Why email automation can backfire

There are times when I think that maybe, just maybe, the world is completely unhinged.

I think like this when a driver does a U-turn in front of me on an eight-lane highway.

I think like this whenever I read the political news.

And, recently, I’ve begun to think like this whenever I look at my inbox.

For example, I recently downloaded a software demo. It seemed great: I was most likely going to buy the product.

And then the emails came in.

The day I downloaded the demo I got two emails. Ok, I thought, they’re just zealous. Then the next day I received one. And the day after. And the day after that. Like the Terminator, they just kept on coming.

The emails were ridiculous. One asked: How are you finding our product? The answer: I haven’t even had time to frickin look at it.

Another began: Want to know a secret? We really, really want you to succeed!

Yeah, right.

Now, the software I downloaded seemed genuinely good – and yet I soon wanted nothing to do with it based purely on their marketing.

Welcome to the wondrous new age of automated emails.

These days it’s common for marketers to think it’s acceptable to send four to five emails a week to the same person. It’s even recommended by many so-called experts.

Are they insane?

What kind of person GENUINELY wants to receive four or five emails from the same organisation every week?

Most marketers don’t consider their emails spam – but the public do. Back in 2012, Return Path reported that marketing emails accounted for 70% of spam complaints.

Many email marketing gurus suggest countering this with different ways to write your emails – from personalising them to using friendlier language.

I agree with these tips, but I have an even better one: STOP FRICKIN SENDING ME EMAILS EVERY DAMN DAY.

Then again, even once a week can erode a brand.

For example, half a year ago I splashed out by staying in a grand five-star hotel. I loved the experience so much that, giddy with the pillow menu and friendly concierge, I decided I’d go back there in future.

And then their emails began. The random, frequent, irrelevant emails.

I was receiving emails for their hotels in countries I had no plans or desire to visit, not to mention one email that contained a travel quiz to determine my travelling style.

That’s when I unsubscribed.

Some marketers realise they’re sending too many emails but do so to look productive (as usability expert Gerry McGovern once pointed out, you’re more likely to impress a boss by producing more, rather than less, content – even if that’s worse for the customer). Others have simply drunk the Kool Aid and believe what they’re sending is wanted.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not against email marketing or even automation. On the contrary.

I myself send out email pitches as well as articles such as this one. I know email marketing not only works, but that it offers a high return on investment. And email automation is now crucial for most organisations.

What I’m suggesting, however, is that marketers try to respect people by not bombarding them.

I suggest going against the common advice of perpetually feeding the never-ending content marketing machine. Most marketers are told that the more content you produce, the better.

I disagree.

More is not better. I’d rather receive one great article or one thoughtful pitch every month than a barrage of crap a week. We now have the technology to sling out vast reams of content – but the human capacity to write great content hasn’t grown.

When it comes to content marketing, it’s still hard work to write a single good article. It takes a great, preferably fresh, idea. Research. Revisions. Plus there are only so many topics in your field of expertise that your customers or subscribers are interested in. And as for actual pitches – well, that’s a dark art onto itself. What I will say is that the more care and consideration that goes into your pitch, the less likely you’ll need to send a second one.

The question is, how much is too much when it comes to sending emails?

Without a crystal ball, all you can do is rely on analytics by looking at what kinds of content and frequency seem to work best – and then combine that with common sense.

Although no pitch or article will appeal to everyone (and I’ll no doubt be heartbroken if/when someone unsubscribes to my email list after receiving this article), I recommend only sending emails if you genuinely believe they’ll be wanted.

If you put effort and care into them.

If you give the recipient a chance to breathe between now and your last email.

If not, those emails will simply hurt your brand.

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