Anti-spam Cat

28 March 2016

Bad-Marketing Case Study: How To FAIL By Email

by Freddy Tran Nager, Founder of Atomic Tango; photo courtesy of

Email is back! … Well, actually, it never left. It just got overshadowed by all the social media hype. But now that marketers have finally acknowledged that most social media marketing is a waste of time, everyone’s launching an e-newsletter.

Or worse.

While a well-crafted marketing email works far better than Twitter stalking (marketing at its lamest… and creepiest), the key is the “well-crafted” part.

I receive unsolicited marketing emails every day, and I don’t really mind as long as they:

  1. Display knowledge of who I am and what my company does.
  2. Are well written and completely free of errors and jargon.
  3. Present a product/service with clear benefits for me.
  4. Don’t use the word “partner” unless they’re offering to pay half my business expenses.

Unfortunately, most fail to meet even 1 of these 4 requirements.

The Case Of The Clueless Digital Marketing Agency

I recently received an email from a self-proclaimed digital marketing agency that demonstrates exactly what NOT to do. I’ve included all the contents below — I only changed the names of the company and the spammer sender to protect the guilty:

[Subject line:] Influencers. Premium Ads. Ecommerce Optimization… and more from Digital Agency

We wanted to follow up regarding the email we sent over last week that referenced our desire to help your company:

  • Increase awareness of your products/services
  • Drive qualified traffic from your exact audience to your digital properties
  • Increase sales conversions, lead funnel, subscriber base, fanbase, etc

Would you have 15 minutes this week for an intro call?

Please advise and thanks,
Joe Salesperson-

Although the email is short and to the point, you can probably see some problems with it. Let’s break it down, shall we?

“Influencers. Premium Ads. Ecommerce Optimization… and more from Digital Agency”

Sales email subject lines should mention some benefit or offer — and ideally the word “you.” This subject line simply lists products in a completely impersonal way. Not horrific, but not great.

Now all those products are valid services today — smartly, no social media — but I immediately questioned Digital Agency’s competence at any of these. Why aren’t they using influencers or premium ads, instead of spam, to reach me?

We wanted to follow up regarding the email we sent over last week that referenced our desire to help your company:”

Who speaks like this? Imagine if I approached a stranger and said, “I’d like to reference my desire to help you…” They’d probably taser me. Now, it’s not the worst sentence I’ve ever read, but it’s another sign that these guys aren’t marketing pros.

Also, the lack of salutation or personalization practically shouts “GENERIC FORM EMAIL!” That’s lazy direct marketing. A good digital marketing rep would research the sales prospect and use their full name and company name. Today’s email services make personalization easy, so there’s no excuse.

And note that this is the second email they sent me. Apparently, they took my non-existent reply to their first email to mean “send me more!” Follow-up emails in response to silence are increasingly common — I presume they must generate results, or marketers wouldn’t send them. But that crosses the line from direct marketing to spam, while transforming the sender from someone you don’t care about to someone you want to ridicule in a blog.

“• Increase awareness of your products/services
• Drive qualified traffic from your exact audience to your digital properties
• Increase sales conversions, lead funnel, subscriber base, fanbase, etc”

Now we have clear benefits, but they’re not personalized to my company and needs. I sell marketing strategies to other businesses — what exactly would Digital Agency do for me?

Worse, this email fails to prove that Digital Agency can perform any of these services. For example, it contains no links. If Digital Agency truly knew how to direct traffic to digital properties, this sales email would contain links to more product explanations, testimonials, and case studies. Omitting links in marketing emails signaled amateurishness back in the ’90s.

“Would you have 15 minutes this week for an intro call?”

Are you kidding me?

Phone conversations can help move a sales prospect along, but most business people avoid unnecessary calls — particularly with sales reps — until they really need something. More to the point, the word “Digital” is in the actual name of this company, so they need to show they can do digital before asking to go analog.

I wouldn’t trust these guys to write a tweet.

“Please advise and thanks,”

Thanks for what?

“Joe Salesperson-“

I made up this name, but it’s better than the original because it actually has a job title in it. The original signature had no title, no company name, no contact information — just the guy’s name with that odd hyphen at the end. Not exactly professional looking, right?

The email also lacked imagery — not even a company logo. Now, images in emails can be hard to see or outright blocked, and too many images can land your message in a spam folder. But when your target customer has never heard of you, your marketing messages need branding. People who profess to be marketers should know that.

So what happens to unbranded sales pitches like this? Instant deletion with a vengeance! (I had to rescue this email from my trash folder to write this post.)

The sad part? This is one of the better marketing emails I’ve received.

Last week I received an email from another company I don’t know that contained the following spew:

“By leveraging each other’s capabilities, we have the opportunity to bring fresh ideas to the market. Last year, our current partners generated $2.5M+ in revenue by incorporating challenges to their service offerings. We’d love to learn more about your partnership programs, and how you work with companies such as ours.”

There’s that meaningless “partner” pitch. And I couldn’t help but reply to them, “All I read in your email was ‘we jargon jargon jargon, in order to jargon jargon jargon, so we can jargon jargon jargon with you.’”

Despite this overt dis, the guy emailed me back to set up a phone call.

Now I could rant about bad marketing all day, but ultimately here’s what I want to know:

Who responds to these guys and gives them money?

Like with illegal drugs, as long as there are users, there will be skeezy pushers hiding in alleys and inboxes whispering, “Hey buddy, want to partner on some digital?”

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Freddy is the Founder & Creative Strategist of Atomic Tango. He also teaches graduate-level marketing communication courses at the University of Southern California (go Trojans!), shoots pool somewhat adequately, and herds cats. Freddy received his BA from Harvard and his MBA from USC.

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Chikashi Miyamoto
8 years ago

Haha, good one!

“We wanted to follow up regarding the email we sent over last week that referenced our desire to help your company:” That might be a version of Globish. Also, similar language is standard stuff in a certain south Asian subcontinent. It’s amusing and exhausting at the same time.

To be completely fair to these spammers, they and their clients probably deserve each other.

Rachel Brookhart
7 years ago

I get a ton of these emails from people wanting to schedule a call with me and I’m like, “First of all, I don’t talk on the phone unless I absolutely have to. Know your audience. And second, what makes you think I need or want your product? Because I put my email address to download a white paper?” They are trying to jump from slight interest to sale, with no inbetween. There’s no foreplay in the marketing world anymore!


[…] a fun breakdown of why emails like this are awful, check out this blog by Atomic Tango.  As a side note, Freddy from Atomic Tango is who I learned about The Rule of 16 […]

Mark Armstrong
5 years ago

We have met the enemy, and the enemy is jargon. OK, one of many marketing enemies (as you point out above), but surely the one wearing the ugliest bearskin and carrying the biggest club. Alas, said club always winds up beating one’s brand reputation to a pulp. Great post, Freddy!