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November 14, 2012

E-mail Newsletter Burnout – How To Avoid Common Pitfalls to Campaign Failure

As we all know, e-mail marketing ranks as one of the best values in business promotion. It’s hard to beat its cost which, in some cases, can be free and it intrigues many as something with which to experiment.

Unfortunately, without knowledge of a few essential safeguards, the whole effort can easily be an exercise in futility, not only wasting precious time and resources, but possibly rankling a few choice members of your market as well.

Why Your E-mail May Fail To Reach Its Target

The quality of your list probably tops the most usual reasons for failure. If you have accrued a group of e-mail addresses as appropriate targets for a business promotion, your success with this action will depend on whether you have both sent and received e-mails from each address you intend to use. Without this established conduit of communication, various e-mail services may decide to route your message into your recipients’ spam bin, which is the default of many e-mail platforms such as Gmail, Yahoo mail, MSN mail and others. If this happens, there is little chance your message will be read.

One of my clients without a list of his own rejected the purchase of a list I could have provided through a well-established broker of e-mail addresses. It was guaranteed to include the highly important permission for use, on the basis of its high price.

Instead, he opted to purchase his own 30,000-name e-mail list at a discounted price which he asked me to upload to an e-mail marketing service his list company had recommended, also at a relatively low cost (a prepaid $215 per 50,000 e-mails to be sent).

Originally he was planning to use the highly economical $15-per-month Constant Contact service with my help, until we learned of their stringent ban on the use of purchased lists that typically are not permission-based and risk spam interception. When I consulted a rep for this service, she explained Constant Contact was being extra careful to avoid getting a reputation for spam-based e-mails, which would derail the whole value of using them.

While I found my client’s recommended e-mail service to be very user-friendly and eager to assist with high-quality tech support when needed, his list presented a different outcome. Using my own custom-created, graphically-attractive e-mail for which I had also composed a sophisticated, comprehensive web page as a back-up to accommodate offer participation, our first blast netted a total of about 28 responses, all of which were requests to opt-out of any future e-mail activity.

His offer, ironically, was to register for free dinners at his Japanese Steakhouse as a tribute to first responders in commemoration of the Sept. 11 anniversary. Since I had no knowledge of what kind of recipients comprised the list he bought, I have no way of knowing why the response was so disappointing. The e-mail service confirmed our document tests included no risks of poor delivery. I suspect, however, that many of the e-mails were still identified as spam based on two things: the trials we had sent to our own Gmail and other highly-filtered e-mail services and the lack of pre-established communication to each recipient.

Although he was given the option of doing a second blast to the remaining 20,000 e-mails he had paid for, he ultimately decided not to proceed, probably because it got to be too late in September for an effective reaction. My initial advice to him, in addition to trying to discourage him from using e-mail for this type of promotion, was that this campaign should have been initiated in August or earlier, and was too restrictive, targeting too specialized a market. He insisted he wanted to try it anyway.

Are You Boring Your Recipients with a Dull Title?

The next issue you need to address is your e-mail title, also known as the subject line. It is the single most important component of your e-mail appeal. As the first thing recipients will see, it bears the enormous responsibility of rousing their curiosity. Considered to be possibly the biggest stumbling block to proper message delivery, the title is limited to a maximum of approximately 80 characters to assure full display on the inbox subject line. It must provide a strong reason for recipient interest to encourage further exploration.

Having recently helped a real estate client prepare his monthly e-mail newsletter within his Constant Contact account, the first thing I did was to rewrite both his supplied textual content as well as his title to reflect a more positive outlook on his industry assessment. Rather than using his uninspired “October Company Newsletter” as its title, I substituted the more titillating “Good News from ‘His Company’” which would hopefully be a more compelling reason to click to open, particularly with regard to real estate.

To maintain the many automatic e-mail reports Constant Contact has set up, I chose to use a basic template that I extensively customized to reflect the branding I had developed for his business.

Although I could have used my own design, the requirement for an impeccably coded XML document posed enough intimidation that I decided use of their template was safer, minimizing the risk of deficiencies in printer document accuracy, website links, access to supplemental information, social media endorsements and their complex report system. Also, my client had asked me to do this job just as Hurricane Sandy was hitting our area so I had very little time to spare.

Don’t Be Victimized by Common Spam Triggers

Another vital concern you must recognize is the use of spam triggers within your title or textual content.

With a constantly growing list of hundreds of terms that include such frequently needed words as “sale,” “free,” and “special,” as well as adjectival enhancements such as the word “amazing,” terms of urgency like the word “Now,” or anything in all caps, it is a major challenge to compose a valid title of the appropriate length along with inoffensive content that will assure delivery to the desired inbox.

Should your e-mail contain custom-created graphics of a certain size, it is required that you include enough text to proportionately balance that artwork, also making sure to provide alternate text in case your graphics are hidden from display. Yet, it is recommended that e-mail marketing be short and sweet with just enough information to whet the recipient’s appetite for further details to which he would click to read on a back-up web page.

Your lack of attention to any of these issues could result in e-mail delivery failure, or problematic display, possibly serving to annoy your recipient and leave him or her with a negative impression of your company.

E-mail Marketing Can Work Well If Managed Properly

On the other hand, I have found great success with e-mail marketing in the past few years in selling advertising to prospects trying to reach the military market at the United States Military Academy at West Point. Although I have been handling this job for some 15 years or more, which originally required that I pay personal visits to potential advertisers, my e-mail marketing efforts have paid off handsomely with very little effort beyond the complex setup to manage the entire process online.

From sales pitch to payment of ads, from submission of finished artwork to instructions for our ad creation, the e-mail campaign has been a total success.

In addition to saying the right thing in the title, I developed an animated gif in my Flash software, which is compatible with all e-mail html displays. What this means is that when recipients click to open the e-mail, they are dazzled by colorful movement of impressive visuals of West Point cadets, U.S. flags, the historic architecture on the Hudson River and just the right thoughts to instill pride in America.

Anyone who admires the upper echelon of the U.S. military is inspired to purchase an ad in their 100-year-old annual book called the West Point Bugle Notes.

While I had few expectations when I first tried e-mailing as a sales strategy for this campaign, I am convinced its time has come. I created my own list by searching for appropriate candidates out on the Internet, finding e-mail addresses hidden in code on websites if not readily available on contact pages.

Even such generic e-mail addresses as info@ or customerservice@ proved to be valuable because those addresses are usually forwarded to other addresses which reach key people within an organization.

I limited my e-mail “blasts” to about 25 or 30 at a time from my own e-mail address through Yahoo Mail, which allowed me to do so as long as I kept the number of emails down to a minimum.

Some people paid for the ad of their desired size immediately, using their credit card on PayPal. Others called me to discuss the proposition first and then proceeded to use PayPal to pay. The first year I sold out the number of ad pages West Point allows. The second year, I had both renewals and new advertisers, again as a sell-out.

Since I am not using the heavily-coded e-mails which bear the logo of Constant Contact or other well-known services, I do not receive the benefits of their report systems which tally how many were opened, click-through rate, opt-out requests, etc.

Instead, my e-mails bear only my own company logo and are unique in presentation and appeal. Yahoo Mail tells me which e-mails could not be delivered and through Google Analytics I can see who visited the related pages on my website along with the source of their visit. Besides, the bottom line is determined not by how many people opened the e-mail, but by how many sales I make.

If the targets of your e-mail campaign are busy people, you run the risk of being ignored even if you manage to do everything right. I must admit that when I receive one of these e-mailed “newsletters” from familiar sources in my own inbox, unless the title says something riveting, I have gotten to the point where I simply hit the delete button without even looking at it. Too many disappointments with amateurish or hackneyed presentations, unimaginative text, irrelevant offers or overwhelming volume have me, for one, on e-mail newsletter burnout.

Marilyn Bontempo, president of Mid-Hudson Marketing, based in Holmes, New York, has been developing strategies for business success for more than 36 years. A professional writer and graduate of Bard College, she has won numerous awards for excellence in marketing, photography, graphics, writing and web design. As a specialist in branding, she assists many of her clients with management of their social media and public relations initiatives. In addition, she handles e-commerce for a number of online merchants not only on their own websites but also through eBay, Amazon and others. View her work at

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