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How to Avoid the Perils of Overly Salesy Emails

While email marketing excels at driving sales for retailers, there are very real dangers to being overly promotional with your email messaging mix. The rising danger is because of two developments over the past several years:

  1. Emails have moved from desktops to mobile devices. That has shortened the time between when emails are sent and when they are opened because consumers carry their phones with them all the time. However, for the very same reason, it’s also made the inbox into a more personal place.
  2. The number of promotional emails that retail brands send each of their subscribers has more than doubled on average over the past 7 years, according to my own tracking. In 2007, retailers sent each subscriber 95 emails on average. Last year, it climbed to 215. And none of that includes the growing number of triggered emails that are sent in response to cart abandonment, browse abandonment, inactivity, and other behaviors.

Beating the “buy, buy, buy” drum too hard will cause more subscribers to start tuning you out and drive up the number of subscribers going through your reengagement program. To avoid that fate, expand your definition of delivering value and look to engage subscribers with content that primes them to be receptive to future hard-sell messaging.

Consider the following soft-sell tactics:

  • Education. For many products, consumers don’t know they need it until they’re educated about the product or about the circumstances that drive its need.
  • How-To. Similar to education, how-to advice is rather critical for suppliers of raw materials, like home improvement stores and art supplies stores.
  • News & Information. News and other updates can keep subscribers engaged with the product category that’s key to your business.
  • Social Interactions. Part of what becomes grating about promotional emails is that it’s always the brand talking at the subscriber. By leveraging social interactions, you can bring the voice of your customers into your messaging.
  • Cause Marketing & Branding Building. What does your company care about besides selling things?

For a full discussion of these tactics, plus real-world examples, read the entire article on

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Chad S. White

Chad S. White

Chad S. White was the Research Director at Litmus