As a marketer, I’m aware of how and when I’m marketed to. One of the ways most of us are marketed to every day is by email. We receive so many emails that Google, one of the largest providers, gave us three inboxes to keep things sorted – and it still isn’t enough!

Here’s what I’m seeing with email, though: some good, more bad and most of the email I get is ugly. And not just normal ugly, we’re talking Clint Eastwood staring you down in a three-way duel ugly. Yeah, that bad.

What follows is a rundown – not a staredown – of some real email marketing messages I’ve received over the last few months. Hopefully these examples give you a sense of not only how to send more effective messages, but also the reasons why email marketing sometimes fails.

**Cues up Ennio Morricone’s original score**

The Ugly of Email Marketing

The Good

Let’s start off with the good because hey, that’s the goal here: to help you do better email marketing.

We’ve been big fans of BuzzSumo for a while now and often use their product to curate and measure content. Over the course of my personal experience as a subscriber, BuzzSumo’s email touch points with me were perfect. They sent billing statements and reached out when they made big updates to their product (which wasn’t often), but other than that, any other emails I got from them were alerts I asked for. BuzzSumo stayed in touch, but they didn’t pester me to upgrade my subscription or send me emails that didn’t apply to my subscriber level. Every email they sent me made sense.

Somewhere along the line I realized I didn’t need to pay for BuzzSumo, so I cancelled my subscription (which was an easy and painfree process, by the way – a little transparency goes a long way!).

A couple weeks after I cancelled my subscription, I got the following email from James, the co-founder of BuzzSumo:

Email from BuzzSumo

Whether this is an automated message, which it probably is, or something that actually came from James personally, it’s a really good strategy. Instead of making me angry by not allowing me to easily cancel my subscription, BuzzSumo let me go and gave me some space. Then, after a little time apart, they swoop back in and offer me something.

As I said, I love BuzzSumo. I paid for the product for over a year and not only do they know this, they also know I’m not going to say no to the trail. I said yes and they once again gave me access to the Pro version of their product.

BuzzSumo has nothing to lose. The worst that can happen is I use the product for two weeks and then go back to my free account. However, if I realize that I actually can’t live without a paid subscription and sign up again, BuzzSumo has regained a customer with one short email and a carrot-dangle freebie.

It’s simple and it’s genius.

The Bad

This is more general, but when it comes to email marketing, the big bad is that we get so much mail. I just quickly glanced at the Promotions tab in my personal gmail account and I have 17 emails (and counting) already today. My inbox says I’ve looked at one of them and I think that was an accident.

Seriously, how am I supposed to read 17 emails after I get through my workday and all the email that entails? It’s crazy! Yet here I am telling you that email marketing is an effective tactic.

What gives?

The reality is email is a great communication channel. It’s becoming more difficult to a) get through the noise or b) block out the noise, but it’s no less convenient for both business and personal tasks. Somehow, some way, there needs to be less email.

CAN-SPAM and CASL – stringent anti-spam email laws aimed at businesses and marketers – have helped in a big way. But we as marketers also need to take matters into our own hands when creating and sending marketing messages.

Which leads me to my next point…

The Ugly

I’m not sure I’m calm enough to write about this yet but here goes.

In my spare time, I play daily fantasy hockey. For those unfamiliar, daily fantasy sports are one-day contests in which users draft real-life athletes with a salary cap, and then are awarded prizes based on the number of points generated by their selected lineups. If you’ve heard of companies like DraftKings and FanDuel then you know what I’m talking about.

I signed up for a trial version of a tool that helps users select better teams (because winning is fun!). Upon signing up for this trial, I was absolutely bombarded with emails:

Email Overload

There are a number of things very, very wrong with this screenshot, but the first and most obvious one is this is way too many emails, period. Eight emails in eight days, and on some of the days there were two messages. Unless you’re sending out a real present on each of the 12 days of Christmas, it’s never okay to send this much email to your target audience.

The second big no-no about this flurry of emails is the subject matter. I mentioned I play daily fantasy hockey, right? These emails are either about the NBA or the NFL; I don’t play basketball or football fantasy sports, which means I have no need for these emails.

These guys know – or should make it their priority to know – how customers are using their tool. But they don’t and, since there’s no attempt at segmenting their lists and sending out meaningful messages, I’ve already unsubscribed and won’t be signing up for the paid version of their product.

Bad email marketing literally prevented these guys from gaining a new customer after successfully converting me on a free trial. How’s that for ugly?


Email is a part of most of our everyday lives – and it isn’t going anywhere. Spammy messages and other emails we don’t read are part of the daily battle we wage against our inboxes. The key to successful email marketing is finding the right mix of timing, frequency and a message that makes sense.

If you’d like to connect with us about improving your email marketing or starting a new campaign, drop us a line – we’d love to help!

About Cheryl Baldwin

Cheryl Baldwin, Director of Marketing Communications at WSI, oversees WSI’s Marketing Department. She’s an integral part of the WSI’s global brand presence and corporate identity.