What makes for strong long-term email marketing, and what can email marketers learn from a 26 year archive of spam?
In 1994 I started archiving the funniest and most outlandish spam emails I received, and throughout the rest of the ‘90s I sent out an annual holiday compendium of the year’s top unsolicited messages.
Over the years friends and associates began sending me their own wild spam finds, and although I ceased my annual updates long ago, I’ve kept up my spam archive — a trove of email marketing horrors, hi-jinks, and oftentimes hilarity that I still hope to turn into a book someday.
For now, I’ll crack open the archive and share five email marketing lessons taken from analyzing 26 years of spam, to help illustrate how we can adapt, grow, and innovate — and how not to follow in the footsteps of atrocious spammers.
Spam usually serves as a spot-on case study for email marketers on what not to do when it comes to building genuine and meaningful email communications.
Oftentimes spam is chock full of truly bizarre content, whack-a-doodle predicaments, and convoluted stories, yet from this we can still gain surprising email take-away gems for today’s marketers.
1 — Empathize With Your Email Audience
Empathizing with your audience is an important part of successful email marketing, as understanding the concerns and hopes of the people you’re connecting with is vital for providing the information your email audience is seeking.
Some things to ask yourself as you seek to empathize with your email audience include:
- Why have they signed up for our email messaging?
- What are the traits common to our readers?
- If I were the recipient and not the sender, what would I change?
Empathizing with and learning more about your email marketing audience go hand-in-hand, and both open up a wide realm of possibilities to make your campaigns better.
“Get to know your customers,” Val Geisler, CEO of Fix My Churn recently observed. “Do interviews, learn more about them. What keeps them up at night? What matters most to them? Ask them questions with long-form answers and record those answers. Then use that voice-of-customer copy in your emails. Put it in subject lines and body copy and CTA buttons. Fill your emails with a blend of their voice and your brand voice and your customers will instantly feel connected to your brand,” Geisler suggested.
An example from my spam archive on how not to empathize includes this 2004 doozy from one Gaza F. Fussbudgets:
Date: Thu, 06 May 2004 23:31:24 -0700
From: Gaza F. Fussbudgets
Thinking of driving in that condition, sir?
New jobs: Stay-at-home manager
Honest people for hire!
Do you have only a part-time job? Do you have much free time?
Are you a student? Does your class schedule impair working hours?
Your luck has just happened!
Are you outgoing and honest? We need someone just like you!
This is a business that requires a only limited amounts of your time.
All job applicants from Australia welcome.
Vacancies are ending, don’t waste time and use this super offer.
YOUR ONLY CHANCE! CONSIDER THIS GREAT OFFER!
Remaining questions? Check out our website.
Questions? We’ve got answers.
Despite its reassurance that “Your luck has just happened!” and a feeble attempt to empathize by asking a few questions, this spam email fails on all accounts.
Don’t be like Mr. or Ms. Fussbudgets, and instead always take the extra time to learn more about your email marketing audience.
“Empathizing with your audience is an important part of successful email marketing. Understanding the concerns and hopes of the people you’re connecting with are vital for providing the information they are seeking.” @lanerellis Click To Tweet
2 — Fill Each Email With Unique Value
Savvy email marketing brings your audience something they can’t find anywhere else, whether it’s a first glimpse at a new product or service, a behind-the-scenes look at one of your team members, or even a unique report made exclusively for your email audience.
One of the many reasons spam email universally misses the mark — along with tone-deaf legitimate campaigns — is that it doesn’t offer anything unique, instead relying on cookie-cutter copy or only minimally customized content, and the long-shot promise of one response from millions of emails sent out.
Consider the following spam message sent to me in 2014:
Subject: Claims Prize
Date: Tue, 25 Nov 2014 03:19:40 -0430 (VET)
From: Fedex Delivery Company
*We have a Fedex package containing $850,000.00 USD to be delivered to your home address as a Christmas Presentation. Send Fullname, Home address, telephone. Note: Delivery fee is $75 only.*
A scam with a promise to send a box of riches to you “as a Christmas presentation” in exchange for a small fee is the antithesis of how email marketers should go about providing value to their audiences — an effort that today is delivered in the form of digital content providing relevant information.
B2B content marketing and its penchant for creating a variety of relevant re-purposed content lends itself well to email marketing efforts, and we’ve got you covered with the following looks at the types of information that can add unique value to your email marketing:
3 — Respect Your Email Recipients
Treat your email audience with respect and they’ll be more open to your messaging, and more likely to continue as long-term recipients of your email campaigns.
Respect in email marketing is shown — and earned — in several ways, including:
- Practicing genuine interest by providing only the most relevant information
- Applying mindfulness when it comes to the frequency of contacting your audience
- Honoring all inquiries with a thorough and thoughtful response from your appropriate team
Don’t go overboard with insincere respect, however, as the sender of the following 2005 message unfortunately did:
Subject: Palmer Berryhill I hope you like this wrist clock
Date: Mon, 14 Nov 2005 18:09:07 +0400
My Dear Palmer Berryhill,
Honestly, you have earned it. Take the moment and get it. Make sure while
you are at the web-site, that you also get the little box to keep it in. You
get a little reward today. Last night I saw you looking at these replica
watches and I could tell you wanted one. Go ahead and get it. There are
just so many things to handle each day, we just don’t often get a little
This is a good internet-site for you to find it from because they have gift
trailing. I am totally aware of how many times you have looked at these
quality replica watches at this internet-site. Please go and get one. I
know they are duplicates and we can afford it.
My love to you,
Although I never did treat myself to Madiha’s replica “wrist clock” surprise or the little box to keep it in, this classic spam message does serve as a fine example of forced and ingenuine caring, despite all the love this writer claims to have sent my way 15 years ago.
It’s also important to respect the fact that whether you have a smallish mailing list or one numbering in the millions, maintaining your email audience’s trust is key for long-term success, as our senior content strategist Nick Nelson explored in “Return to Sender: Email Marketing Is NOT Dead, But It Needs Rejuvenation.”
4 — Use A Healthy Dose of Character & Passion
Knowing your audience is only one important part of your email marketing efforts, however it allows you to understand the voice and tone that will best suit your brand, and will play a big part of imbibing character and passion into your email marketing campaigns.
Your email marketing communications should incorporate the universal truths of your brand messaging, however that doesn’t mean it can’t use its own email-campaign-specific voice with its own energy and unique flavor.
Not too unique or too full of seasoning, however, or you could end up with something like the following spam message I got in 2002, which ranks up there as one of the nuttiest emails I’ve received since I went online in 1984:
Date: Tue, 12 Nov 2002 13:50:01 -0500 (EST)
If you are a Time Traveler I am going to need the following:
1. A modified mind warping Dimensional Warp Generator # 52 4350a series wrist watch with memory adapter.
2. Reliable carbon based, or silicon based time transducing capacitor.
I need a reliable source!! Please only reply if you are reliable. Send a (SEPARATE) email to me at: [redacted]
I never did send in that dimensional warp generator — with or without the wrist-watch memory adapter — however this message did certainly deliver on the unique content front, and was presented with its own wacky sort of memorable messaging.
Some of the top email and newsletter marketers look at the channel as a special way to make a person-to-person rather than simply a B2B connection, such as MarketingProfs chief content officer Ann Handley, who over the years has shared a great deal of valuable email marketing insight.
“Write to one person. Not a segment or customer base or persona. One. Person. At. One. Time,” Handley recently offered up in “2020 Small Business Email Marketing Statistics from AWeber.”
5 — Seek Further Connection Opportunities, Test & Refine
Email still offers a powerful way to keep in touch with the people who care most about your brand, however another part of good email communications is letting your audience know the other ways they can get your latest updates and other information.
Sharing links to your various social media properties, blog, website, and any virtual events where customers can learn more from your brand is a helpful way to add value to your marketing emails.
Don’t, however, follow in the footsteps of the author of the following spam message I received in 2014, with a hook of “Outsource your pain to us!”
Subject: Partnership proposal : Outsource your pain to us!
Date: Tue, 10 Jun 2014 02:16:43 -0400 (EDT)
From: Christina Zalpa
I got your reference from google search.
Through this mail, I would like to seek your opinion of doing some business together.
We are company West Midland, UK based company.We are in business of Web Development, SEO, PPC and Chat support. We have experience of web design and SEO too.
What we can do: We can reduce your expenses and increase your revenue.
To discuss further, I will be available at your suitable time.
Looking forward to do some mutually rewarding business together.
Spam such as this — although purely an unadorned scam — does serve to show us that even the lowest form of email marketing sometimes has a call-to-action (CTA), an aspect also featured in the best email campaigns.
Don’t miss email marketing’s many excellent opportunities for testing, either, as send frequency, subject lines and all aspects of content can be part of A/B testing as your brand looks to find an optimal balance.
“Rather than sending more, test what you already do. Then test frequency. There’s no sense sending more of that doesn’t work, nor less of what does work. Test, test, test!” — Mark Asquith @MrAsquith Click To Tweet
Don’t Do That — Turn Your Spam Lessons Upside Down
By empathizing, providing unique value, respecting your email audience, using character and passion, and seeking out new connection and test opportunities, your email marketing efforts will have a leg up on much of today’s competition.
Whether you’re looking for professional help with your email marketing or B2B influencer marketing efforts, contact us to learn why brands from Adobe and LinkedIn to Dell and 3M have chosen TopRank Marketing.