Think Unblast: “The Secret” of Effective Email Marketing

Many marketing professions like to say (and some even believe) that they have the secret of marketing, the secret to turn your “failing” marketing program around with a few simple steps. Well, they’re wrong. If it was that easy, none of us marketers would have jobs. If it was that easy, a computer program would be developed and implemented running those steps, and all marketers would be out of jobs.

No, the reality is that there is a secret to email marketing that many overlook or fail to recognize or understand. There is a secret that can help nearly any email marketing program be more successful, but it is incredibly difficult to utilize. Ironically, this “secret” is right in from of us, hiding because we choose to utilize a different strategy, as it typically requires a complete paradigm shift across multiple business channels, and that paradigm shift is even more critical if your email marketing messages are typically called “email blasts”, “e-blasts”, or anything else using the word “blast”.

If you read my last post on email “blasts”, you may remember that “blast” is the four-letter word of email marketing. Well, if you fall into the “blast trap” that so many do, and you refer to your email marketing campaigns as “blasts”, chances are that your email marketing program could use some improvement, and it’s likely there’s a lot of room for improvement. So, I should be selling you a “secret”, taking lots of money from you, and providing tons of reporting data showing how much I’ve helped you, and asking for more of your money.

Rather, I’d like everyone to take the free, simple advice to simply “unblast” your email marketing strategy. If your strategy is to “blast” to your customers, you’re not targeting. If your content is designed to “blast” to a large audience, you haven’t optimized your content to your optimal customer. And, if you send any sort of offer to “everyone in the database”, you’re not speaking to your customers. No two customers are alike. So, no program designed to speak to everyone will be as effective as a program designed to speak to a targeted segment.

The unfortunate side of this is that if you’ve been “blasting” to your customers, you’ve likely lost some of them through unsubscribes. And, the longer you continue to “blast” your “blasts”, you’ll also continue to lose your subscribers and drive less-than awesome results.

So, take a step back, and start to think small. Small segments. Small groups. Small interests. Unblast your email marketing strategy. Your customers, and your bottom line, will thank you.

“Blast” – The Other Four-Letter Word of {Email} Marketing

Yes, everyone knows that “spam” is the four-letter word of email marketing. No email marketer wants to be identified as a spammer, but we all likely have been, at least if we’ve been at it long enough. However, “spam” is a form, or method, of email marketing that few email marketers exercise – it’s essentially a case of a few bad apples spoiling the whole bunch.

So, what’s the real four-letter word of email marketing? “Blast”.


It’s like nails on a chalkboard. Asking an email marketer to send a “blast” is like asking a surgeon to use a machete. That’s not quite how we operate – at least, not if we are to do our best work. No, the very thought of sending an “e-blast” evokes many of the same responses as the thought of eating regurgitated popcorn. Ewe.

What’s a “blast”, anyway? The basic definition, at least in my eyes, is an unguided, untargeted, unstrategized mass email that is a poor attempt to through everything at the wall and hope that something will stick.

So what should you do instead? If a blast is an unguided, untargeted, unstrategized mass email, some first steps to avoid a blast would be to develop a strategy, build a target audience, and deliver a clear, concise, targeted message to a small segment of your total audience using content and creative that speaks to their interests.

The Golden Rule: {Email} Unsubscribe Link Treatment

While we are now fully dependent on data and metrics to drive marketing strategy, I believe we can, and should, keep fundamental concepts like “The Golden Rule” in mind as a general guide and starting point for all aspects of a marketing campaign, message, or general strategy.

It may not be immediately apparent, but styling and structural treatments can, and in some cases, follow “The Golden Rule”-based foundations. One example I’ve often faced is placement, size, style, and quantity of “unsubscribe” links.

Regardless of phrase used – opt-out, unsubscribe, “say goodbye”, “disconnect”, or any other “creative” iteration – the unsubscribe link is one of the most critical, and legally required, elements of your email. That “legally required” part seems to catch a lot of people, as most questions I’ve been asked have involved burying or shadowing unsubscribe links to minimize their visual impact, the bare minimum to fulfill the basic legal requirement.

This strategy of burying or otherwise minimizing unsubscribe links, though, is little more than giving a big middle finger to the email recipient base. Why hide the link? So people can’t find it? Well, in very nature, that’s basically eliminating the subscriber’s only friendly option for opting out of receiving emails they don’t want, leaving them with the unfriendly option, “the spam button” (duh duh duh…….).


(Source: Breath of Optimism)


So, following the theme used in my recent “The Golden Rule: {Email} Cadence” blog, let’s visualize this with another hypothetical dialog:

Other: Can we make our unsubscribe link really small and put it at the bottom of our emails?

Me: I’d recommend placing it at both the top and bottom of the email, and while they can be smaller than regular body content, I wouldn’t necessary make them “small” – make it easy for your readers to find.

Other: What? Why? Can we make it a color similar to the footer background so it doesn’t stand out?

Me: I always like text links to be bold and underlined – it’s good for accessibility, and helps to overcome challenges with consistency between email client/device combinations. And, you should use a legible color – make it easy for your readers to find.

Other: But why would I want to make it easy for people to find the unsubscribe link – I don’t want them to unsubscribe.

Me: Unfortunately, that’s not our choice. If a subscriber wants to unsubscribe, they will, either by unsubscribing through your unsubscribe link, or through their device/client adding unsubscribe options such as Gmail and Hotmail, or by hitting spam.

Other: But if my link is obvious and easy to find, everyone will unsubscribe.

Me: High unsubscribe rates are often indicators of an unhealthy email marketing program – subscribers are or become uninterested, they receive too many emails from a specific company, they receive too many emails in general, the emails they receive are or become irrelevant, or they had an unpleasant experience with a company and are simply done with it.

Other: I still don’t think that’s a good idea, I think the link should be all the way at the bottom and hard to find. Now you’re not only talking about making it easy to find, but you also want to put one at the top!?

Me: Ok, let’s look at it another way. What would you do if you kept receiving emails from a company you didn’t want to hear from – maybe you went hiking once, hated it, and never want to think about hiking gear again. But, you signed up to a company like REI’s email list, and keep getting their emails. You finally had enough, you went to unsubscribe, but couldn’t find the link. What would you do?

Other: Well, I’d hit spam. I can’t stand it when companies like that keep sending me stuff.

(mic drop)