How to Not Suck at Email Marketing with DJ Waldow [PODCAST]

by · March 15, 20136 comments

Welcome to the latest episode of Explore Marketing Uncensored, Social Media Explorer’s official podcast. Explore Marketing Uncensored is your one-way ticket into the twisted minds of some of the greatest digital marketing and social media thought leaders around. The goal: to provide marketing executives with the knowledge they need to be rock stars in their organization.

In this week’s episode, host Jason Spooner and SME President Nichole Kelly sit down with DJ Waldow, co-author of The Rebel’s Guide To Email Marketing, to discuss how to not suck at email marketing. Guided by DJ’s eight plus years of experience in this space, this podcast episode provides actionable takeaways for improving your email marketing campaign, as well as some crystal cut examples of what characterizes bad email marketing. Oh, and if you’ve ever considered buying an email list, you’re going to want to listen closely to what DJ Waldow has to say on the subject near the end of the episode. His answer might surprise you.

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Show notes

The Rebel’s Guide To Email Marketing – Book co-authored by DJ Waldow

The Work Talk Show – DJ Waldow’s podcast

Chris Brogan – Mentioned during the podcast

Chris Penn – Mentioned during the podcast

FW: BREAK THE RULES: USING GIMMICKY SUBJECT LINES – Post on waldowsocial.com discussed during podcast

Marketo – Company’s email marketing practices discussed during the podcast

Content Marketing Institute – Company’s email marketing practices discussed during the podcast

Ben & Jerry’s UK – Company’s email marketing practices discussed during the podcast

Fab.com – Company’s email marketing practices discussed during the podcast

Chipotle – Company’s email marketing practices discussed during the podcast

Sprint – Company’s email marketing practices discussed during the podcast

CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 – Law governing email marketing practices

Can’t Listen Right Now? Complete Transcript below:

Announcer: You’re listing to Explore Marketing Uncensored: everything you need to know about marketing, and a few things you didn’t. Now, here’s your host, Jason Spooner.

Spooner: Welcome to Explore Marketing Uncensored, our weekly podcast here at Social Media Explorer. My name is Jason Spooner, your host. Joining me today, I have Nichole Kelly, my co-host and co-partner in crime. Nichole, how are you doing?

Nichole: Hello. I am awesome sauce. How are you?

Spooner: I’m doing pretty good. Thanks for asking. Special guests on the program today: DJ Waldow. DJ, how are you doing?

DJ: I’m good, and my dog also says hello. She likes to bark, usually right when I start recording things. So that’s Morocco, and I’m doing awesome as well.

Spooner: Awesome.

Nichole: Hi, Morocco.

Spooner: Hey, Morocco. Everyone say hi to Morocco.

DJ: Yeah, she can’t hear you.

Spooner: There it is. So DJ, you’re the co-author of the book The Rebel’s Guide To Email Marketing, that you co-wrote with Jason Falls. You also have your very own podcast, The Work Talk Show, which people can go to and view and listen at worktalkshow.com. DJ, thanks again for coming to the program.

DJ: Thank you for having me. Let’s rock it.

Spooner: Awesome. So as the co-author of The Rebel’s Guide To Email Marketing, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that you know a thing or two about email marketing.

DJ: Well, I have been—you could say that. I’ve been doing email marketing—that was air quotes, “doing”—for a little—just about eight years now. I started in 2005, working for a company in North Carolina called Bronto, back when they had 12 or 13 employees. And now they’re, I don’t know, over 150. And then I worked out in Nichole’s neck of the woods, in the Baltimore area, for Blue Sky Factory for a few years, and then launched my own company, Waldow Social, about a year and a half ago. So I’ve been kind of living in the email space for quite awhile now. Eight years is kind of—I guess eight out of my 37 years on this planet.

Spooner: So I need your help on this, because I cannot wrap my head around this idea. Email is not a new form of digital communication, right? It’s not like a platform that just launched last year or the year before last, where we’re still trying to get our head around. Email is like the granddaddy of all digital marketing communications. So why are there businesses that are just flat out doing it wrong?

DJ: Well, I think part of it is that there’s just the—there’s a lot of the old school mentality when it comes to—I think marketing in general. Forget email for a second; just general marketing. And you guys know this, because you see that translated to social media marketing too. I mean, people are just doing—basically taking the same crap that they’ve been doing for years, that has sort of worked, and just translating it to a different medium. So it’s like that crappy ad that you put—Super Bowl ad that you had, you know—instead of the crappy Super Bowl ad, you just take that same ad and you put it into an email. The same, you know—just kind of switch the format a little bit. Or you send a tweet out that talks about that ad. I mean, that’s not really—I think that’s the biggest issue, is that people are just really stuck in their ways. And for the most part, I don’t know why—I see this change happening slowly, but I don’t really see it overall. I mean, companies forget that there’s humans that are on the other end that are receiving these messages. And so a lot of these—and I’ll go to email specifically—a lot of the email marketing messages are really just, frankly, dry and boring, and too long. And you know, as marketers, I guess somebody thinks it’s interesting, or else they wouldn’t send it. But—

Spooner: The one guy.

DJ: Right, but I mean, you know, I always think this is a good test. When you’re setting up your email marketing campaigns, test it with a couple people that are in your industry. People that are not in your industry. Would they open it? Would they find it interesting? Would you open it? And I’m not suggesting that you’re necessarily your own market. But I think too often we just kind of go through the motions and we’re not thinking that how we’re communicating really does matter. And again, that there’s humans on the other end, and they’re—we all want to be talked to like humans, not like we’re robots.

Spooner: No, I think that’s a great point. I guess maybe let’s take a step back and just identify: what are things that are wrong? What would you consider to be wrong in an email, or bad practices, or overblown clichés?

DJ: The fact that I co-wrote this book, The Rebel’s Guide To Email Marketing, we actually—what Jason and I do in the book is we take all of the myths of email, or a handful of them at least, and dispel them. And basically people have said for years, you can’t use the word “free” in the subject line. Well, the reality is you can. And it works for a lot of people. I mean, just go to your inbox today and you’ll see the word “free.” And so I think it kind of—I’d be hesitant to answer the question about, what should people always be doing, because the reality is you do what’s best for your audience. However, I think you have to take some of those established rules—and I know this is audio, so you can’t see me air quoting—but you have to take some of those “established rules” and just try to break them, and see what works for your audience. I mean, the beauty of email marketing, unlike most other channels, is that you can test so easily. You can test one subject line against another subject line. You can test one creative versus another creative, and you see what performs better. And depends on what your metrics for performance are. If you want people to open your email, you’re testing subject lines. If you want people to click through on something, just like you do on a website, you’re testing different versions of the creative or the copy. And I just think too often people are—it’s an afterthought. It’s like, “We’ve just got to get this email out the door. Let’s just send this email and hope it works.” And they never go back and say, “Well, let’s test to see what’s best for our audience.” That probably didn’t answer your question at all, but it sounded good.

Spooner: It’s good point.

Nichole: It was a great politician’s answer.

DJ: Thank you.

Nichole: I think one of the challenges is that we call it marketing. I think that we get so wrapped up in the fact that because we call it marketing, we have to talk like marketers or we have to have a call to action or we have to be sales-y in this promotional email, ’cause we’re promoting something. That we forgot that there are human beings on the other end reading this, and one of the things—I know you and I have had some conversations about this, and we may have to agree to disagree—but I honestly think that, why does every company have to use an HTML template for all of their emails? You know? It’s not saying that it shouldn’t have HTML so that we can track links and clicks and all that kind of stuff. But does everything have to be this overdesigned template? Because the minute that I see that, I can tell you, as a consumer of email marketing. The minute I see that I have to download images, I immediately mark it as spam in my inbox and get rid of it. What do you think?

DJ: Yeah. Well, that’s actually one of the parts we talked about in the book, is that that is sort of a rule or best practice, if you will. That your email should be HTML or should be pretty and all this. And we’ve got examples in the book about, there’s a lot of people who send out emails that look like—you said, they’re HTML messages, but they basically look like text messages or mostly text messages. And they perform really, really well. You know, people reply to them. People respond. People click. If there are links in there, they click. But they’re not necessarily pretty, and those ones tend to not come—it’s interesting though. They tend to not come from big companies. They tend to come more from individuals. So in fact a lot of people in the social space—Chris Brogan or Chris Penn, those names come to mind right away. They send out emails that don’t have a lot of images, don’t have a lot of fluff to them. And they get really high open rates and really high engagement rates. So I actually agree with you on that. I think—but it depends on your audience. So let me give you another example of this. The other side of that is, if you’re a retailer who is selling—just looking around my office here. If you’re selling something basically that has some visual component to it—so you’re Gap and you’re selling shirts, you could test and see if text-mostly emails work for you. But you want people to see that shirt and, “Oh yeah, that’s exactly the shirt that will fit me perfectly and I’ve got to buy that now.” So I agree. I mean, you’ve got to see what works best for your audience, definitely.

Nichole: Well, I think that that’s a good example. I mean, I think that there’s a place for HTML emails. If I’m doing a promotion for a T-shirt at Gap, or some kind of a new spring line, then I think it totally makes sense to have an HTML design, so I can see the images. Because, as a consumer, I want to see what the line looks like, right? It doesn’t work in text. But when I’m sending a thank-you message or I’m sending a customer service message, I don’t need this glorified HTML template trying to push me to another product, because at that point, I feel like it becomes impersonal.

Spooner: I think it’s a little bit of both. When you want to do a promotional email—say I wanted to send out a coupon that drives foot traffic—I’m going to put it into an HTML template and it’s going to send out and it’s going to look pretty, so someone prints it out and brings it back. If I’m sending out a newsletter that has a ton of content—you know, I’m sending out my quarterly update for my company—I don’t want to put that so much in a text email, because it’s going to be hard to lay out, it’s going to be hard to format, it’s going to be hard to read. But if I’m just shooting a simple thank-you email to a single customer, I would absolutely think about doing that just through a text email versus an HTML.

Nichole: I just want to give you an example. First of all, we can talk about why you should not take business cards and put them onto your email list, but this happens to me a lot. I go to a conference, somebody gets my business card, and they put me on an email list. And so I’m on a lot of email lists for software companies, and particularly marketing automation companies. I think they’re the quintessential people who tend to do this to me. And not that they put me on their lists, but I send them an email and all of the sudden I become part of this drip campaign. And it’s a drip campaign that is designed to get me to buy or to get me to do a demo or whatever, which I respect as a marketer. But it’s in this tacky HTML template, and so because it’s in this tacky HTML template, I’m like, this is an automated email. When if it just looked like the salesperson just reached out to me, ’cause they were really thinking about what I cared about, I probably would respond at a much higher rate.

DJ: Yeah. I’ll just give the devil’s advocate side of that too though, that there’s been a little bit of a movement recently back to the, I guess what I would call gimmicky type emails. So they’re basically—they’re an email with the subject line will have FWD or FD for forward, or RE, and you’re seeing more and more. In fact, interestingly enough, I just gone one recently from a marketing automation company, Marketo, that did—

Nichole: You’re just calling them right out, wow.

DJ: No, but actually—honestly, I blogged about it. I’ll send you guys the link. You can put it in the show notes. It’s not—I’m not calling them out for a bad thing. I mention them because it was an interesting tactic. And it’s something that’s gimmicky. I think that kind of thing, just like any other gimmick, can work in the short term, because it gets your attention. Right? When you see RE, and in this particular example, they actually showed the email they had sent me before. So it really was something I think they had sent me before. But it wasn’t really a reply. I mean, it was definitely a gimmicky tactic. But it caught my attention enough for me to open it. Now, I don’t count myself in that category, ’cause I’m looking for stuff like that intentionally. So I don’t know. I never heard back from them how successful it was. Actually, not to call somebody out, but Joe Pulizzi from Content Marketing Institute, he did something similar and I actually asked—he got back to me, but I never got any stats from him about how successful it was. But you know, those things can work in the short term. It’s like using symbols in subject lines. You’re seeing this more and more, where airlines are using a little airplane symbol, or a heart for Valentine’s Day or something like that. It can work in the short term. It can get people’s attention. It stands out in the inbox. But it’s not a long term strategy, because eventually it looks like everything else. It ends up looking gimmicky. I mean, be honest, Nichole. At some point, even if it’s not in a template, even if it’s just a plain text email from a salesperson, you still know it’s automated, right?

Nichole: Yeah.

DJ: I mean, you’re still, at some point—

Nichole: Yeah, I do know that it’s automated, but I guess it’s the difference of the perception, is that when I see—here’s just as a consumer of this. When I see the HTML template, in my mind, it goes that it doesn’t need an immediate response, and so I filter it in a different folder, for processing later, that I get to far less often than if it looks like, “Hey Nichole, I sent you this email, or I sent you this article that I thought you might care about.” I actually put that in a different folder. So I think it depends on the person who’s on the other end of it. But for those of us who are trying to get less and less email, and less corporate-style emails, they tend to fall at the bottom of the list. So I think that the question that companies can ask is, “How do I get into the box that gets processed today, versus a week or a month from now?

DJ: Well, you know, if we do this show again in a few months, assuming I get invited back—depends how things go, I guess, right? But—[LAUGHTER]

Spooner: You’re about a seven so far.

DJ: —just probably next week, implementing this with a client of mine, where we’re working on their abandoned shopping cart series. And they have—Nichole, you and I talked about this the other day. But they have been sending this email, that basically somebody abandons their shopping cart, and they send an email five days later. It’s an ugly, boring plain text email with one link in it at some point that says, “click here to complete your order.” And they have pretty good—not terrible, but pretty good conversion rates on those emails. What we just did is we just redesigned it so it goes into a template. Now, it’s not a crazy template. It’s nothing with things flashing everywhere, but it’s got their header, it’s got their logo, branding. It’s got some creative text. Well, hopefully it’s creative. I think it’s creative. And then in the center, it’s got the product description and then a button above the product and a button below that says “Complete your order now.” So it’s definitely more market-y. It’s definitely more HTML. But the difference is, and what I’m hoping to prove with this email, is that a clearer call to action—very clear, here’s what you do. Click this button now and then you can finish your order. Now, it’ll be—won’t be a completely fair test, ’cause we’re also changing the subject lines around. We’re also changing the frequency, so instead of once after five days, the first one goes out after two hours. A reminder goes out after two days, and a final reminder goes out after a week. But the template was definitely part of that, to make it a little bit more—just a little bit more oomph to it, if that makes sense.

Nichole: Well, I think that one of the reasons—so I think obviously in e-commerce, I think that it makes sense to have those kind of very pointed HTML templates. And I’m not even arguing that you shouldn’t have them. I think that we should just question with each email whether or not it makes sense. But I think when you have something that’s like a “continue now” or “click here to register” or to do something, I think that a button makes a crap ton of sense. Because a lot of times, I’m looking at that email on my phone, and so if there is a really clear button, it makes it easy for me as a person who’s consuming the email to actually use it. So I think that it definitely—it’s different in every case, and I think that companies just need to kind of take a step back and think about who’s receiving it, why they’re receiving it, what they want to achieve from it, and like you said, would I open that? Would my friends open that? Would our target audience open it? And then, is it a good user experience? You know, have I made it really hard for them?

DJ: Well, let’s take the guesswork out of it. I mean, you could easily take that and do a 50-50 split test. Most email programs will—most programs will allow you to do this easily. Where you take the—one is an HTML—I mean, all other variables are the same, right? The subject line is the same. The time of day you send it, the day of the week, the actual copy within the template is the same. But you take one that’s mostly text with a call to action, one that’s mostly HTML, and you see what gets the highest clicks. You see what gets the highest conversions. I mean, there’s your answer. And by the way, a lot of email providers, you can do that on every single email.

Nichole: Right.

DJ: Now, of course, you’re now talking about adding a little bit more work to your day, right? Because now you’ve got to create two different versions of this. But there’s no reason you couldn’t take the pretty HTML version, grab all the text out of it, strip it out, copy/paste/send a split test and be done.

Nichole: So there’s two other things that I kind of want to talk about, that talk about taking time out of your day. The first is, I want to talk about where email is falling on the priority list and the opportunity that email presents. So what I’m seeing—and it’s a point of frustration for me, frankly—I see a lot of companies that are going after the shiny object syndrome, and they want to be in social. And they’re focusing on social. They’re putting resources behind social, which as a digital marketing agency, I appreciate, because that helps my business too. But their email is—they have not stopped and said, “Hey, why don’t we fix our house first? Let’s look at our website. Let’s look at our email. Let’s go be awesome at those things, and then let’s add it on.” Instead, it’s like, “We’re going to suck at everything, instead of being great in the stuff that actually can drive short-term business results.”

DJ: I agree. — Oh wait, do you want more commentary? This goes back to the very start of this conversation, is that people are taking the same crappy stuff and just pushing it through a different channel. It’s sort of like—to talk about social for a second, and I know you guys will appreciate this, it’s like that idea that social media doesn’t make you a better marketer all of the sudden, just because you have a great Twitter following. If your content sucks, if your product sucks, if your service sucks, social media actually makes you suck more, I think. And I would argue email makes you suck more. If people hate your product already, and you just push that product through email, you’re going to get turned off. People get turned off more and more. So I agree with you. I think you’ve got to start with the things–now that being said, you’ve got to do what’s working best for you. Now, email doesn’t work for everybody. I mean, not all audiences are—there’s definitely some—I think it was Ben & Jerry’s a couple years ago. I think it was Ben & Jerry’s in the UK. They got rid of their email marketing program entirely and just focused on social. Now, I think it’s a terrible move, but it might be working for them. So I think you do have to find what works best for you. But too often, I think when it comes to email, people give up too soon. And they say, “Oh, we can just focus all of our efforts on social.” You can do some testing in social, but it’s just a lot—I think email is so clear cut. You know exactly what’s working and when.

Nichole: Yeah. So here’s a question for you. I think that a lot of companies probably look at their email and they’re like, “Oh, that’s not me.” Right? “That’s not me. That’s somebody else. That’s somebody else’s problem. I’m doing awesome. Everything I do is awesome.” I think that in order for a lot of companies to realize the potential that it could have, if they actually went and started optimizing their results, we need to quantify that a little bit. So give me an idea of what the actual results could be if somebody just spent a few more hours on their email program.

DJ: For example, and I’ll just go back to this client I’m working with, ’cause it’s very, very top of mind for me. They’ve been sort of going through the motions with email. They’ve got a list of over a million email addresses, and it’s working. They have really high open rates. They have really high click through rates. But the example, again, is very top of mind. It’s this abandoned shopping cart series. It’s working for them. They’re getting people to click through and complete their orders. I’m telling them that with some of the changes we’re making, our goal is to double what they’re doing today. So just to throw out a random number, let’s say the conversion rate on those is 10%. We’re going to get to 20%. But it’s not a ton of effort. I mean, we’re talking about—in fact, this is an interesting point to talk about, I think, is that people have talked about more and more—you see these practitioners saying, “We’re sending too much email. People’s inboxes are overcrowded.” Well, you know what? My recommendation sometimes is to send more email. Send more. But make that email targeted. Make that email so that people actually want to open it and it’s relevant to them. So the abandoned shopping cart, I think if you’re in retail, if you’re e-commerce, abandoned shopping cart is one of the easiest, quickest wins. You can easily take money that is just sitting there in a shopping cart and convert it quickly. The problem is most people are either not doing it at all, not spending the time to do it, or they’re just sending one email. And so I think you’ve got to send a minimum of three different emails to kind of kick people. I mean, think about as consumers, as just individuals, how many emails you take and you delete. You delete, and then OK, there’s something about that email that grabs your attention. So I think that that’s a great starting point. If you’re—you know, your email’s like your home base. I mean, you can take those email addresses no matter where you go. I’ve got my own company now. If I decide to fold up shop and start another company, those email addresses are email addresses I can take with me, I can continue to market to. So I think there’s a lot of opportunity that people just—like you said, they just go to the next thing right away. They say, “Email’s not working for us right now, so let’s try out social and see if that works.”

Spooner:  See, I kind of view email as a different part of the whole sales process. Social, you have some engagement. You also have a lot of looky loos. Email, for me to get your email address, for me to get it legally and the right way, you’re going to have to opt in. You’re going to have to double opt in. So to me, you’ve already raised your hand, saying, “Hey, I’m a little bit more interested in your offer and your content.” So I want to invest more time in that. I want to look at the data that I’m getting. I want to make sure I’m sending out more information, because you know what? These guys have already said, “Hey, I’m more likely to buy from you than just someone that just came by my Facebook, liked it one time, and haven’t seen in a year.”

DJ: You can see very clearly what people are doing. This actually—this news came out, I think, last week, but it got published just this week. Fab.com just decided to—I can send you guys the link too, but they basically sent an email to a segment of their list who was not engaging at all, and just said, “Hey, just wanted to let you know we opted you out of our newsletter. Sounds like you weren’t opening, you weren’t interested. We just opted you out.” And there’s a whole discussion around that. Because hopefully they tied some purchase data to it and didn’t just opt people out who hadn’t bought anything.

Nichole: Well, doesn’t it make sense from a deliverability standpoint though? Because if people aren’t opening and clicking on those emails, then it affects your deliverability?

DJ: Yeah, yes. It can affect your deliverability. More and more, that’s true, especially with when it comes to opens. As your open rate continues to go down, ISPs like Yahoo and Gmail and AOL and such are starting to deliver fewer and fewer emails to the inbox as a result of that. So from a deliverability standpoint, that definitely makes sense. But the point is, there’s still—they’re trying different—I guess what I’m trying to say is they’re trying different tactics. They’re trying to see what works best. And I think you’re going to see more and more companies follow suit there and start to trim off their list of people who are not engaged.

Spooner: And I want to add to that real fast that if you’re worried that you’re over-spamming people, and that you’re sending too many newsletters, give them the option. Macy’s did this about a year and a half ago or something. It was a brilliant option. Give them the option. If they’ve got to hit unsubscribe because they feel you’re spamming them, ask them point blank on that unsubscribe page: is it because we’re sending too many emails? How many emails would you like to receive: one a week? One a month?

DJ: I want to get back to that Fab example for a second, because I think it brings up a couple interesting things. What a lot of marketers are not doing well. You talk about all the data that you have. What email marketers are not doing well is using that data. So instead of just sending email out to everybody, you’ve got different segments. You can tell very clearly with email who’s opening, who’s clicking, who’s buying. And taking those different segments, and they get different messages. So you talk about with marketing automation, that’s what marketing automation’s really good at, is depending on where you are in the funnel, and even adding to that, not only where you are in the funnel, but what actions you’re taking. So you could be somewhere down the sales process, but now you’ve viewed a webinar or you’ve downloaded an e-book. That puts you on a little bit of a different path all of the sudden. And using that data intelligently, and so that works with marketing automation, with B2B companies. It works for B2C. Using that data to really send targeted messages to—so not everybody gets the exact same email.

Spooner: No, I think that’s great.

Nichole: So here’s something that I think is really interesting. One of the things that absolutely drives me batshit crazy is when I go to a website and they have some stupid offer to subscribe to a newsletter. And here’s why. There is very little chance that I am going to fill out that subscribe form for a newsletter, because who wants another newsletter in their inbox, right? I feel like we’re being lazy marketers when we put a subscribe box that says, “Hey, sign up for our newsletter,” versus something that is a content offering that also includes an opt in. Am I just like a jerk, or is that annoying to you guys too?

Spooner: It just depends. If I’m signing up for coupons, if that’s part of the newsletter, or promos, or maybe it’s a company where it’s a charity, and I actually want to hear what they’re doing, I’ve got no problem signing up for a newsletter for Charity Water, for example. And I have. No promise of content. I’m actually interested in hearing what they’re saying.

DJ: What am I going to get out of this content? If it’s e-commerce, it’s a little bit easier, because you can say you’re going to get free discounted deals, offers, blah blah blah. If it’s B2B, you better give me something, some reason for me to want to get your content, some incentive. So you’re seeing more and more—I’ve tested this here and there, where you did get an e-book as your incentive to get the newsletter. But you’ve got to tell somebody what’s in it for them, and I kind of agree that the newsletter concept is a little bit outdated still. I mean, what is it? You’re right. Why do I want to get more email? But answer the question. What’s in it for me? What am I going to get out of it? Is it going to be content—in fact, I’ve just—still editing this document, or this blog post I’m sending in, article I’m sending in for Entrepreneur, and it’s like, people sign up for emails for, I think, one of four reasons. Let me see if I can get these right. You’re either going to save money—so I’m going to promise to save you money, to save you time, or to make you smarter. So I guess that’s three. But I think those are the three things, so if you can promise that as part of your opt-in process, you’re going to be that much better off.

Jason: Cool. I guess then, just to close it off real fast on this topic, what’s the worst—the one worst thing that you see in the email space? Like if someone came to you and were like, “I want to do this,” you would be like, “Oh no. That’s the most horrible thing you can do”?

DJ: Do not reply. It drives me nuts when I see a company that—there’s two different ways this plays out. One is, the email address is literally donotreply@chipotle.com. In fact, I think that is their reply-to address. Not just because I had a Chipotle burrito right before this call. But donotreply@–so that’s one of my biggest pet peeves. And then also, within the email in fact, I blogged about this at one point. It was from Sprint. I got this Sprint—every time I pay my Sprint bill online, I get a confirmation email which happens to be plain text and pretty boring and ugly looking and tells me absolutely nothing other than I paid my bill. But it says in there very clearly, “this mailbox is not monitored, so please don’t reply to it at all.” I mean, to me, that as a marketer, you’re basically saying, “We don’t give a crap about you as a customer at all, so don’t bother replying.” And to add to that—I was out of town all last week in Mexico, and I set an out of office auto responder, and it’s amazing what happened, is because—you know, when you kick off those auto-responders, it then sends a message back to that person, right? Saying you’re out of office. I can’t tell you how many messages I got back saying, from that same company, saying, “this mailbox is not monitored, sorry. If you want to talk—” and these are from major, major companies. And I understand—by the way, I understand the fact that you don’t necessarily—you don’t have the staff to respond to every single email. But you have to monitor those mailboxes. One, people could be replying back to say, “I want to unsubscribe.” By the way, if you don’t unsubscribe them, you’re breaking CAN-SPAM law. And two, there’s a huge opportunity there. Somebody might respond back and say, “Really love your product. Having trouble buying it. How do I get it?” And you’re not monitoring that mailbox? That’s missed sales. I could talk about that for a long time, but Nichole I feel like has something to say on this.

Nichole: Yeah. I think there’s probably two things that drive me crazy: lack of creativity and treating email like it’s just another channel and we’re going to just pump this email out, and not taking the time to try to even entertain or educate or inform. That really drives me crazy. And using that kind of standard marketing language drives me nuts. The other is not having the segmentation set up, so that if I do go to unsubscribe, that I can subscribe down. I think when it’s just a blanket, you have to unsubscribe, just stop getting this type of email, it drives me crazy. And there is a company that—I can’t remember—it’s like a customer service magazine, I think, where I actually want their content, but they won’t let me unsubscribe to their advertiser content that they send in between. That drives me nuts, ’cause I really don’t care about their advertisers. I really only cared about their publication. And so I had to unsubscribe to all of their content.

Spooner: That’s a shame. So I guess my thing—and this might seem a little Email 101, but I have to say, because I still run into this, I still have conversations with individuals that think this is a good idea. Do not buy your email list. Do not go to a publisher and buy their emails. Do not go to a Bradstreet or a Brooks. Don’t go to these places. They have the list from the days—it comes from the days of direct mail, where you would go and you would buy someone’s physical email address to email or to send a postcard, or to send a package, or to send some sort of collateral, direct mail. These same publishers are also selling email addresses. Do not buy these email addresses. It’s illegal. It’s against CAN-SPAM.

Nichole: I can even get over the ethics, but the reality is, they don’t work. So why are you going to do it? You’re going to get a 0.1% click through rate, and you’re not going to get any engagement. But you’re right, people still do it.

Spooner: And further, you risk having your entire email server blacklisted. So you’re @microsoft.com. You buy an email list, you send it out, enough people complain. Suddenly your entire email platform is just done.

DJ: It actually is not illegal under CAN-SPAM. It’s not illegal to buy a list. It’s not illegal, believe it or not, to send unsolicited email. CAN-SPAM Act does not talk at all about sending unsolicited email. Now, I wouldn’t advocate for it. I think, for the most part, it’s a tactic—it’s a short term tactic that is very, very rarely is effective. But I like to leave the non-lawyer, always wanted to be a lawyer, side of me says there’s always room to do some of that stuff. Again, I’m not suggesting that you should. I’m just saying, to discount it outright—there are ways to do it smart, and when I say smart, I don’t mean going out and buying a list for a penny per email address, but there’s ways to do that in certain niches that can work.

Spooner: And I want to take it back. It is not illegal, right? But how are you going to actually email that list?

DJ: Unfortunately, the way that you actually know that it happens is if something bad happens as a result. If an IP address gets blacklisted, you can usually trace that back to something that—again, not illegal, but something that they—an email marketing company did, that they maybe should not have. So it’s funny. That was probably the most controversial section of the book that we wrote. And I’ve probably said it four times, but I’ll say it a fifth. I don’t—neither Jason nor I advocate for that, but there can be times and places for list purchase.

Nichole: I’d like to know those times and places, I guess. If you are purchasing a list of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, and you’re trying to get their email address for a targeted campaign that you’re doing, you’re going to pay a lot of money for that list, and it’s probably going to be a good list. What I see more often is “we’re going to pay a penny an email, and we’re going to blast 100,000 people, and we’re going to hope that we get $10,000 in sales from it.” And that’s what I have—I have an ethics issue there.

DJ: Yeah, exactly. And that is the exact example we use in the book, in fact, is the difference.

Nichole: Wow. I must have read it.

Spooner:  All right. Well that’s our show today on Explore Marketing Uncensored. Big thanks to DJ Waldow for joining us. Nichole Kelly, always a pleasure to have you. My name is Jason Spooner. Until next time.

 

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About Jason Spooner

Jason Spooner

Jason Spooner is the Director of Client Services for SME Digital, the digital marketing extension of Social Media Explorer. During his career as a digital strategist, Jason has worked with a variety of large and small companies including: NAPA AUTO PARTS, NASCAR, Kraft, Wal-Mart and Wrangler. His passion: creating powerful digital marketing strategies that drive results. Oh, and he does improv comedy. Follow his antics @jaspooner.

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