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5 Reasons Why Email Marketing Fails And How to Avoid Them

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You know that moment when you come across something so interesting, so thought-provoking that you just have to share it?

This is that moment.

A few weeks ago, Rand Fishkin published a video called The Greatest Misconception in Content Marketing. Like most of his videos, Rand used plain and simple terms to explain why a lot of content marketing fails. More recently, he followed up on it with an 86-slide deck that further explains why content marketing fails.

And it’s simple, really. The stakeholders funding the content marketing don’t understand how it works and expect unreasonably fast or massive results without enough budget, resources and time. Blogging doesn’t create business, at least not right away.

Rand broke it down into five mistakes that marketers make that result in failure:

  1. You believed the biggest myth content marketing ever told the world. (Gotta see the slides for this one.)
  2. You made content without a community.
  3. You invested in content creation, but not in it’s amplification.
  4. You ignored content marketing’s most powerful channel: SEO
  5. You gave up way too soon.

This deck – all 86 slides – is pure gold for content marketers.

Why Content Marketing Fails from Rand Fishkin

At this point, you might be thinking, “Well that’s great advice but isn’t this an email marketing blog?” And you are absolutely correct. I took Rand’s five mistakes and altered them to apply directly to email marketers.

1. You believed the biggest myth email marketing ever told the world.

Email marketing is the pinnacle of permission-based marketing. This means you have the privilege, not the right, to communicate with prospects, leads and customers. It’s the #1 reason we see email marketers fail and the #1 reason we see them succeed. As Seth Godin says, it’s all about building trust and earning respect.

It recognizes the new power of the best consumers to ignore marketing. It realizes that treating people with respect is the best way to earn their attention.

Respect the inbox, deliver value and you can succeed.

2. You waited too long to hit send.

Rand’s second mistake (You made content without a community) is actually just the opposite for email marketers. While content is designed to spread and be shared, email is designed to deliver a message and prompt action. Because the goals are different, an email marketing program can be very successful with just a handful of subscribers. Don’t wait until you have 5,000 people on your list to start sending emails. If you are starting a blog, kick off your weekly email newsletter right away. If you are launching a new product, start building interest months before it launches.

Copyblogger has popularized the idea of the minimum viable audience, which applies perfectly to this lesson:

“You’re receiving enough feedback from comments, emails, social networks, and social media news sites in order to adapt and evolve your content to better serve the audience.”

Send, adapt, repeat.

3. You invested in email creation, but not in list growth.

In other words, you are sending emails regularly, but you aren’t growing your database. Hopefully, you are learning from feedback – analytics, unsubscribe rates and anecdotal evidence – how to make your emails better. But as we discussed earlier, emails don’t spread in the same way content does. A great piece of content can bring new readers to your site but a great email likely won’t add people to your list. For this reason, you need to invest time in both creating great emails and adding people to your list.

This comes down to carefully placing calls to action in the right places. For some, this could mean a pop-up or interstitial ad and for others, it means including them organically in your content. There are no right or wrong answers, it’s simply a matter of offering a value proposition to your site’s visitors. If the value of the content is high enough, people might simply want to be notified when there are new articles. Often, e-books and reports are good ways to grow an email list. Experiment with forms, surveys, ads, landing pages, social media and video to see what prompts visitors to act but whatever you do, please don’t cannibalize your content.

4. You ignored email marketing’s two most powerful channels: transactional and behavioral email.

Email marketing is so much more than coupons and newsletters. In fact, email marketing has gotten a bad rap from the many companies who have abused the privilege of inbox access. Consumers are wise to those tactics and wary of companies who bombard them with email.

Smart marketers take email to the next level. This starts with automated drip campaigns that slowly expose new users or prospects to new content, products and services. But that is just the beginning.

Transactional emails – like receipts, invoices, reminders, notifications, password changes and confirmation emails – have significantly higher open rates. More importantly, they serve a specific purpose and contain data that readers are genuinely interested in. It’s time more marketers took advantage of this opportunity. Much more on that here.

Really smart marketers are actually tracking user behavior on their site and sending super-targeted messages based on that behavior. Amazon is the master of this but anyone can use this strategy now. How? Tools like Vero, that’s how.

5. You gave up way too soon.

Rand nailed this one but again, it’s different for content marketing and email marketing. In content marketing, you need time to grow an audience, build authority with search engines and gain momentum on social media. For email marketers, the passage of time must coincide with the rapid application of changes based on feedback. That’s a fancy way of saying email marketers should always be testing new copy, subject lines and segmentation, and making changes based on what they learn.

Constant testing is the best way to get your emails opened and clicked more. If you are simultaneously creating better emails and growing your email lists, the value derived from your email marketing efforts will skyrocket. Then you get unicorns.


What have you learned from your email marketing mistakes? Let us know in the comments.

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