Tax & Accounting Blog

An Email Autopsy: The Dissection of a Horrible Spam Email

Blog, Checkpoint Marketing for Firms, Marketing October 6, 2015

I’ve always been fascinated by spammers who send unsolicited emails to marketing professionals. Don’t they know that we have high standards? That we will pick apart any and all errors, beginning with being sent an email that we didn’t subscribe to? I call this instant, once-over examination – where I mentally analyze and dissect every fallacy and gaffe – an email autopsy.

Last year, I discovered Ginny Soskey’s post “Why Is This In My Inbox? Deconstructing the Worst Spam Email of All Time” and did a double-take. I had already started a draft of this post because I had received the exact same SPAM email that she used in her example. Clearly, she and I have had similar experiences and job roles, which have perpetuated similar attitudes, and we have a similar writing style (for the most part). All of which somehow led to both of us being added to the same spammer’s email list (without our permission, of course).

Fortunately, I had seen Ms. Soskey’s post before I had finalized my own and therefore had a chance to tweak my article so that we didn’t use the same verbiage to describe this disgusting email (such as “horrible,” “horrendous” and “anatomy”). I chuckled as I edited my draft as I noted the eerily familiar approach to the subject, descriptive language, and overall disdain for sickeningly poor marketing tactics.

Since it is over a year old now, this post has clearly been published before. However, since its original publication on a blog that has been retired, I’ve received dozens of B2B spam emails just like the one below – and a few that are even worse! Therefore, it seems worthy of a re-post.

Don’t Spam Your Audience

There are some horribly spammy emails out there, and we (as marketers) feel your pain. One would think that spammers would know better than to spam a marketing professional, especially one specializing in email communications. Sadly, one would be wrong. We get them, too. This one that I received last year was so appalling that I kept it to use as an example of what not to do with email marketing.

What was so wrong with it, you ask? Review the original email (lightly redacted, but otherwise verbatim) below, and then enjoy my slightly ranting dialogue about what makes it so abhorrent from marketing, communication, branding, and relationship-building perspectives.

An Email Autopsy: The Dissection of a Truly Horrific B2B Email of the Spam Variety

Anatomy of a Terrible B2B Email

1) Unrecognizable Sender Name

“jake@redacted.com” sent me an email? Jake who? OK, admittedly I was able to see the sender’s domain, which gave me a clue (like a punch in the face) that this email was going to be spam. But for a moment, let’s suppose that the sender’s domain was not a dead giveaway and was something generic like “redacted.com”. Since “jake@redacted.com” is not in my address book, and is not an email address I recognize, I am likely to delete the email without even looking at it. I’m sure I have friends who have emailed me at home from new email addresses that I have deleted because I did not instantly recognize the correlation between the sender’s first name and the domain used.

Including your last name in your email address is one way to ensure that your recipients recognize your email even if you change your sending domain. This is especially important for business emails (though some of my friends should probably take note as well). Better yet, make sure that your full name appears professionally in addition to your email address and that you’ve asked your subscribers to add you to their white lists.

2) Terrible Subject Line

“B2B and B2C OPT-IN Email Lists”: First of all, what about them? Does this email contain an article about best practices for growing and maintaining opt-in email lists? [Yes, I am now laughing loud enough to surprise my furry canine office companion, who is now looking up at me from her cozy sleeping spot under my desk.] Secondly, now that I have read the email and understand what it is really about, let me point out that there is no such thing as an “opt-in list” that is for sale. I don’t know anyone who has ever subscribed to a list and said, “Yes! Sell my contact information so that hundreds of other companies can spam me”.

This subject line was obscure and unclear. A better practice is to write compelling, specific subject lines that speak directly to the recipient and address exactly what the email is about.

3) Generic Greeting

“Hi.” Really? You don’t even know my name? It’s Becca. If you’re going to greet me so casually in an email, go ahead and use my name. I may still recognize immediately that your message is spam, but at least you’ve shown that you do actually know my name. If you’re really clever, a personalized greeting that uses the nickname I prefer might even confuse me enough for me to keep reading your spammy email.

And if you’re not a spammer, personalizing your greetings is actually a good idea. Even though we all know that an email database somewhere is merely filling in an empty field, personalization still does what it sounds like it does: makes the email more personal. Which is a good thing if you want people to read your messages.

4) Bewildering Introduction

“I wanted to check if you are in practice of purchasing email lists? Reach C-level decision makers, Business decision makers, HR professionals, Healthcare Professionals by Specialties email lists across the globe.” ….WHAT??! I am perplexed right off the bat because “Jake” is asking me a trick question. Right? He must be asking me a trick question. Why would I ever purchase an email list? Then I try to read the next sentence and am bewildered by the incorrect grammar, inconsistent capitalization and overall incoherence.

Make sure that your B2B email introductions are clear, compelling and descriptive. You only have a second or two to make your case to your recipient to encourage further reading of your message. Make it count. Does spelling matter? Yes. So does grammar. I admit that I am a bit of a Grammar Queen, but I know for a fact that I am not the only consumer who refuses to do business with a company that sends emails (or brochures, or postcards, or letters) that are chock-full of spelling and grammatical errors. Strive for expressive brevity. Use your spell-check tool and ask someone else to proofread your messages if writing is not your forte.

5) Exploding Bullets

I won’t copy the entire bulleted list from the email here, because frankly, it is too long, too convoluted and too wordy. The point of bulleted lists is to call out a small amount of information in tiny, easily-scanned, brief little phrases. Each one of the bullets from this particular email could have been (and should have been) its very own bulleted list. Squashing six bulleted lists into one bulleted list is not an effective strategy for any kind of writing, but especially not for email marketing.

When you have a lot of information to impart, break it down to the most important, absolutely vital pieces. Less is more. Consider setting up a drip campaign if you have more than one point that you want to make or more than one value proposition to share.

6) Ridiculous Irrelevance

The entire email above should be marked with a giant number 6. This is what makes this email so horrific: irrelevance. The sender obviously knows nothing about me, what I do, the type of business that I am in, or whether or not I am a decision maker. He clearly doesn’t care if I would benefit from or appreciate anything that he has to offer. He even ostentatiously admits ignorance a few times in his email (“let me know your target industry”, “if you are not the right point of contact”, “if you are in practice of”). That makes me feel just a little bit nauseated, both as an email marketing professional and as a human being.

Know your audience. Target your emails. Segment your own email lists by demographics, topics of interest, service needs, and other data points that will ensure your marketing messages are relevant. Relevance is the number one most compelling element in an email. It doesn’t matter if you are selling accounting services or plastic widgets. If you don’t customize your content to each of your recipients, you are wasting your time. Make sure that your emails offer some kind of benefit and value to each of your readers by including content that is specifically relevant to their interests and needs.

7) Obvious CAN-SPAM Trickery

“Any views or opinion expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of [business name].” This made me laugh so loudly that I scared my dogs. Grammatical errors in this CAN-SPAM trailer aside, the sender didn’t even bother to insert his company’s name into the copied-and-pasted poor substitute for a CAN-SPAM footer. As I noted in point #1 above, the sender’s domain hinted that the email was spam. A super-quick web search for the domain used in the sender’s email address revealed that the domain did not even exist. Perhaps that is why there is no company name in the footer. There is no such company. And yet, because the sender actually included a contemptuously written, incomplete CAN-SPAM footer, the email was not actually trapped in my spam folder.

Sigh.

Don’t try to con email programs with fake CAN-SPAM trailers or illegitimate company names. It’s just not ethical marketing behavior.

8) Manual Unsubscribes

“If you’re not interested to further emails, please reply with the subject line as ‘UNSUBSCRIBE’”. Again with the despicably poor language. But overlooking that pet peeve, “Jake” is making it as difficult as possible to unsubscribe to his spam. Not only do I have to email him rather than just clicking on a link, but now I also have to manually block his future emails in my email program because I have no doubt that he will not actually unsubscribe me from his mailings.

While technically this technique is compliant with CAN-SPAM rules and regulations, it is annoying. Annoying your audience is truly not recommended.

Final Thoughts…

Thus ends my rant on spammy emails. Hopefully, your messages are much more professional and relevant than this hideous example. The goal of B2B email marketing is to increase your company’s branding and reputation while establishing trust and long-term relationships. Emails like the one shown here certainly do not accomplish this mission.

Have you received a brilliant email that you just couldn’t stop raving about? Please share! In the future, I will write another post on “The Anatomy of a Brilliant B2B Email” just to get the email marketing universe back in balance.