Five Elements of a Bad Marketing Email

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With all of the free advice strewn across the internet on blogs and message boards, it’s amazing that people still mess up their email marketing. It seems that everyone has mistakenly subscribed to a poorly maintained, spammy marketing list at least once in their lives, and those emails always force you to scratch your head and wonder what the heck the marketer that wrote it was thinking. Maybe it’s just a rookie trying to feel their way through unknown territory, or maybe its an overbearing manager that doesn’t know the first thing about marketing, we don’t know. But since we have gone over the elements of a good email – customized content, good writing, and a consistent brand dress – we thought that covering the elements that make up a terrible marketing email would act as a cautionary tale to anyone tempted to stray from the light.

1. Sent from ‘Do Not Reply’

Can you think of anything that looks more uninviting than ‘do not reply’? It’s like a hanging a big ‘GO AWAY’ sign on your front door. In the past sending messages from a ‘do not reply’ email made some sense. Everyone was still trying to figure out the whole email marketing thing, and sometimes you didn’t want to open that channel to communication. But now that email marketing is a bit more ubiquitous, a ‘do not reply’ address hinders more than it helps. Customers like to engage with a brand and its marketing, so keep the reply-door open. You never know – it could help generate leads.

2. Clip-Art Abounds

Another relic from the dark days of marketing-past, clip art has no place in a modern email marketing campaign. We understand that clip-art is easy to find and usually free, but it just looks dated. Plus, a little cartoon of businessman carrying a briefcase doesn’t exactly convey professionalism. Instead, use your logo or (well-done) stock images – even if you have to pay for the rights to those images, they’ll make your email look a lot better than if you relied on ten year old graphics.

3. Word-Art

And speaking of relics no one should use anymore, please avoid using old, gimmicky design elements like word art. Back in the late nineties, word art did look kind of neat. But that isn’t the case anymore, and randomly glowing, arched sentences are hard to read and look dated. It is fine to use basic HTML elements like bolded or italicized words to segment your email, but the novelty has worn off of word art and now it just looks cheap.

4. Generic, Vague Content

This goes for both your subject and the actual content of your email. Generic content is a sin that even major corporate marketers are guilty of, and more often than not its a result of an overly ambitious campaign. Subjects like ‘25% off!’ or ‘Act on This Deal Now!’ don’t tell the recipient anything. Why would they want to open that email? Or even read it? The same goes for content – if all your sending is a bullet list of your sales, then your content isn’t targeted. It isn’t even interesting. When it comes email marketing, you don’t want to leave the recipient wondering why they got that email. If you don’t have enough good content to fill out all of the messages you are sending out, lower your sending frequency and make what you do send count.

5. Cheap Tricks

You need your customers to trust you – if they don’t your message will never stick, no matter how well written or constructed it is. Using cheap tricks like hiding the unsubscribe button, or telling half-truths to get people to click through to your site is the quickest way to destroy any trust you’ve cultivated. Again, these types of tactics can usually be traced back to an overbearing manager with the wrong ideas in their head, but even making the mistake to use these tactics just once is enough to crumple any trust your subscribers felt for the company.


Hopefully you can look at your marketing emails and proudly proclaim that none of these elements make an appearance in your campaign. If that is the case, congratulations, but if it is not, you really need to examine your marketing strategy and think about changing a few things. Marketing isn’t supposed to be quick and easy – if it was, everyone would be a self-proclaimed marketing guru. You need to put a bit of thought and effort into whatever you send out. After all, if you don’t give your subscribers a reason to stick around, they won’t.

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