Adam T. Sutton

Email Marketing: A toxic misunderstanding that could kill your response rates

Internal challenges are among the hardest to overcome when trying to improve your email marketing. You can know everything about improving results, but if your leaders are unwilling to commit the resources, or have a fundamental misunderstanding about email, then you have some convincing to do.

One of the most common misunderstandings I have heard at our Email Marketing Workshops is that some companies “do not believe in” suppressing parts of their list. The leaders essentially force the marketers to batch and blast, thinking it is always better to have more eyeballs on a message than fewer.

This, however, is a huge misconception. Email marketing is not advertising. If you send a message that is irrelevant to a large portion of your list, then you are encouraging recipients to click “spam” and ignore you in the future. Practiced consistently, this can be toxic to your database.

Email is not direct mailToxic Barrels

During a recent interview, Arthur Hughes, Founder of the Database Marketing Institute, explained how this misunderstanding likely came from the world of direct mail. Senior-level marketers, he said, often have a wealth of experience in direct mail and commonly suppress parts of their lists in the channel to save money.

“The whole point of segmenting in direct mail is to avoid paying postage for people who are not going to respond, and saving yourself $0.40 or $0.50 a piece to put stuff in the mail,” he says.

But email is so cheap, Hughes notes, that segmentation seems like a waste of time to some marketers. Why bother excluding a few thousand people to save the company less than $5? Why not email these people and hope a few will respond?

“Because when you segment, the email is more interesting and relevant,” Hughes says. And as MarketingSherpa’s readers should know, increasing email relevance has been proven to increase results and help protect your response and delivery rates.

Overcome the misconceptions

Hopefully a sound, logical argument will be enough to convince your leaders to end a batch-and-blast approach. However, if your reasoning cannot convince them, do some research to backup your argument. Here are a few starting points:

Email Challenges Chart – The most significant challenge to email marketing effectiveness is to target recipients with highly relevant content, as evidenced in the MarketingSherpa chart in Brad Bortone’s blog post.

B2B Email Tactics Chart – The top B2B email tactics are ranked on three dimensions — popularity, difficulty and effectiveness. Personalization clearly comes in second place for effectiveness.

Email Relevancy Tactics – This chart lists the top tactics marketers use to align their emails more closely with their audience’s preferences.

Email Marketing ROI – If you’re having trouble getting resources, this blog post explains several ways to calculate your email marketing ROI, and also notes that B2C marketers report an average email ROI of 256%.

Case studies from companies that are in your industry can also help convince skeptics that adding more relevance to your emails is worth the investment. Keep an eye on our Email Marketing Newsletter to find some great examples.

Related resources

MarketingSherpa Email Summit 2012: Call for speakers

MarketingSherpa Email Marketing LEAPS Workshop

Email Marketing: Two ways to add relevance, and why you must be correct

Reader Mail: Understanding differences in clickthrough rates and open rates

Members Library – Email Relevance: 8 tactics for leveraging timing, segmentation and content

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Email Marketing



  1. September 5th, 2011 at 03:36 | #1

    How often do they recommend send rate?

  2. Adam Sutton
    September 6th, 2011 at 09:12 | #2

    Hi Jan — Thank you for your comment. The answer truly depends on your audience, its propsensity for email, and its expectations. You might find, for instance, that a portion of your audience is more accepting of a greater number of emails than other portions.

  1. September 2nd, 2011 at 04:03 | #1
  2. September 7th, 2011 at 10:09 | #2