The problem with email marketing

A large number of our clients ask us to help them with email newsletters and as such we stick our noses in a great number of email blasts. We see a lot of web statistics showing read and open rates, clicks, and that sort of thing.

Clients always ask “is 60% open rate good?” and look to us for our expertise. I’m always happy to provide my feedback and explain how it works. It’s still a new thing to most people.

But lately I’ve been thinking that too many companies rely on read and open rates to determine whether their email campaign was successful. When they see 60% they say “that’s the industry average so it must be good.”

Well, in my opinion they’re missing the mark (to use an overly used sailing term). They’re not tracking sales results. We just did an email campaign for a restaurant to their “club members” and it was interesting because they didn’t do any in store tracking. None at all. No coupon. Nothing. It strikes of marketing for the sake of marketing.

I think a number of companies pick on email because it’s supposedly inexpensive. Everyone says it is anyways. How can you know when you aren’t tracking?

Then there’s the issue of HTML vs text only emails. I can point to several successful campaigns that were done with text only. The reason it works is because everyone has a different spam filter set up and text emails just happen to go right through them most of the time. Still, clients don’t want to do it because it isn’t pretty and they can’t use pictures.


Here’s a tip: The next time a client asks you to send an email suggest that they send two emails (separated by a few days or a week) and send the first one as HTML and the second as text only. See which one gets opened more. You might be surprised.

7 responses to “The problem with email marketing”

  1. I don’t even think about using HTML in e-mail. It’s just not meant to be that way. For me, e-mails have to be plain text, so no one will ever get an HTML newsletter from me. I don’t even know how to send it with HTML.
    And then there is this consistency thing. When all automated notifications from a web application are send in plain text, isn’t it confusing to throw some over-styled HTML newsletters in?

  2. Well, hmmm… Don’t you think that’s a little bit old-fashioned to think that way? I mean, almost every single email program out there supports HTML. Just because you don’t know how to send an HTML message (simply define the type as text/html) doesn’t mean that it’s so bad.

    Colors, fonts, and pretty things can go a long way when used *correctly*.

    Just my two cents.

  3. I think that an email newsletter with the same layout as the plain brainfuel web template here would actually be pretty easy on the eyes. I think I would put the nav bar on the right side though for email use so people could get right to the text.

  4. We have created several newsletters for clients and they do want the pretty version. What we did to get the email open by more people is to send the newsletter as plain text and html.

  5. Truth be told I wrote this post three or four weeks ago and have not posted it until today and there is one big glaring error. But it doesn’t change the recommendation I wrote at the end.

    The fact is that if you send a text only message there is no way to track whether it was opened. No way. The reason is text only means text only and the way you track read rates is through inserting a tiny invisible image (that pings the server). This is actually done with HTML.

    So if you want to test, try it out sending a text only message and include some sort of promotional coupon code or something that lets you track results the standard way. On a personal level.

    Thanks to James Archer for pointing out the glaring error.

  6. for me its all about B2B or B2C, B2B is governed by bastard operators from hell who put filters are the root of email blocking html and other nasties, plain text goes straight through these – B2C dont have such restrictions imposed upon them – because of this htmlemails are more suited for this audience tho you need to be extra cautious because of narrowband implications

    well thats my $0.02


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