The Fine Line Between Clever and Stupid: Striking the Right Balance With Your Email Newsletter



Email marketing is still shedding its reputation of being spammy or annoying. For me, it’s like any other marketing. If it’s done well by a company I’m interested in, I love it. If it’s ham-fisted and sales-y, it bugs me and actually detracts from my likelihood to purchase from that company again. So, what is it specifically that makes an email marketing strategy work or not?

I’ve been thinking about it lately and I have come up with a few ways to determine the right balance for your company’s email marketing strategy. As we know, all good strategy starts with questions. So let’s start by answering these for yourself.

How many offerings do you have? Does your company offer a small line of products or is it a wide-ranging array of flexible, custom services? In the end, the number of products you have on offer should correspond in some way to how frequently you send out email blasts.

How much content are you creating? How do you manage your online presence? Do you develop new and interesting blogs on a weekly basis? Or do you typically let your products do the talking? Emails that have nothing new to say aren’t very likely to get opened, and if they do, the reader will likely be disappointed.

How much value are you giving away? When it comes to your online presence, what kind of activity do you do? Do you give people valuable information? Or do you mainly sell, sell, sell? As a reminder, this is “the age of the customer” and the customer needs to be given value in order to feel like they have an equitable relationship with your company.

As you let those questions marinate, I’m going to use one company I receive emails from as a way to discuss the good, the bad, and the ugly of email marketing.

Our guinea pig is a fancy beef jerky company I’ve ordered from once. Honestly, they make some incredibly delicious jerky. I feel safe saying it is the best I have had. But their email marketing strategy could be steering the ship straight into the muck. Let’s take a closer look.

When I made my initial purchase, I received a “Welcome to the Family” email. Great! You should absolutely capture the email of anyone who buys from you and add it to your email list. Your email list is a tremendously valuable resource and more companies ought to put more focus on building theirs.

Then I started to see a glut of emails from them in my inbox. Geez, I thought, how much beef jerky do these guys really think I’m going to buy? The emails have been coming in once, and more recently, twice a week for the past few months. Considering how many offerings they have (one: beef jerky in several flavors), it really seems a bit excessive.

In fact, the sheer rate of emails dissuaded me from finding out that they actually provide some half decent content. For example: They got their jerky on a recent SpaceX flight to be eaten by the astronauts on board and sent an email talking about that. They also recently partnered with the NBA’s Detroit Pistons and the NBA Players Association to provide some much needed assistance in Flint, Michigan, and sent an email talking about that. These are about as interesting as you could expect a company like that to get and sharing these bits of news with their fans is a no-brainer.

But as the legendary Nigel Tufnel of Spinal Tap so aptly said, “it’s such a fine line between clever and stupid.” The same company also sent an email with an image of a Trump-esque red hat that says, “Make Jerky Great Again.” They also sent an Easter email encouraging people to ditch the ham and eat jerky instead. Okay. It’s this attitude of “we have to latch onto everything and somehow make it about us,” that personally makes me want to vomit.

While they’ve gotten a good many parts of email marketing strategy right, they’ve also been guilty of overstepping that famous line between clever and stupid. Even with the brands I am most committed to, I don’t want to hear from them every day. And I don’t want to see them trying to weasel sales out of every little cultural phenomenon, no matter how tangentially related. From my perspective, it’s a question of authenticity.

The right email marketing strategy, I think, is the one that provides the receiver with valuable information or offers and doesn’t overwhelm or annoy them.

If you only make one product, don’t waste your breath trying to convince readers that that single product is the most interesting, important thing in the world. If you do the hard work and define your brand identity first, and you don’t look at your customers as mere means to an end, you’ll have a jump-start on many companies out there today.


Reprinted by permission.

Image credit: CC by Notoriousxl

About the author: Dylan Thaemert

Dylan Thaemert is Social Engagement Manager at Social Media Contractors. He graduated from Loyola University Chicago, where he earned his B.A. in English, specializing in Creative Writing.

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