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Email Tactics Customers Hate: Webinar Recording + Q&A

There’s a disconnect in today’s email marketing technology. While some email tactics are helping brands get closer to their customers, others are undermining their return on investment by pushing customers away.

“In my own beloved profession of marketing, the primary application of technology is to find increasingly sophisticated ways to annoy people.

—Mark Schaefer,
Author of 6 marketing books and { grow }

For instance, 17% of brands are buying email addresses to grow their list and reach new prospects, according to Litmus’ 2017 State of Email Deliverability report. However, many of those brands are among the 33% of brands that have been blocked and 15% that have been blacklisted in the past year.

In this webinar, Litmus Research Director Chad S. White helps you distinguish between the email tactics and tools that improve your email program and those that hurt your program because they’re abusive and annoying.

In addition to explaining why some of these email tactics appear worthwhile on the surface, he discusses:

  • Tools and services to avoid
  • How to keep good tools from doing your program harm
  • Using the right metrics to draw conclusions

Along the way, he shares research, examples, and frameworks that will help you ensure you’re spending your marketing dollars on the right email tactics and technology.

Watch the recording above, and download the slides and read the Q&A below:


We didn’t have time to get to all of the questions during the live webinar, but we’ve answered them here on our blog. Have any additional questions about email tactics customers hate? Please leave them in the comments.

At one point in the webinar, you mentioned selling “permission.” What did you mean by that?

Some list sellers and list “renters” offer “permissioned” email lists—essentially claiming that everyone who’s on the list that they’re going to sell to you gave the seller permission to sell their email address and that they’re open to whatever emails they get as a result. Needless to say, no one would give such permission and it wouldn’t matter if they did.

While it’s, unfortunately, legal to sell email addresses, it’s impossible to sell permission. People must knowingly and willing give a brand permission directly. When you add people to your email list who didn’t opt in, you’re just asking for lots of spam complaints, which will get you blocked by inbox providers. Plus, email lists that are for sale often have spam traps on them, which scream to inbox providers that you’re a spammer.

How is list rental supposed to work?

For a detailed explanation of exactly how list rental should work so that both the renter’s and list owner’s interests are aligned, check out The 5 Most Problematic Subscriber Acquisition Sources: Are they redeemable?

Does an existing business relationship—such as being a paying customer or member of a trade association—count as expressed consent under GDPR?

It depends on the content of the email and what is being paid for. For instance, if a customer is paying for news or advice that is only delivered via email, then yes being a paid customer is expressed consent because receiving those emails is fundamental to the service that’s being paid for.

On the other hand, in most cases, trade associations send lots of marketing emails related to events, services, and other things that are not fundamental to being a member. For instance, members might choose to stay up to date on association activities via social media or their website. So an association would only have consent to send transactional emails about membership renewals, event registrations, and similar messages.

For more details, check out 5 Things You Must Know about Email Consent under GDPR.

If an individual at a company posts their email address publicly on a website, is that the same as consent?

No. While it means that they’re open to being contacted by individuals, it does not represent consent to be added to email marketing lists. Even in the U.S., this is illegal and can led to huge fines, like it did for Instamotor. For more on permission, check out Single Opt-In vs. Double Opt-In: The Verdict on Email Permission.

Does the responsibility for complying with the hefty spam laws of other countries fall on the email service provider (such as MailChimp or Salesforce Marketing Cloud) or the sender?

The responsibility absolutely falls on the brand that’s sending email via the email service provider (ESP). To our knowledge, there’s nothing in these laws that ascribes fault to an ESP if one of their users fails to be compliant.

That said, ESPs don’t want to be indirectly complicit in illegal activity and don’t want to get a bad reputation, so they should be offering their users advice and guidance on complying with GDPR, CASL, and other laws. Relatedly, all reputable vendors have clauses written into their user agreements that forbid their users, for instance, from uploading purchased lists to their platform. That allows ESPs to “fire” customers who violate email marketing laws as well as best practices.

How do you get buy-in from directors, VPs, and executives that insist on continuing to use these tired email tactics?

Being an advocate for email best practices and compliance has become a critical part of email marketers’ jobs, because you can accomplish so much more when you have leadership on board. We’ve been writing about getting buy-in more and more here at Litmus…

We’ve also launched the Litmus Leadership series, which provides marketers with executive summaries on key email marketing topics to share with their leadership. When executives understand email marketing issues better, they are more supportive of the right email tactics and strategies.

Executives also care a lot about what other companies are doing. Based on surveys of thousands of marketers, our State of Email Survey Research Series helps you benchmark your email workflow, designs, deliverability, acquisition practices, and much more. Use that data to show how some of your practice may be behind the times.

How can we convince executives about the need for list hygiene and frequency controls?

Here’s our high-level argument…

Engagement is now one of the major factors that inbox providers look at when deciding whether to deliver a brand’s emails to the inbox, spam folder, or at all. That means that sending lots of emails to low-value inactive subscribers who haven’t responded in 6 months or a year, harms your ability to reach your high-value active subscribers.

Smart brands recognize the risk isn’t worth the reward. Marketers who describe their email programs as successful are 24% more likely that those at less successful companies to eventually remove chronically inactive subscriber from their active mailing lists (59.0% vs. 47.6%), according our list of 20 Things Successful Email Marketing Programs Do. They are also 53% more likely than less successful programs to send re-engagement campaigns (55.5% vs. 36.2%).

You mentioned abandoned cart emails and how annoying they can be for customers if they go against their natural behavior. I was wondering if I could have a bit more details on that.

One of the rules in my book, Email Marketing Rules, is to not cannibalize natural behaviors when using behavior triggers. I use shopping cart abandonment emails as an example, saying:

“Not every cart abandoner needs a cart abandonment email. Look at your organic return to purchase time, which is when the majority of customers return to their cart and check out on their own, and then set your cart abandonment email to launch shortly after that point. This way, you avoid sending emails to people who would have likely taken action without your email.”

Another way you can check yourself is to use withhold groups, where a portion of subscriber receive a certain triggered emails and another portion doesn’t. That allows you to more clearly see the impact of an automated email because you have a solid control to compare it to. That’s just one of the many things we recommend when doing A/B tests.



This post provides a high-level overview about certain email laws, but is not intended, and should not be taken, as legal advice. Please contact your attorney for advice on email marketing regulations or any specific legal problems.