You’ve got mail: reflections on email marketing today [review].

Laura Conti
6 min readMay 17, 2021

One day, back from vacation, I counted them, just for fun. In 24 hours I had received 64 emails, not considering that the powerful anti-spam filter implemented by the information systems had kept about thirty in a cumulative email that arrives every morning at 9.00.

Ok, I’m aware that this is the typical preamble that all the people who start a speech about email marketing do: the inbox of our users is full of messages, incentives, proposals. We have to scramble to be ‘heard’. But it would be enough to remember every time we are about to press the fateful “SEND” button, how we act and react in front of the umpteenth insignificant email, to make the right examination of conscience on our email marketing strategy.

I start with these basics to make a reflection on the Email Marketing course by Jessica Best, Vice President Data-Driven Marketing at Barkley, created as part of the path I’m taking with Peep Laja’s Conversion XL Institute.

The original sin of email marketing

“Some people still use email like it’s a cold calling business.”

When I heard this phrase during a call, I thought about how true it is. The email database of some companies is sometimes a “three-hundred-headed monster” built by unwise interns who have entered emails very accurately, partial data, entered by an unscrupulous salesperson, one or more times with double or even triple master data, lists stolen with freemium email scraping tools or purchased the old-fashioned way. Imagine how much this audience is looking forward to an invitation to our next webinar or a can’t-miss sales pitch, without even knowing us.

Jessica Best makes this argument very clear with an early list of the “Do’s” and “Don’ts” of email marketing:

  • Always ask permission before sending an email (and explain in a dedicated paragraph what are the techniques to increase your mailing list subscribers
  • Follow the law, or the many laws regulating advertising and privacy in digital marketing, not least the GDPR.
  • Create an editorial calendar where email marketing has its place and its reason to exist at a strategic level: do not improvise with one-off content also because it is more than recommended to send at least one email per month to your database to maintain the authority data gained from the openings of previous emails.
  • Clean your database super maniacally. This is a super interesting arithmetic question. Very often we work on metrics that are spoiled by a database that we try to keep alive tooth and nail but that has very little that is alive. So we complain about an open rate of just 10% and a ctr of 0.1%. It’s a shame that we still have that 50% of the database composed of dead contacts, out of office, people who changed jobs a century ago, or people who no longer open emails because the box is not active. This (really) silent crowd is the cause of the poor performance of our messages that struggle to reach the email inboxes of people who are really relevant to us.
Unengaged contacts , Jessica Best, CXL Email Marketing Course
  • Are ‘unengaged’ contacts lost? Not if we put them in a separate stream, with a type of message that points to the involvement, or the famous ultimatum that very often is ignored if not indulged in its intent to ‘delete forever your email from the database’. It’s not the size of our email list that determines how good contact is. Letting go of all those email boxes that are probably inactive or where we end up in spam is a gesture of love towards our marketing strategy because it improves the authority of our messages.
  • To avoid the invisibility effect, it’s a good idea to take advantage of the user’s onboarding sequences, always in a judicious manner. Because that is the highest moment of our potential customer’s attention towards us. For example, he wants at all costs to download a template that we propose to manage the household economy. He gives us his email address: we send him the requested resource via email and with a click, he can access it (if he risks ending up in Spam we warn him so that he comes wisely to fish us from the graveyard of offers, giving us automatically a pinch of authority in more). Afterward, we send a thank you email where we propose to send him, NEVER frequently, a weekly vademecum on home saving. In this case, he will have to express his preferences on the specific topics or on the frequency with which to receive updates. We will know something more about this person, the person will be able to personalize his experience and the authority of his message will allow it to settle and retain our user over time. Now I’m simplifying and exemplifying, but that’s pretty much how this kind of dynamic works.
  • Don’t buy lists from third parties: it’s not illegal, but it’s pretty much suicide from a performance standpoint for your contact list, as well as becoming a wonderful three-lane highway to any email provider’s spam box.
Ophrah Memes

How do I grow my contact list if I can’t cheat?

By providing relevant, valuable, and engaging content, of course. This is the hardest part of all but also the part that honestly works best. Except, of course, it’s not enough if we don’t develop the touchpoints we have with the customer as a tool to capture relevant leads and information.

Jessica Best makes a fair preamble about avoiding malpractices like list buying or email harvesting because the first step in building your list is to ensure its health. Second, she explains the 4 principles on which to base your form acquisition strategy:


2. Promise

3. Proof

4. Progressive Profiling

The key aspect is to engage users where we meet them: whether it’s on the website, a coupon we issue, the receipt of our order at the bar, a sign posted in the cockpit of our cab. We present the value of our newsletter and the publication of exclusive content only for those who choose that channel.

Subscription popup example, Jessica Best, CXL Email Marketing Course

What if you have some extra cash to grow your list? Involve a partner, for example, editorial, that has a clean database and in line with your expectations and propose the publication of content that points to your landing page. Nowadays providers are becoming more jealous of their lists and prefer to provide you only lists of leads against the production of content and economic compensation. But a deal is always struck so you can gain some of their authority and visibility.

Okay, but why are you telling me all this?

This post is the result of a nice training opportunity that happened to me with a bit of luck. On Linkedin, I follow the marketing agency MOCA by Marco Ziero (because they have a nice newsletter, very useful and a way of perceiving marketing that convinces me). From there I saw that some accounts had obtained online certifications from a portal unknown to me. After visiting the site for a few minutes I was already suffering from that strong complex of “I’d like to but I can’t”. To my surprise, without believing it too much, I got a scholarship from CXL Institute, the Academy founded by Peep Laja. It’s a reality that brings together many marketers that I have respected and followed for a long time, with very practical courses. There remains the challenge of being able to transform the practical knowledge developed by professionals operating in an Anglo-Saxon context, a bit different from ours, and apply it in the Italian context, which has its roots in very different assumptions.

Wish me good luck!