3 Email Marketing Mistakes to Avoid


Fake incentives. Apocalyptic deadlines. Suspicious offers. We’ve all gotten that one vendor email that haunts our dreams and makes us want to double-check our entire campaign strategy. One particular instance comes to mind when I got an email that had “DoN’t MiSs OuT” written in the subject line. It may be that behind every poorly written subject line lies a brilliant message worthy of someone’s eyes, but in the age of mass media, flashy hooks come off as unprofessional and frivolous. Unfortunately for the sender, feline curiosity didn’t kick in and my rational mind sent the email directly into the purgatory of all emails – my spam box.

Of course, not all emails are created equal. Like the above example, some have gotten lost in the maze of self promotion, others are just needing a few tweaks to gain that all-star rating, and then there is a good amount of them that can simply give us a good laugh. Engineering a successful email campaign is not an easy task, but thankfully we have the whole worldwide web at our fingertips full of email fails for us to learn from. Let’s take a look at some of the most cringe-worthy inbox mistakes and analyze why they never got their brush with fame.

Hitting the bulls-eye, missing the dartboard

Before you set out to deliver an email campaign to promote your business, you must first clearly define your target audience. This should come as a no-brainer, especially for those of us working in a commercial enterprise setting, like the field of promotional products advertising. We have worked long and hard to debunk the controversial notions of big brother involvement. “Get into the mind of your consumer” now echoes on every marketing blog and actually entices the deserving minds of end-users.

Yet, our humanity gets the best of us and we fall prey to the most common error – we want to appeal to everyone. It makes sense in theory, the bigger your target – the more hits you are able to make. Unfortunately, people are a tricky control group, and you have to factor in all the variables to make sure you are not exhausting your resources in a futile effort. Here is an example of how a single audience mistake can make an email go terribly, terribly wrong:

This is an email campaign from Shutterfly that got sent out to their entire customer base. I will give that a moment to sink in. Every single person on their mailing list, whether it was a new mother, a single father, a retired elder, or an angsty teenager, received the same email that congratulated them on their “bundle of joy”.

Take ownership of your mailing list and put in the effort to analyze all the different subcategories your audience is broken down into. As promotional products professionals, we connect with many different industries that have varied interests. If you work with academic institutions, be sure to entice them with educational product options, in the same way you would promote stylish gadgets to your IT oriented market. Remember, personalization lies at the core of a strong marketing campaign.

Weak…or downright unfortunate subject lines

I was not kidding earlier when I mentioned that “DoN’t MiSs OuT” was an actual enticing offer that was screaming at me from my inbox. This is definitely an extreme case scenario of subject line chaos. If any large enterprise would do that on a large-scale distribution, they may as well have dug their own graves beforehand. Although there are plenty subject line blunders we all commit from time to time that may unknowingly hurt our reputation.

For instance, one important thing to note is messaging consistency. Your headline and message preview should dance in a tango that is familiar to many and understood by all. We are often misled to think that the headline should entice the reader and gain his or her immediate attention. It is with this kind of logic, though, that we get the following headlines:


Surely, poorly written subject lines and preview text contradictions are not the end of the world, or your marketing campaign for that matter. However, paying attention to these details can make a big difference in how your overall brand is perceived. You can easily prevent these setbacks by testing your email across different platforms and providers. So, block some time out on your calendar and take a diligent approach to opening your email in yahoo, gmail, outlook, or any other providers you may think of, and then switch your efforts to a tablet and other mobile devices. Odds are, you can catch a problem before it becomes apparent to the thousands of subscribers on your list.

The great flood of emails

It is common knowledge that in order to have someone open the door for you, you have to knock first. Sometimes you have to knock several times, because the person on the other side can’t hear you, or is simply not expecting you to show up.

You can translate that logic into a campaign strategy, because you can’t expect to make a sell without introducing yourself first.

Although that line we cross, between knocking for the first and the twentieth time, is very, very thin. One knock is too insignificant to expect anything in return, two knocks can get some attention, three is magic number of success….and before you know it, you have turned the invitation into a symphony of ringing door bells and knocking out a drum beat. Similar to that notion, you don’t want to drown your subscribers in a waterfall of emails, because those have a history of ending up in the spam folder.

According to a 2015 Return Path study, only 79% of commercial emails end up in the inbox, that means, one in five emails never reaches the intended recipient. In order to avoid this damaging pitfall, you should always double check your emails for relevant content, duplicate messaging and the ease of subscription service. Your client is giving you a chance by opening your email, give them the same privilege by honoring their time and allowing them the option to unsubscribe.

What’s in it for them?

Last but not least, don’t forget the question of the day – What’s in it for them? We all have an inherent 3 second time-slot allotted to deciding whether or not we choose to dedicate our full attention to something. In doing so, we consciously ask ourselves whether we will gain any benefit from trading in our time for any given activity. Those small decisions determine how we manage our schedules and ultimately, how we live out our lives.

So why don’t we stop and think “What’s in it for my clients” before we send out the next email or plan our next pitch? Just like us, our clients make a deliberate judgement call before clicking on each email. We better make it worth their while before they start turning that 3 second land of potential sales into a permanently closed door of unrealized opportunities.

No one knows your clients better than you do, only you hold the key to their promotional success. And even if you have found a terrific example of an email campaign you would like to incorporate into your marketing strategy, don’t overlook one important factor – your audience is not you. Would your piece translate as well with your clientele, as it did with you? Take a look at this bright and engaging campaign from Ann Taylor that failed to factor in the spread of their audience:

They took a modern twist on sparking the viewers’ interest by including “OMG” in the subject line and contrasting the irony of a stark message, written in tiny font, on a bright pink background. While I think this is a refreshing approach, it may not resonate as well with individuals who are not familiar with buzzworthy acronyms and idiom-induced text. Some concepts may be lost in translation because of cultural barriers, and some may only attract the younger segment list that lives in the world of colorful graphics and juxtaposed intentions.

Inevitably, some marketing campaigns do fail, but good content doesn’t get overlooked if it is relevant and appealing to your industry. Thankfully, we have a lot of avenues to work with when it comes to promotional products marketing. If you are looking for some tips on promo campaign engagement, take a look at our customizable SAGE Email Campaigns, geared specifically for the promotional products industry.

SAGE Email Campaigns make it quick and easy to create striking promo campaigns and track your successes with no coding experience necessary. You even get two ready-to-go emails to send out to your customer base every month. So effortless, you can relax and not worry about making any of the above regrettable mistakes. Check out a few of our previous campaigns, and see how you can brand your business in new ways:



Have any other email campaign mistakes that you’ve run into in the past? Share your insight with our growing promotional products community by leaving a comment below! If there is one sure way to gain experience in the world of promo marketing, it is by learning from other promotional products professionals and discussing our successes and failures.







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