Email Best Practices Aren't Always Best, Part 2

Posted by Zachary on March 16, 2010

Last week, I may have served up a little bait-and-switch with the first installment of this series. Some of you may have come looking for information on when to break email best practices and, instead, got a heaping handful of how we're changing our newsletter. That's all well and good, but how does that help you? This week, I'm making good on the title.

In fact, this whole topic was inspired by this post at MarketingProfs about ignoring best practices, and I simply let my habit of using proximity to introduce a story get the better of me. After re-reading that post, however, I'm wondering if we can't come up with better examples. Why? Because four of the five came from well-known, well-established brands/individuals—namely,, Chris Brogan, Apple, and Publishers' Clearing House. Those tend to inspire deep loyalty or, in Brogan's case, some weird form of hero worship.

In short, they ignore best practices in their emails because they can. Granted, we can get into a chicken/egg argument about what came first, but let's instead focus on other best practices that you might be able to bystep—or modify, in the following cases. (I'm sure some will argue with my choices here, so if that's the case, feel free to chime in on the discussion.)

Circular permission reminders

Sometimes, in our efforts to ensure exact legal compliance (and just seem like good people), we needlessly remind people why they're talking with us. This results in an incomprehensible message such as "You're receiving this email because you signed up to receive this email." And here you thought you were ordering a Snuggie.

I'm not saying all permission reminders are bad; they can help cut down on spam complaints, particularly if you don't send frequent campaigns. That said, make them meaningful.

Sending often/rarely/never/all the darned time

Many email marketers obsess over finding the key frequency for their campaigns. Problem is, they often turn exclusively to what researchers and well-intentioned industry pundits say, rather than what their readers say. Ultimately, your subscribers will let you know what the sweet spot is. Or, you can always try something like this.

In addition, don't be afraid to experiment, though common sense tells you to err on the side of caution. If you're sending out a regular newsletter piece, try the occasional one-off campaign. Conversely, if your fragmented messages are going nowhere, try consolidating. Just make sure you're matching your tactics and your organization's goals.

Segments, segments everywhere

This one may get me a stern talkin'-to from Mark about metrics and campaign insights, but danger is my middle name. My point here is that segmenting your subscriber list to absurd lows only will result in more work and less return. It may be interesting to note that a green-eyed, hearing-impaired Alaskan with gray hair (dyed brown) and a preference for 18th-century French literature is on your list, but he probably doesn't need a campaign tailored just to him. As with permission reminders, make segments meaningful.

Incessant testing

Your focus should be on well-designed/-implemented testing procedures and techniques, not asserting some form of campaign hypochondria. What we're beginning to see is that organizations are focusing more and more time/effort on testing and less and less time on content, which is the marketing equivalent of determining a cow's diet by examining its chips, rather than the pasture.

True, I have a vested interest in issuing pleas for better content strategy and production, but that doesn't mean I'm wrong. Shifting never-ending amounts of time and effort toward testing only ensures that you'll be the first person to know when your subscribers leave your list due to sheer boredom. Find the right balance; produce good, effective content and test how your readers consume it.

Did I miss any? Am I off my rocker here? Let me know.

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