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No holds barred Email Marketing Tips from 22 Email Experts

Over the next several weeks, we’ll weigh in on some infrequently asked, but unfortunately overlooked, questions about email marketing. This week, 22 notable email experts and practitioners answer:

What is the one thing you wish someone had told you about email marketing that you had to learn the hard way?”

I hope you agree that their candid email marketing tips are a breath of fresh air. Oh, be sure to comment and share your hindsight email marketing wisdom too.


That we’re not curing cancer or saving babies.  It may sound funny, but I think in the race that we’re in today, we forget that this is email. It’s glorious and wonderful and profitable, but we need to slow down and realize the strategic angle of things, not just the executional.

We all are very well versed in how to launch a campaign, but how much time to we spend at the strategic level. For years, I ran around only focused on the executional. How do we get something done. When really, the power of email is starting with the strategic goal first THEN drill down. Take a breath; realize that this can be simple. We are usually the ones that make it hard.

– Ryan Phelan, VP Strategic Services at BlueHornet (@ryanpphelan)


Wow, where to start? I guess I have my top three…

1) It’s not as easy as you think. Sure, the technical aspects of sending an email are easy, but developing content, creative, great subject lines isn’t. Not to mention all the super sophisticated things that will make you a ton of money — it takes a lot of time, money, planning and resources to implement properly and see a return. After advising customers for years to do such things, I didn’t *really* understand the difficulty factor until I joined the team at Litmus and saw it first hand when I wanted to do some of those things :)

2) Design matters. I mean this from a planning, rendering, functional and performance standpoint. There are SO MANY things you need to account for — from laying the design out in Photoshop, to developing copy, to testing text links vs. buttons, how to code it, making sure the links work, etc. It’s not just loading a list and hitting send.

3) Respect your subscribers. From the moment you decide you want to send email, you need to figure out how permission and subscriber preferences are going to work in your program. Don’t wait to create a subscriber/preference center. Keep track of opt-in sources. Understand how your ESP handles list-level versus global unsubs. It can be a confusing mess to navigate and convince your teammates that asking permission is the right thing to do, but it will pay dividends later.

– Justine Jordan, Marketing Director at Litmus (@meladorri)


I wish someone would have told me that everyone would think of email as “free or cheap”.  I continue to be confused at how a channel that generates the highest ROI of any marketing channel continues to get the “strategic short-end of stick”.

Over the last decade I have learned that ROI is not the only thing that matters, sometimes it is being viewed as strategic!  Personally I battle every day to tell the “email marketing story”, paint it in a positive light and basically beg people to be more strategic with the channel.

– President/Founder at WhatCounts – (@allennance)


One Word: Content! It always seems like the hardest issue we deal with for clients, especially in the B2B realm.  It’s amazing when marketers say “We have no content, can you write something for us?”

We spend much time explaining that they know their business and products/services better that anyone else. They know the roadblocks and how to sell past the objections. We usually gather the sales, marketing, fulfillment and customer support teams together to talk through what the message should be so everyone is a stakeholder.

Once you get everyone talking, the content and ideas start flowing like a river. Including everyone who touches a customer in the planning stages always results in a better message and program.

– Chris Donald, CEO/Strategist at Inbox Group (@inboxgroup)


The one thing I wish anyone would have told me about email marketing that I had to learn the hard way is that blasting out emails to people that didn’t give you permission to do so, is the fastest way to get blocked by spam filters.

Back in 2001, I found out the hard way that getting removed from a blacklist is a lot easier said than done :-)

– Tamara Gielen, CEO/Founder at Plan to Engage (@tamaragielen)


Split testing the tiny stuff doesn’t matter. Marketers get excited about split testing – and that’s great, because it can have exciting results.

But while there are a few stories where tweaking a few words causes conversions to spike, these are the exceptions. For the most part, tiny changes aren’t likely to make a significant difference. As long as you:

  1. Make sure your form doesn’t look hideous or unprofessional
  2. Use human language. (“Sign up for my newsletter,” not, “opt into my list.”) the people who want to sign up are going to sign up.

It’s people’s understanding of what they’ll get in your emails that matters. Are you offering daily deals? Monthly updates? Coupons? News?

If someone wants what you’re offering in your emails, they’re going to sign up whether your form is red or blue.

– Amanda Gagnon, Education Marketing Associate at AWeber (@amandaegagnon)


I had to learn the hard way that not all email conferences are alike. Actually, someone did warn me, but I ignored the warning. Won’t do that again. Other than that, I don’t think there have been any bad things.

I learned the hard way. People have been incredibly gracious in sharing their knowledge in this business, much more than any other industry I have been a part of.

– Chester Bullock, Sr. Manager Email Development at Merkle (@coskier)


I learned the hard way that when deliverability for a domain/sender starts to go south all of a sudden, ask if an Email Append to the list data has been done. I have worked for weeks trying to figure out what changed and the client didn’t mention that they just added append email addresses to their data source.

In my experience if a client does an email append, you have to treat this data differently and keep it segregated from the data that is being sent to on a regular basis. Lesson learned!

– Shanan Ericson, Technical Account Director at Harte-Hanks (@shananericson)


What I learned the hard way: Always create your automated campaigns to be failsafe.

During an upgrade of the email tool we were working on, the campaigns were all stopped by the email tool supplier and then later on started up again. The problem was that an old campaign that was turned off, was also turned on. This campaign was set up to send SMS text messages after sales requests and after a certain date. When the email service provider mistakenly turned the campaign on again it started sending and sending and sending. I had to turn off the campaign in the middle of the night woken up by more than 30 messages myself. One guy got over 300 and the SMS box was full after 100 so it converted them all to voicemail. There was no way for him to completely empty his voicemail so he had to listen to the message for over 200 times before he could delete them. You can imagine what kind of panic it was.

So if you want to take some advice, create your campaigns so they can stand heavy monkey abuse. And if you retire a triggered campaign flow, also disconnect the part that fetches the recipients. Always create your automated campaigns to be failsafe.

– Jordie van Rijn, consultant at eMailmonday (@jvanrijn)


Focusing on just one thing it would be that, no matter how much care and attention you take, the actions of others can dramatically reduce your results.

From sending well formatted, optimized and tested creative, with content closely aligned with the request of subscribers, sending to recently subscribed and engaged subscribers from an authenticated sending domain and correctly configured sending technology with a good sending reputation. If other, less scrupulous volume emailers are sending campaigns which appear similar to electronic filters, your results are likely to diminish. My colleague sometimes just puts this down to “Internet Weather Conditions“.

– Robin C Kennedy, CEO at Pro Reach (LinkedIn Profile)


I think if there’s one thing they should have told me about email marketing, it’s: Customize… as in don’t ever send bulk emails like some generic letter that spells ‘lazy’. Email marketing is an art, I’d say, and one should learn how to write compelling subject lines, so the open/click rate will be much better.

In the end, it’s not just about marketing the content of your email that counts, but writing something valuable that will help you build relationships with your recipients. I think, they’ve forgotten about the ‘relationship marketing’ part though, something I’ve learned from split testing, trial and errors, and so on…

– Shaleen Shah, Consultant at Seventhman (@seventhman)


Of all things email I had to learn the hard way I wish someone would have told me how many companies would be purporting to have an email platform/solution to sell…and that they would all say they do the same thing.

Having spoken to many email marketers they often tell me they wished someone would have told them long ago that getting permission AND profile and preference information from the start would have made their lives a lot easier. Now they are battling to build out their email database to be able to segment and target so they can move to a more relevant relationship with their subscribers

– Stefan Eyram, Business Development at ClickMail Marketing Canada (@stefaneyram)


Fortunately, I called several recipients of my first email to ask what they thought about it.

Feedback was that my content included things they already knew (i.e. don’t send email to marketers and tell them about branding). Tell them something helpful that they don’t already know. So, if you are just starting out with your email marketing, use a small focus group to hone your message.

– Jay Thatcher, Creative Director at Thatcher Design (@thatcherdesign)


I wish I knew just how important segmenting your list is to the success of campaigns. Not everyone signs up for your updates for the same reason; they live in different places, and have different behavioral patterns. This being the case, marketers need to segment their lists and craft messages accordingly.

Proper list segmentation can lead to improved open rates, CTR, and revenue. Hindsight is always 20/20 though :-)

– Dewane Mutunga, digital strategist (@mutunga)


For the most part, email marketing is not significantly different that traditional direct marketing. It is another channel to deliver a message. All of the traditional direct marketing basics exist. It is about offering the right offer to the right audience at the right time.

Marketers (all marketers – email, traditional offline etc) should focus on collecting key data elements, profiling their members and appropriately targeting members with the right offers. Like in traditional marketing, despite all the best of efforts and intention, some members will not engage. These members should be removed proactively.

– Sal Tripi, Sr. Dir. at Publishers Clearing House (LinkedIn Profile)


The volatility of the industry – how factors not under your control can affect your metrics and ultimately your bottom line.

In many industries, you can be successful if you follow laws, guidelines, regulations, and best practices.  However, in email marketing, an ISP can change their policies and metrics on inboxing, which can affect your delivery greatly.

– Warren Corpus, Vice President at Vayan Marketing Group (@warrencorpus)

(Editor’s Note to Warren: Go Dawgs!)


Technology changes so frequently with new authentication methods, new tracking tools, new filtering and reputation rules, new rendering problems and solutions… plus all the technology and configuration on the MTA side of things with NAT rules, sender and domain-specific connection rates, ISP-specific bounce rules… country-specific regulations, new DMA guidelines, new ISP best practices, changes to white-listing and certification standards and rules… that it is very easy to get caught up in the new latest thing and the minutiae.

It took me a long time to get past all this to see how simple email delivery is.

I wish somebody could have told me that senders can get so much wrong, but if they respect their customers, send emails of interest and value and maintain good data practices; email delivery for most people looks after itself.

– Steve Henderson, Data and Delivery Consultant at Communicator Corp (@easyinbox)


I learned that, despite the tremendous benefits and ROI of email marketing, that it can still take years for companies to adopt a new marketing channel and learn how to integrate it properly with their tried and true marketing channels.

I also learned that even after this education has taken place that moving budget monies from, for example, direct mail to other parts of the organization is easier said than done as this often requires someone to give up budget…and who would ever want to do that?

– Bill Kaplan, CEO at FreshAddress (LinkedIn Profile)


Estimate the time you think it will take to write and get final email copy approved.

Now double it.

Then double it again. Now you’re talking!

– Karen Talavera, Founder/Principal at Synchronicity Marketing (@syncmarketing)


Many businesses have data collected through multiple sources, stored in multiple places and sometimes mailed through multiple systems and even opt-out processes in more than one place.

[multiple processes and solutions] makes data hygiene and permission management challenging for many.

– Tim Watson, Operations Director at Emailvision (@tawatson)


Segment your data and target your messages more effectively!

When you first start out you think just sending a message out to as many people as possible will be the best way to get results, however targeting more relevant messages to smaller groups of people produces better results!

– Drew Harding, Digital Marketing Manager at Eclipse Creative (@drew_harding)


Even though I asked this question, it’s a toughie. One answer just doesn’t cut it….

1) ROI is the only metric that matters. Metrics that didn’t give me insight into if I was increasing, or sustaining, ROI should have been squashed immediately. It seems oblivious now but untold hours were spent in tracking pointless measurements.

2) It’s simple math. If you send more mail, to more people, you earn more. Yet I used to be too timid and therefore failed to discover the frequency tipping point. I should have also allocated more resources into growing a quality list and less to crafting the messages themselves. It’s simply a numbers game. (more + more = more)

3) Email marketing is honest and straightforward. Recipients don’t want social-style conversations or direct mail hype. They want help, ideas and answers. They understand that they are prospective buyers or partners or both. Don’t beat around the bush or blow smoke, give them what they want and they’ll return the favor.

– Scott Hardigree, Founder/CEO at Indiemark (@indiescott)


Scott Hardigree
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  • by Nigel Williams
    Posted December 7, 2011 7:18 am 0Likes

    Understanding how your retention campaign is performing is key, access to a range of reports that give a valuable insight into Lifecycle and Engagement for example, are key areas that help digital marketers identify key segments for remarketing. ie. formulating relevant and timely messages to Engaged, Email Advocates, Regular Openers, Casual Browsers, Inactive Recipients will provide significant uplift in ROI and isn’t as complex as you would think to implement.

    • by Scott Hardigree
      Posted December 15, 2011 9:25 am 0Likes

      Thanks for contributing Nigel. I agree, insight is critical.

  • by Marco Ruschioni
    Posted December 15, 2011 5:39 am 0Likes

    Great article, and some good insights. I wish someone had explained the cornerstones of successful email marketing earlier on in my career. Over the years I have created an acronym called PRET to help with this. From a customer perspective, as long as you’re thinking about Permission, Relevance, Engagement & Trust, you are already half way there to being successful in your efforts. Add this to a solid technical execution, and you’re flying.

    • by Scott Hardigree
      Posted December 15, 2011 9:26 am 0Likes

      PRET = awesome. Thanks Marco!

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