Email Best Practice or Recipe for Disaster?

Email TipsYou strive to improve the performance of your email marketing. You test exhaustively. You pore over every benchmark and research study.

Subject lines, call to action, offer, design, images. You examine everything in your bid for more opens, more clicks, more leads and more sales.

These recent statistics and anecdotes point to a clear way to increase email open and click rates, but read on before you decide to test these approaches.

  • Personalizing email subject lines dramatically increased open rates, according to this post from Eloqua.
  • Saying Thank You improves open rates and click rates. Shelly Kramer (@shellykramer) has a nice summary of the result and one potential reason here.
  • “Hey…” was the best subject line in Barack Obama’s fundraising emails. Copyblogger has a great discussion of this in the appropriately titled blog post Hey…

Umm, no DUH!

When you make a marketing email look like an email from a personal acquaintance or a confirmation message, of course you get a better open rate and a better opportunity to make your pitch!

Here’s the rub: you are mimicking a personal email to drive these results but you are not delivering an actual personal message.

Spammers figured out this trick years ago. Look at your spam folder, you will see numerous emails confirming your order, information or comment and you will likely see a few that still use your email username in the subject line in a feeble attempt at personalization.

Do you really want to copy email spam tactics for your B2B email marketing program? No.

Email Marketing 101

Your audience is gold, or at least the closest thing you have to it. Treasure your audience, value your audience. Do everything in your power to become treasured by your audience.

Your goal is to make them want to open every email you send, before you even send it.

If you turn to trickery instead, how long until they unsubscribe or just tune you out? Not long at all…

Your Turn

Is email personalization a true best practice or a tactic that will backfire on marketers that don’t dramatically increase the value of their email at the same time? Share your opinion in the comments below or with me on Twitter (@wittlake).

Image by planeta via Flickr

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  • Hi Eric,

    Good point – Bait and Switch never works.

    As for personalization, I think it’s in how you define it. For example, if you use personas to inform your content strategy, then a “relevant” subject line could be considered personalization.

    If I’m trying to figure out how to fit a square peg in a round hole, then a subject line such as “Best Practices for Square Pegs” reads like it’s “personalized” just for me and will catch my attention. A lame subject line and example, but you get my drift ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Hi Ardath! Nice to see you. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Hi Ardath, thanks for the comment! I do get your drift and I definitely agree. I think the rub here is in definitions (and some of the rant tone that came out in editing).

      The issue I have is when marketers use personalization to mimic an email from someone you know. Like the example Dianna referenced in her comment, promotional emails increasingly seem more like personal emails, or at least emails from acquantances. However, the advice from the industry when you just look at benchmarks points marketers to this cheap personalization and mimicry.

      Increasingly it seems to me that marketers are easily led astray, I’m worried this is one more area where that will happen.

      Thanks for helping me to clarify!

      • I do get your point. In fact, I’m seeing it used from marketers that should know better, such as emails promoting a marketing industry event. I have the same reaction as Dianna. Plus, they should know better! I wanted to offer an alternative view, stir the pot. Ah, but you know that about me ๐Ÿ™‚

        You toned down a rant? Sheesh, I’m worried about you!

    • Ardath – ‘zactly. And getting that right requires intelligence, wisdom, context, savvy. <– Hard to automate that kind of intelligence ๐Ÿ™‚

      Eric. Great post.

  • Eric, I received an email yesterday from someone — the subject line made me believe I was supposed to know this person so I opened it. I didn’t know the person and had to do a search. This person is a social media guru with tens of thousands of followers. I’m still not sure why I received the email — which was informing me of a change of gigs. It felt rather sleazy.

    • Dianna, this is a great example, thanks for sharing. Unfortunately this person improved the open rate at the expense of his or her reputation.

      How many marketers are being led down the same path by recent stats and anecdotes? I don’t know, but based on how I see marketers adopt other practices based on stats like this, I’m worried about the potential impact.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment and share your example!

  • tomdebaere


    When people already have a relationship with the receiver of the e-mail, sometimes it’s just fine to have an automated e-mail to them. Examples are invitations for an event, a tradeshow etc… or just a plain thank you message for visiting you at your tradeshow, a follow up mail that their request for a quote has been received, a thank you for participating to your webinar, etc… (talking B2B here)

    Certainly in the advent of marketing automation systems, combined with some common sense on how to apply this, you get a powerful efficiency boost to your marketing and communications team.

    What I always recommend is that the personalised email must be actually written by the sender. Replies will also go back to the actual author of the e-mail.

    Hoping to add to the discussion.

    Best regards,

    Tom De Baere

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