unsubscribe Buttons

I hate most email marketing campaigns. To be fair, I do like some email: SmartBrief on Social Media, blogger Patty Azzuello, the monthly special from a local spa, and monthly newsletters from non-profits. I’d also like to say I’ve never sent a garbage email campaign but that would be a lie – even marketing experts can be over-ruled. When a company feels pressure, email is an “easy” way to try to drum up business. It’s a game of sheer numbers: if you have a million contacts and 1% respond to your offer, you think you have success.

The bigger issue: what is the cost of that 1% (or any) return? How many individuals unsubscribed or marked you for spam? How many people felt disgusted with your brand and tweeted about it? Progressive companies with great marketing tools can measure this, but not all can or do.

What is my point here? Email marketing can be good and relevant and should be built for the audience – not used as a method for “blasting” out company messages and sales pitches.

So how do you make email marketing better?

These examples are written from the view of customer retention: you have people who have opt-ed in or subscribed on their own vs. a list you purchased for new customer acquisition. However, most email marketers will tell you there is significant cross-over in these two areas.

Email marketing should provide value to the person receiving it

Emails asking the receiver to “buy now” are going to get the unsubscribe box checked pretty fast – today’s audiences are bombarded by sales pitches and are quickly turned off by them.  Also, a negative tone, a false subject line such as “Alert – Account Security” are going to make people angry, put you in the spam penalty box, and likely get you trashed on social media. Take the time to evaluate your audience – what do they want? For example, I recently signed up for a monthly service and then didn’t use it. I received an email asking if I wanted help getting started with a live person. The email also included a couple of links to tutorials for “self-service” if I wanted it. It worked – I checked out a tutorial and moved forward a bit more with the online service. The email sent reminded me I had signed up for a service I believed I needed and provided me help and information to get going again.

Value your subscribers time

Long emails are boring. There are  exceptions to this: monthly newsletters being one, or digests where a person has opted-in for curated content. However, in general, if the subscriber has to hit the “download entire message” on their smartphone, the email is too long. Marketing basics say you should focus on one call-to-action in a marketing event but somehow this goes out the window in many email campaigns. Along these same lines, pace your emails. I recently started a free trial of an online product and within 5 minutes of joining I had a welcome message, a sales message and an invitation to join a webinar. Very spammy feeling happening there – it was like I had tripped a hidden booby trap unleashing the flood of emails! Then the daily sales emails started until I finally went in and pushed the “unsubscribe all” button. Industry reports put the average number of emails people receive daily between 100-500. It is also reported the average person can only really handle 50 emails a day.  Pace yourself and give your audience time to absorb your product or get through the pile-up of emails in their inbox.

Surprise your subscribers

Try giving them something without them asking for it and with no action on their part. One of the most successful campaigns I ran used a reward system – users were notified they had received bonus minutes in their account and needed to take no action whatsoever to claim them. We received replies thanking us and even had some Twitter love show up for us!

Be mobile friendly

Roughly 47% of email is read on mobile. If you are sending messages that are not mobile friendly, your message is not being heard by almost half your audience. Along these same lines, keep it light on the HTML and images. Most email providers block them and on mobile they slow things down. Don’t be this company:

What is this about?

Talk to your subscribers: be human

In other words, know your audience. Are they are Fortune 500 CEOs? They may not appreciate hipster-speak in email, but that doesn’t mean you have to write like you are submitting a PhD paper. Small non-profits are often great (without knowing it) at crafting emails because while their audience covers a wide range of age, income-level, and education, when they send an email they speak from the heart and connect with their audience. Here’s an example of a nice, human email I received recently.


Nice email
Clean, simple. Human-speak and not much HTML and image clutter


As a receiver of email, what other guidance can suggest? Chime in below or tweet me @tinashakour.

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