Your Competitors’ Emails Are Better Than Yours

We all do things we wouldn’t like someone to do to us. We cut people off in traffic, pay bills late, and forget birthdays and anniversaries. It’s not because we’re bad people! We’re only human and sometimes we get impatient, careless, busy or absentminded—or all of the above. We overlook, forget about or even ignore the Golden Rule that says do unto others as you want them to do unto you.

Sometimes we do this as email marketers too, and we do unto others—our subscribers and customers—what we definitely do not want done unto us. Are you guilty of that occasional violation of the Golden Rule? Are you “that guy”—or gal? Let’s find out.

After a perusal of my own embarrassingly crowded inbox, I made a list of 10 kinds of emails that annoy me. I describe a few of them below. Review this list to see if you’re making these same annoying mistakes. Objectively consider your own email marketing campaigns and whether you’re following the Golden Rule. Because if you don’t like getting these kinds of emails, you shouldn’t be sending these kinds of emails. Period.

  1. Emails that show up even when you didn’t subscribe This kind of “don’t be that guy” email is probably the most common. I’m someone who gets hundreds of emails per day even though I actively unsubscribe from those I don’t want. I get emails from brands I’ve never bought from, companies I haven’t heard of, and newsfeeds I didn’t subscribe to. Annoying, because then the onus is on me to go to the effort of unsubscribing.
  2. Emails you keep getting for years even when you haven’t bought anything Apparently there are still marketers who a) haven’t heard of a re-engagement campaign and b) think sending the same email message every week for years on end without any engagement at all makes sense. One brand does this, emailing me every single week with an offer even though the last time I made a purchase was many years ago and I never open their emails. Why haven’t I unsubscribed? Because at this point, it has become a game with me, as I wonder just how many weeks, months and years they will keep this up, sending me the same offer over and over (and over!) again, not seeming to mind that I just don’t care.
  3. Your life has changed…and they should know Then there are those brands that send you messaging that once upon a time was relevant but no longer is. This happens to parents a lot, I think. You subscribe to get emails from a company that is relevant to your life when your kids are small, but then your kids grow and the company doesn’t seem to realize that even though a customer once had a two-year-old, that child doesn’t stay two. It would take very little effort for a marketer to know when to transition a customer to another kind of email message…or cut the apron strings.
  4. Emails that trick you into opening This example wasn’t in my inbox. Instead, this particular example happened to a friend a couple of years ago and it’s such a great example of a horrible trickery that I use it here. The subject line was “Are you mad at me?” and the preview text started with “I hope I’m not being overly sensitive….” The combination of subject line and preview text threw my friend into a panic as she was brushing her teeth one morning while doing email triage on her smartphone. You can read the complete story here. Tricking someone into opening your email is never the right thing to do.
  5. The sender pretends to have some kind of relationship with you While working on this blog post, I got the following email:

Hi Cameron,

I tried reaching you earlier this week and was unsuccessful.  I’m hopeful we can find some time to discuss the communication goals and (company name’s) platform, and how we can support your PR goals this year.

When would be a good time for us to connect next week?


(salesperson’s name here)

There are several things at issue here. One, this was sent to a generic email address, not to me, so I can be pretty sure the email address was gleaned from our website and that this person does not in fact know me, even though the language of the email is such that they are pretending they do. Two, the tone that implies I am somehow at fault because this person tried to reach me but couldn’t. And third, the dishonesty: This was the first and only email I received and I didn’t get a phone call so I really don’t think there was a previous attempt. Dishonesty? Don’t go there.

  1. The sender obviously doesn’t care about you Let’s keep picking on this email for a minute. You know what else is wrong with it? It shows absolutely zero knowledge about (or interest in) my company or concerns. How do they know I even have PR goals? It would be better to ask if I did, as the first communication, or even send out a survey. This email? It’s presumptuous. And annoying.
  2. Emails with unclear calls to action How does that even happen? Isn’t there some kind of vetting process an email should go through, with a clear goal for that email? Yet I still on occasion get an email without a clear call to action or CTA. I am left to dig for it myself, or else…well, I don’t know what else. I’m a busy person, and I’m not going to dig or decipher. Tell me exactly what you want me to do in plain language and in plain sight.
  3. Emails that don’t render well on mobile I don’t think I need to say anything about this other than don’t do it.
  4. Emails with sloppy errors and mistakes Emails with typos, grammatical errors, funky formatting and links that don’t work tell me one thing: the marketer didn’t really care. If the marketer doesn’t care about their email, neither do I.
  5. The unsubscribe link doesn’t work This literally just happened to me and it’s another inexcusable mistake, like having errors in your email. Periodically test drive your unsubscribe link and make sure it works. While you’re there, also make sure the process is clear and easy for the unsubscriber.

These are just a few of the kinds of emails that I find annoying, and I’m sure you have your own list. I seriously doubt any marketer sits down at a computer and thinks about sending an annoying email. I suspect all of us think we are doing everything just fine! But the Golden Rule is one you should be following when you’re making your way into people’s inboxes, so do think long and hard about what kind of email you do or don’t want showing up in yours. And most of all remember, don’t be that guy…or gal.