Nine email marketing mistakes not to make

Last updated 10:27 03/08/2010

As a public speaker, I get to observe and sometimes help in marketing the events or conferences I'm involved in. Many are done well. But many are enough to make a savvy or cost-conscious individual weep.

Scenario 1: Again, from scratch

Australian Government department. Five-city speaking engagement that is part of the annual October Business Month. This was the third year the event was conducted. Yet when I asked the organisers about their marketing for the event, they had not kept a record of those attending in previous years. Event marketing had to be done from scratch. To the same people. Yet again.

The website information required people to download a PDF file that was almost 2MB in size (just to find where and when the events were). For those who registered, even though there was a small registration fee, the organisers only kept a record of the individual and their company name.

Scenario 2: Expensive marketing

Another national roadshow. This one was an 11-city tour for a national company, targeting a segment of their market. It was their second that year. The event has been running for several years. All the invitations were done by post or by telephone. Why? Because their main corporate database doesn't have a field for email addresses.

Scenario 3: Most popular and well-attended seminar ever

"May I offer a few suggestions?' I asked my client. We were discussing my speech for their upcoming seminar series for their Allied Medical Health professional clients and prospects. "Of course,' they said and listened as I recommended:

1. Don't put your logo on top of the email. Have it on the right side or on the bottom.

2. Have the subject line read: "your personal invitation".

3. Instead of a lot of waffle up front, simply put Who: What: Where: Why.

4. Follow with the marketing spiel after that.

The seminar series just finished. The topic - Marketing Your Practice In Today's Wired World - was of interest to the attendees, but more importantly, I'm sure the straightforward email helped enormously. They had more than double their normal RSVPs and record-breaking attendance.

What's my point? Why do Scenario 1 and 2 make this grown girl cry? It's the missed opportunities. It's the not planning and not thinking ahead. It's not thinking outside the square. It's not putting yourself in your customers' shoes and trying to make things easy for them. Perhaps it's a syndrome of large organisations where there is employee turnover and specified job descriptions.

What lessons can you learn from these three situations?

1. From day one establish a separate and information-rich database in Excel. Who came, which event, all their contact details, the guests they brought with them.

2. Market to prior attendees first. Send out personalised email invitations to last year's attendees. Ask them to bring colleagues along. Give a clickable link for self-registration.

3. Have all information easily accessible on a website rather than requiring a PDF download. Simply put the information on the website in a table format.

4. Ensure that before you begin you have your web designer set up a simple online database to collect all the information from the registrations and have an email prompt every time someone registers (so you know it's happened).

This would eliminate 99.9 per cent of all the manual labour involved with registration. Download the database daily and voila - no more manual typing in information or cutting and pasting from email.

5. If your company database doesn't have all the fields you require, simply create a report of the target market for the event, export it as a text file (CSV or TAB) and open that up in Excel. There's your new marketing database where you can enter as many new fields as you like.

6. Look for other joint ventures to help market the event where there's synergy, non-competition and a nice, big, juicy database. If you add an incentive, such as commission on registrations, there's even more reason to help you.

7. Instead of emailing your whole database in the hope of getting a few out-of-town registrations, target specific groups. If people receive items that don't interest them, you'll lose them.

8. Don't start the email with a huge spiel about why they should attend. Lay your invitation out plainly - what, when, where, how much, and then go into the whys. This will increase your uptake rather than lower it.

9. Ditch the graphics, especially if you place them on top. Almost everyone has software or web email that doesn't show graphics. Your recipient will see only blank white space with a little red x and the message about their privacy being maintained.

Debbie can be contacted on Facebook, SuccessIS or

Post a comment
Alberto   #1   11:31 am Aug 03 2010

Excell isn't a Company Database... it is a silo of information stored in a spreadsheet...

Use a real Contact Management System, where you can code that someone attended a event, while still being able to market other activities to them.

A corporate Contact Management System means thios info is available to all the company - not just the events marketing peron (or people)...

paul   #2   11:49 am Aug 03 2010

exactly what I told our corporate marketing team. People don't read email they skip to the important bits so make them clear and at the top.

Don't add unnecessary fluff. Tell 'em what, when, and how much.

Then add your pretty prancing pony chatter at the bottom.

Was I ignored? Yup. Was it a disaster? You betcha.

They EDM'ed 100 thousand addresses and got blacklisted as spammers by every major ISP in the world.

LB   #3   12:34 pm Aug 03 2010

"information-rich database in Excel" - LOL. Or use a real database.

debbie mayo-smith   #4   06:30 pm Aug 03 2010

Alberto and LB, guys I know you're turning up your noses at the thought of Excel being used for a database but two points to consider: Dollars to dognuts you're in large corporations or even medium sized ones that can afford a system. Most small businesses operate on minimal cash available for resources others would consider necessary.

Second, it would make a grown man, woman cry (well, if you're a marketer that is) to see the vast number of businesses with NO database at all. So to keep a little something in Excel is a vast and easy improvement over nothing.

Paul I would so love to have had that database.

Alice2   #5   06:42 pm Aug 03 2010

I agree on lesson #3: I recently attended a forum where the only programme info on the website was blurbs about the speakers & the titles of the workshops/presentations they were giving - but no times. Not even a start time for the first day. When I requested a programme via email, we were told we'd receive them at the event - not so good when I don't know the start time!

Also, remember some of us actually like to print things - don't make backgrounds dark colours that chew up toner & make it hard to write notes on the page!

Gravey   #6   11:50 pm Aug 03 2010

While I accept the criticism of Debbie in relation to Excel, much of her blogging and speaking is about using the everyday tools in front of us to their fullest advantage.

Yes - you could buy a database application and develop your database. But for small businesses, it isn't actually necessary. While it isn't intended to work that way, you can use Excel as a relational database very simply. You would be amazed at what you can achieve in Excel.

However, if we are talking web, then you don't really even need that - use web databasing facilities.

One really important lesson in this area is to not reinvent the wheel. I know this is getting off-topic, but a case in point (two actually) is how someone from my organisation wanted to know how they could extract calendar information across multiple email accounts into one place for analysis. I was extremely busy but said I would have a play.

Five minutes later, I provided the solution. A quick Google search gave me the precise VB code I needed, I applied it to my own email account and sent the results of as an example. They were mighty impressed and all I did was steal someone else's effort.

In terms of the website, it is really important to optimise any graphics and video you might have. One site I was particularly impressed with was They are graphics-rich but extraordinarily fast.

Further lesson along the lines of item 5. Do not - I repeat not - under any circumstances fall prey to the temptation of using a database field you think is obsolete for purposes it wasn't designed. For example, if you find you don't have an email field, don't re-use "phone_number_3" field for your email addresses.

Overall - don't knock Excel. It really is grossly under-utilised. Especially if you have people that can work magic with it.

cm   #7   08:55 am Aug 05 2010

Gravey #6: Please don't take IT advice from a marketing person.

While it is indeed **possible** to keep a database in Excel, this is a really bad idea. Spread sheets can work reasonably if you remember to save the file properly. They work OK-ish if only one person makes changes. One bad save and you've blown your data out of the water.

Spreadsheets suck badly if you have multiple people making entries or queries. That's where a database helps.

Databases can work with multiple simultaneous users and give far better data integrity. If your business relies on the data then use a database rather than Excell.

The same applies for other business info: stock levels, price data etc.

Since databases can generally accept data from text files, you can typically load up a database from a spreadsheet. Once you've done that then work from the database.

Databases can also generate spreadsheet output. That's a good way to generate current stock levels, price lists etc for sales staff.

Remember too to make regular backups. The alternative is to use some sort of cloud service (eg. Amazon SimpleDB) to store the database since that will give backups.

Alberto   #8   10:59 am Aug 05 2010


I will counter your counter comment with: If it's important to your business invest in it and do it properly, why reinvent the wheel when good solutions are readily available (even Shareware CRMs...),

Edward   #9   01:37 pm Aug 05 2010

cm: I get where you're coming form, but like all things in IT, things are never done properly till it explodes horribly.

A much better solution for small and medium businesses is to use something web based system like . Rather than reinventing the wheel. This way, backups, and synchronisation are left to the professionals, the costs are much lower ($AUD5 per user per month for the simple stuff that would have been done with excel).

cm   #10   05:12 pm Aug 05 2010

Edward #9: Absolutely agree with you.

There are many low cost cloud/web solutions that do everything that most small firms need. Google will find, as will networking with other business owners.

Unless you know what you're doing then don't try to do your own IT. Heck, I'm a software developer and I don't even do my own IT. You'll make a mess and lose data and you'll end up wasting huge amounts of time that can be used more productively by doing things that (a) you're good at and (b) directly help your business.

Rather let real IT people who understand things like running a web server, doing backups, etc do it all for you.

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