10 Email Marketing Mistakes Which Scare Off Your Customers


Seth Godin permission marketing

Email marketing is a topic which has been and will continue to be hammered on every blog across the web. I have had extensive experience running email marketing campaigns for our previous online retail store (MyNappies), where we learned plenty from our many, many mistakes. With that said, below I have compiled a list of 10 email marketing mistakes which will scare off your customers.

No Permission
Each day my inbox receives an email from Seth Godin, best selling author and marketeer. His daily email is always valuable, short and meaningful information. I opted in to it and I enjoy reading it.

Seth gets you to think about concepts, situations and issues in a different way to anyone else who I follow. Since I choose to sign up to this daily email, I end up opening it each day. I do not always read the contents in their entirety, but around 80% of the time I say I would. I trust Seth to provide me with valuable and relevant material, and he has never abused this trust.

When Seth released his Modern Marketing Workshop on Skillshare, I didn’t hesitate in becoming a student, because the trust in his content was already there (the $19 price tag didn’t hurt either).

Jumping to the other end of the spectrum, I also receive weekly emails from an Australian SEO company. You expect to get these emails from international businesses who blast millions of people (thankfully Gmail filters these to spam), but this Australian company weaves its way to my inbox each week. I never signed up to hear from this company, they have pulled my email from somewhere else on the web.

If this company itself was subscribed to Seth Godin’s newsletter they would know better. Seth Godin has one question which every business should read aloud daily:

“The simple measure is this: Would they miss you if you didn’t mail them? If not, then you’re fooling yourself into thinking you have something you don’t.”

I can wholeheartedly say I would not miss you emailing Australian SEO company. Seth, please do not stop.

Just because you have an email address does not give you the permission to blast it with emails. The recipient will feel cheated and as a result will have zero trust in your company. You will have also wasted their time and therefore their money.

Don’t be the uninvited party guest into someones inbox. Earn permission and trust so when you do reach out, the reception will be with open arms (and eyes!).

Inconsistent Frequency
Testing out email frequency is fine in the short term. However longer term it is best to keep to a somewhat consistent frequency. For example pushing out 3 campaigns in a single week and then making no contact for the next 4 weeks is not well advised. It is all comes down to testing what your audience responds to.

Another factor that plays into the equation is the quality and length of your emails. Seth Godin gets away with emailing new posts each day as the majority of his are under 200 words. Sure, he occasionally has a longer post which might top 600 words, but never would he have five days straight of long posts.

Tim Ferris on the other hand may not email for 4 weeks, yet when he does the post is almost always over 2000 words.

Seth and Tim have both earned the trust and permission of their audience. As a reader I know what to expect from the both of them. If either was to abruptly change their frequency without acknowledging it, the trust would crack.

Catering To Everyone
Do not focus on the whole pie, focus on your niche of the pie.

Do this by catering to your niche through valuable and relevant content. This will mean you’ll have unsubscribers and at times outspoken audience members who do not like your emails. This is a good thing. It means these people are not part of your niche so its better for both parties if they leave your community. By sticking true to content relative to your niche overtime you will build a community of audience members who look forward to hearing from you. You will have built trust with each member.

Not Segmenting Your Subscribers
Segmenting your email subscribers should be a priority from the very beginning of creating your audience. This comes back to trust. By segmenting your audience you can provide highly relevant material to each.

How you segment your list will vary depending on your blog, product or service. Some examples are:

  • geographical location – if you have customers internationally you may want to offer specific deals to individual locations

  • opt in location – if you guest blog you may want to separate customers based on where they signed up. This is particularly useful for the initial few welcome emails.

  • past behaviour – segment repeat customers from those who are yet to buy.

  • gender – personalise your content to men and women. This would be important for a clothing store for example.

  • customer type – if you are B2B you could segment your large customers to your small customers or segment by the industry they are in.

  • Blogs: you could segment new signs up so they receive a drip campaign of your all-star posts which they missed out on because they were not signed up.

A recent study by MailChimp showed a 4% increase in open rates and CTR for email list which were segmented.

Subject Lines Which Lie
I wrote on the vital importance of trust with your readers earlier, and one of the ways that many marketeers violate this trust is with ‘baity’ subject lines. The simplest example of this behaviour is what is know as bait and switch. In order to get high open rate, people will use an irrelevant subject line to get you open the email and once you do the copy will be on a completely different topic i.e.

Subject line: OMG I Love Your Website…

Then you read the email and found out they are trying to sell you their latest SEO ebook.

This is spam in its purest form. Just spend the time on a creative and relevant headline, no excuse.

Appsumo consistently has subject lines which feel personal and and are always interesting. This feel of personal copy also carries over to their email contents, which definitely helps to deepen their relationship with their community members by humanising the Appsumo brand.

Poor Call-to-Action
Each email campaign you send out should have a clear call-to-action. It should sit above the fold so that once the email is opened it is clear the action you want readers to take.

For example take a look at the email I received from Amazon after signing up for Amazon Prime. The action they want me to take is clear “Choose from 40,000 titles”. They have also gone a step further by making the button yellow which stands out on a white background.

Across their email communication Amazon ask questions before encouraging you to take action.

“Ready to watch a movie or TV show?”

Including this question serves three purposes:

  1. It draws your mind’s attention to it as stands out in comparison to the regular copy which comes before it.

  2. Subconsciously you answer the question or at least ponder it. This sets you up to take action.

  3. It helps to personalise the overall feel of the exchange

When it comes to creating a call to action remember, the thing you need the recipient to  do needs to be worthwhile and fun. If it is not then do not waste their time, as you will be considered no better than the usual email spam everyone receives.

Side note: Try playing around with the copy on your CTA. Rather than the usual “Buy Now”, “Submit”, “Sign Up” try “Learn More”, “Let’s Do It”, “Send It To Me”.

Lack of Personalisation
One MarketingSherpa case study showed that personalized email subject lines returned a 17% percent higher than average click through rate. Yet still, many companies under utilize personalization. Collect the information, so you can personalise the email.

If you are going to personalise your emails, spend the time making sure you get it right. If you are not going to check that your mailmerge is working correctly then you are better off not using it to begin with. Use Hi <firstname>, or Hi <incorrect name> is far worse than just Hi.

You can also play with personalization in your subject lines by testing the use of first names and full name. This will help to improve your open rate. As demonstrated by Amazon who uses this to great success.

A possible situation to use this is if your email recipient has recently downloaded some content, personalize the email by thanking them with their name in the subject line.

Not Utilising A/B Split Tests
‘You should never send everybody the same email’ – Seth Godin

Email marketing revolves around testing and measuring. A myth that people new to the game need to see through is that A/B split tests have to be split 50/50 in order to be worthwhile. This is just plain wrong, you could start by splitting 90/10 and measuring the results before rolling out to a larger percentage.

What you test is ultimately up to you and your goals with email marketing. A word of caution however, is not to be one of those people who take it to the extreme and test the CTA button colour when they have 500 recipients. This is worrying about a +1% change when you should be spending all your time on the actions which produce a +60% change. I assume you are not working at Amazon or eBay so 1% improvement do not result in million dollar results.

Here are some of the initial split tests you could run:

  • Subject line

  • HTML vs Plain text

  • From address / Sender name: business name vs team members name

  • % discount vs $ discount

Here are the results of a test we did with our previous ecommerce business:

A: {FNAME} you asked and we listened. Dreambaby Safety Gate’s now available

B: {FNAME} my mum said you need this…

Subject line B had 26% higher open rate and a 5% higher CTR. The other point to keep in mind is Subject line A still had a respectable 32% open rate and 10% CTR, which comes back to my point earlier of having the permission and trust of your email recipients.

Lack of Behaviour Based Triggers
This is mostly geared towards online retail businesses as they will get the most from behaviour based trigger emails. Amazon is the best example of this. Just the other day I was searching for new gear to wear at the gym, however I got distracted and ended up leaving without buying anything. Within 24 hours I had this email in my inbox:

The perfect reminder that I still was yet to get new gym gear. I clicked back through to Amazon and purchased my gear. Now granted I do not purchase or even open the email every time Amazon emails me with recommendations based on my browsing or purchasing history, however this time I did.

We implemented a similar campaign to the above at MyNappies, which emailed mums after their purchases with recommendations of other items based on their order. For example if a mum had ordered new feeding bottles, the recommendations would be for a bottle steriliser, cleaning equipment and a drying rack. We saw great responses to these recommendation emails as they were shown products which were highly relevant to their interests. We set this campaign up using the Vero service.

When setting up your campaign do not think of it as a sales increasing exercise but as a value add for your audience. If you make the recommendation rules as accurate as possible, not only will your relationship deepen with your audience but your sales will increase.

Not Mobile Friendly
I should not have to address this issue, however still to this day I receive emails which are not formatted for a mobile or tablet device. More of us are reading our emails on a mobile rather than a desktop email client. Research by Litmus showed 47% of email is now opened on a mobile device.

When it comes to making your emails mobile friendly just listen to Nike – Just Do It.

  • Brendan Wright

    This is golden material Toby. The section on behaviour based triggers alone is worth the read.

    It makes me somewhat sad the last section even has to be addressed these days… yet you were right to include it I still receive emails only optimised for pc.

    • Toby Schulz

      Thanks Brendan. It is something many businesses (particularly ecommerce) fail to take advantage of.

  • Eli

    I couldn’t agree more about the significance of Seth Godin’s quote. The idea of permisson marketing is so simple once you learn the concept/idea you wonder why you didn’t think of it the same way yourself.

    This has been your best post yet guys, keep it coming.

    • Toby Schulz

      Thanks Eli, we appreciate the support.

  • Graham Koan

    Behaviour based triggers is a tricky one from my experiences. As you mentioned Amazon does a fantastic job of it, but I have no had positive experiences with it at all. I have tried Other people who bought X also bought these… but got no sales.

    • Toby Schulz

      Graham, have you tried starting with a cart abandonment email follow up? This is a good starting point. Personalised recommendation emails like the one you mentioned can be tricky to begin with, however as you collect more data about buying behaviours you should be able to improve upon it.

  • Sharon

    Some of the best material I’ve seen on email marketing Toby. Study of Amazon’s email marketing should be required by every business owner/marketer.

    • Toby Schulz

      Cheers Sharon, I really appreciate the feedback.

  • Jessica

    I saved the link for this post around 3 weeks ago and just got around to reading it. My hopes weren’t high because as you mentioned there is a whole lot out there on email marketing.. This post is phenomenal.

    It is so actionable and you included real life examples, I want to hug you. I am going to implement the cart abandonment email right now!!!

    • Toby Schulz

      Awesome! Thank you Jessica. We knew it would be tough to have material that stood out on this topic, glad you think we did.

  • AndyCorrello07

    Enjoyed the longer post guys. These feel significantly more actionable then some of the shorter ones.

    • Toby Schulz

      Thanks Andy, that is our thoughts exactly!