Email Marketing: Not Such a Blast?

One of the great joys of participating in this blog is interacting with people who approach email marketing ethically. I love not having to continually remind you that opt in email marketing campaigns is more effective and rewarding than sending spam. We share a common “opt in” mindset that lets us move on to more useful conversations about how to increase the effectiveness of your campaigns. Unfortunately, not everyone out there is as committed to that mindset, and it shows in the language they use when talking about email marketing. When that language starts to creep into the vernacular of ethical marketers (as it sometimes does), otherwise good businesses sound like spammers. It’s time we take a step back, look at some of the inappropriate email terms that are getting thrown around out there, and see if we can’t come up with some better lingo. Let’s start with one of the most-abused terms.

One of the great joys of participating in this blog is interacting with people who approach email marketing ethically.

I love not having to continually remind you that opt in email marketing campaigns is more effective and rewarding than sending spam. We share a common “opt in” mindset that lets us move on to more useful conversations about how to increase the effectiveness of your campaigns.


Unfortunately, not everyone out there is as committed to that mindset, and it shows in the language they use when talking about email marketing.

When that language starts to creep into the vernacular of ethical marketers (as it sometimes does), otherwise good businesses sound like spammers.

It’s time we take a step back, look at some of the inappropriate email terms that are getting thrown around out there, and see if we can’t come up with some better lingo.

Let’s start with one of the most-abused terms…

Email “Blast”

Most recently, an example of poor email terminology popped up in a question on LinkedIn where a marketer asked for help with a client.

Now, let’s set aside for a moment the fact that this poor guy’s client wants him to buy a list of email addresses and spam them. (If you read his question, he already seems to know this is a bad idea.)

Look at the title of the question:

Reading that question really bugged me since it just screams “I’m a spammer!”

Thing is, I don’t think this guy was trying to be a spammer. He just picked up the term from somewhere, and thought it perfectly normal to describe what he was trying to do that way.

But for ethical email marketers, it’s not an appropriate description of what you’re doing. So you shouldn’t use it.

Why Terminology Matters

Terms like “blast” are dangerous, not only because they make you sound like a spammer (particularly to an ISP or a member of the anti-spam community), but also because their repeated use can influence how you view your subscribers and campaigns.

Words like “email blast” to describe campaigns suggest the sender doesn’t see subscribers as people, but rather as as targets to shoot offers at until they score a hit.

A “blast” mentality makes you less likely to think about segmenting subscribers and delivering a tightly focused, highly relevant message to them. It devalues the relationship-building value of email marketing, and its potential role in a multichannel marketing campaign.

Please, If you Say “Blast,” Stop

There are plenty of other terms for sending out an email you could use, none of which carry the same negative connotations as “blast” does:

  • Campaign
  • Broadcast
  • Newsletter
  • Update
  • Email Message
  • Promotion (we all send promotions once in a while… nothing wrong with recognizing them for what they are, and differentiating them from our other messages)

…or maybe you call it something different still (do you? If so, please share what you call it.

Have You Called Your Email a “Blast” Before? Have You Heard Others Use The Term?

I’m curious to find out more about where the word came from, and in what circles its use is common. Maybe that will provide some more insight into why email marketers who otherwise seem legitimate use such a “red flag” term.

If you’ve used this term before, or if you’ve seen it used by others, where has that happened, and what do you think the thinking behind it might be?

37 Comments

  1. Andrew Kordek

    6/4/2008 1:56 pm

    There was another similar post on the campaign monitor blog about this very "blast" thing. With that, my colleagues and I were making a few jokes and have come up with some funny sayings centered around blasts. (sticking with the war/gun thing)

    Email Carpet Bomb
    Email Invasion
    Email Sniper Hunt
    Email Bazooka
    Email Cannon as in fire one off

    and a host of others that are kinda stupid…

  2. Doug Barger

    6/4/2008 2:07 pm

    Hi Justin,

    I look forward to the blog posts and really appreciate today’s as usual.

    I enjoy also seeing you cover some "faux pas" in our industry and encouraging responsibility.

    Everything must be in perfect alignment as Paul Myer’s (Online Business Pioneer) Newsletter deftly covered emarketing in his latest issue of TalkBiz.

    http://talkbiz.com

    You pick up where he left off.

    He was urging responsibility for following the proper protocol of the Can Spam act as well as gave a case study from a real life experience.

    You have done something good and needed by addressing the need for online business owners to use terminology which speaks toward the professionalism and credibility of the industry by those who have established excellet reputations in this industry as well as for those who are aspiring to do so who may be newer to online business.

    Just so you know that what you are talking about is not lost on the mindless masses, simply changing the vernacular and words used to describe emarketing can do well to help contrast the responsible and legitamate online business owner from those who are not conducting themselves responsibly, rather through ignorance of what’s expected of them or not.

    I also cringe when I hear others refer to sending broadcasts with some of the words you mentioned like "blast."

    One cornerstone of successful emarketing, listbuilding and positive list management has always been the emphasis on relationship.

    It’s almost surprising how just a little goodwill and consideration of those receiving your message can go into cultivating a mutually rewarding and beneficial business relationship.

    I’m willing to venture that survey stats reflect that same consideration is more appreciated by subscribers than what we may even realize both in cognizance and profits.

    Using the word "broadcast" has always been the preferred term for me and my partners as it not only speaks to the action of broadcasting with the connotation of the television and radio industries carrying over into other forms of mainstream media, but it also shows that it is newsworthy, up to the minute in real time and valuable to those receiving the message.

    If you use the word "promotion," while although acceptable, you may alienate those who are expecting to receive updates and news of breaking relevant information whether they contain a "recommendation" of a needed and useful resource or not. 🙂

    In other words there are ways of successfully communicating relevant business information without overtly asking for the sale and at the same time, times when nothing other than a strong call to action will do.

    It’s through study of the market, experience and communication that we discover what’s the best practice in the particular context.

    Justin, what term do you prefer?

    I vote for broadcast.

    Awesome post and is one of the very reasons that I stated why I support aweber as the best autoresponder solution online.

    Keep up the great work guys!

  3. Justin Premick

    6/4/2008 2:33 pm

    Andrew,

    "Email Carpet Bomb" is particularly evocative IMHO. Right up there with "blast."

    "Sniper hunt" almost suggests that the sender is segmenting and personalizing/targeting…

    Doug,

    Thanks for your perspective!

    I tend toward "broadcast" as a general term (partly out of habit, partly for the same reasons you give) and "email newsletter" when that term is appropriate.

    I don’t see anything wrong personally with calling a promotion a promotion – I see them as different from newsletters or broadcasts, and if anything, I think making a distinction between the two helps keep your email newsletters and other non-promotional broadcasts from getting too salesy.

    That’s not to say that I’d use the term "promotion" when speaking to subscribers, since I think for many people that could be offputting… but it’s a useful term for when I’m thinking about my campaigns or talking to other email marketers about theirs.

  4. Chris

    6/4/2008 3:15 pm

    Three months ago, I attended a Meetup group, where the organizer described email marketing as "email blasts." Like you, I cringed when she said this. This person works for a very large, publicly-traded corporation. In my experience, the term "email blasts" is used by large corporate organizations (and their employees) who view email subscribers as just another number. Small businesses and entrepreneurs (the non "corporate" types) tend to use "email marketing" and seem to value their subscribers more.

  5. B

    6/4/2008 3:24 pm

    I personally like

    Ready!

    Email Blast!

    Aim!

    (the Ready, Fire, Aim concept)

  6. Aaron Abber

    6/4/2008 4:36 pm

    Wait, I’m sending these messages to PEOPLE? There are actual living, breathing PEOPLE behind these email addresses?

    Whoa.

    I feel like Charlton Heston in Soylent Green.

  7. Dan

    6/4/2008 5:21 pm

    Justin,

    You’re SO right about the word blast= not talking about people.

    If you Blast Your List, as opposed to Sending A Broadcast To Readers, that mindset means all the difference in the world on how we run our business, and treat our readers/subscribers.

    If you think of subscribers as readers, or as an audience, then you also are thinking of them as people.

    Before I send an email, I try to think of the hundreds or thousands of office spaces, cubicles, and work-at-home Moms that are getting that email, whether it be a promotional one or not.

    In my "minds-eye" there is a visual of the person reading the email. If you don’t have that visual, then you don’t know who your audience is, and they’re probably not listening anyways.

    You’re right in that the word Blast indicates a spammer-type of mentality. By the way, it’s really nice to see these post snippets available from within my Aweber account as a nice reminder of proper mailing behavior, too 🙂

  8. Ellen

    6/4/2008 8:17 pm

    I agree that ‘blast’ does sound very harsh and threatening. We generally have a difficult time comunicating real time to real people on a face to face basis. E-mails are even less personal so the wording must be very effective to put one’s point across. So re-learning our comunication skills and ‘people’ skills are extremely important in today’s world. Because some times we don’t get a second chance to get someone’s attention.

  9. Randy

    6/4/2008 11:34 pm

    I used to be responsible for sending out non opt-in emails for a well know company. (I won’t mention the name) I was employed by the company and had to do what they told me to do. They did call the mailings "Email Blasts" It was unethical but unfortunately some companies will resort to any method to drive traffic. It was very surprising.

  10. Karin H.

    6/5/2008 4:33 am

    The only time I hear the word blast in connection with email is when someone sputters:
    ‘Blast! another spamming email!"
    😉

    Personally I don’t have any ‘feeling’ for the word broadcast, I prefer and name it Newsletter. Being ethical in sending out any message through AWeber means every reader of any of your lists/campaigns knows what to expect. Hence our complaints rate (only 1 in over 3000 messages) and unsubsubscribe rate ( below 1%) are extremely low.

    Blasting emails into cyberspace is like shooting in the dark – no use, waste of space and time.

  11. Audrey

    6/5/2008 8:29 am

    I’m a new reader here. I really like this post. It’s an interesting term and a term that I do associate with spam. I usually hear the term when folks are looking at sending their sales message to hundreds or thousands of others, not opt in, hoping that a few will bite and a sale will be made. Email Campaign would be my choice of phrases for a legitimate well…email campaign.

  12. Roy Ware

    6/5/2008 8:43 am

    The more we can think of our customer needs the more likely we are to be effective at all levels of marketing. Using words and thoughts that consider our market are a bunch of "dummies" only hurts our ability to come up with an effective marketing message.

    Assume they (your customers) are smarter then you and maybe from that humility they will let you into their world!

    He who manipulates others, gets caught up in the process and ends up the bigger fool!

  13. Boris Mahovac

    6/5/2008 9:57 am

    I agree the word "blast" is bad, and the practice horrible, but let’s give some of these people who are using it the benefit of a doubt (and especially the person who asked the question on Linkedin, who seems to know ). I wouldn’t be so quick to label them as spammers just because of the words they are using.

    For all we know, they could be using double opt-in and still refer to the process of broadcasting as "blasting."

    What I’m saying – it’s just a word. I mean, lots of people in the technology business are using words such as "killer app," "killer" this or that, without flinching. Do we call them "killers"?

    What matters is the behaviour, i.e. do they follow email best practices, how is the data collected, is there permission, what’s the content of the emails, etc.

    Just so that there’s no confusion, I feel Can-Spam is nowhere near complete, so it really should be the bare minimum to govern our practice of email marketing.

    On a related note: I just looked at my spam folder, and found a total of 36 messages from Feb 13 to Jun 5. Why do most people get hundreds per day? I’ve been online since 1995… Because I use a Mac?

  14. Paul D. Guyon

    6/5/2008 9:02 am

    I the Advertising Specialties industry there are services, one called SmartBlast.com, that offer Email Blasts to their subscribers.

    These subscribers are distributors of promotional, recognition products, wards, logo-wear etc.

    When the service first rolled out years ago it was a pretty effective way to reach these distributors. But not any more.

    I’ve been telling my boss for 3 years now we need to build our own double opt-in list because of the SPAM laws and effectiveness of getting our message across.

    He is starting to budge but he still does call our Campaigns eBlasts about half the time.

    Any suggestions on convincing him to consider my ideas?

  15. Ron Hendrick

    6/5/2008 9:08 am

    Hi, Guys. As a newbie to Internet Marketing, I appreciate all the input that helps me perform at the highest , most ethical level. I personally resent all those uninvited e-mails and am thankful my spam filter takes care of most of them. Still get waay too many !!. Regardless, I, too, will soon be joining those who send out lots of messages, so I’m learning some appropriate methods, and terminology. I already did not like the term "blast" but thought that was my opinion, and am glad to find out others feel the same way. Thanks for your input.

  16. Mary Jane Moses

    6/5/2008 9:38 am

    I used to work for a large commercial real estate firm. Periodically the brokers would send out "email blasts" to brokers in other firms, to advertise properties. Sometimes they would call them "e-blasts." It seemed to be an accepted form of marketing in that business.

  17. Charlotte

    6/5/2008 10:05 am

    My supervisior sends out "blasts" all the time. These are not newsletters, they are just lists of classes we are offering with no targeting at all except that the market is former students who have email.

    She has told me to hold off on the newsletters I used to send out until PR decides what we should do abou them (some months ago).

    I’m not sorry to be leaving this job.

  18. Aaron Abber

    6/5/2008 10:15 am

    @Roy,

    You said:

    "Using words and thoughts that consider our market are a bunch of ‘dummies’ only hurts our ability to come up with an effective marketing message.

    Assume they (your customers) are smarter then you and maybe from that humility they will let you into their world!

    He who manipulates others, gets caught up in the process and ends up the bigger fool!"

    My I humbly submit that we make no assumptions about our readers–good or bad. After spending almost $10,000.00 to profile the demographics of my subscribers I found some things that made them look good (like they pay their bills on time) and some things that made them look less than admirable.

    The reason for the new analytics here at Aweber is so we can see our subscribers as they actually are–not as we wish them to be.

    Some of us have lists made up mostly of dummies. Some have lists made up mostly of smarties. It’s good to know which you have.

  19. Paul Broni

    6/5/2008 10:19 am

    You nailed this one.

    "Blast" does not belong in the legitimate email marketer’s vocabulary…unless he’s telling his friends about a really great party, of course.

  20. Lalitha

    6/5/2008 10:25 am

    Very interesting! I prefer update. Newsletter seems boring at times. Thanks for opening up and revealing few alternatives.

  21. Carlos

    6/5/2008 10:41 am

    Just an aside… I’ve been in Information Technology since the early 90s, and we used the term email blast as figurative language back in 95 or so, before email had really "caught on." We also thought we invented the use of "bandwidth" to describe time management.

    I think it’s just one of those universal words that guys use naturally and falls into the vernacular like an oiled Lego block. 🙂

  22. Sergio Rozzelle

    6/5/2008 11:07 am

    Justin,

    Thanks for addressing this issue and really explaining the philosophy of legitimate e-mail marketers.

    When you said…

    "Words like

  23. Carol L. Skolnick

    6/5/2008 12:31 pm

    I don’t care what we call it. I care what it contains. You may as well condemn the term "target market," which has been in use in advertising since before most of us were born.

    When I opt-in to a mailing list, I wish to be informed, entertained, and yes, targeted. I don’t want something irrelevant cluttering up my inbox and wasting my precious time.

    Call a campaign whatever you like; just make sure it is sent in a spirit of truly serving your clients.

  24. Eric Graudins

    6/5/2008 2:44 pm

    It’s not only email still suffering from that stupid "BLAST" mentality.

    The message I read before this one was from InternetSeer, a company which monitors website uptime. It provides graphic proof that companies STILL use stupid terms like these to try and attract customers. Yuk!

    They promise to "Blast Your Website to over 300,000 specialty Sites and directories" and urge you to "Click here to start blasting your website information to the internet’s top search engines.

    Yes, I think I’ll go click.

    And unsubscribe from their service.

  25. Cheryl

    6/5/2008 8:56 pm

    Greetings,
    I understand your concern about using the word "blast" when talking about email, but, I think that a lot of people use to mean that they are sending out a large number of emails and that the task of doing that is "blasting". Before I subscribed to aweber, I worked with a non-profit and asked permission to send information and was granted that right to send it to them. We were aware of spamming and did not want to be labeled as such.

  26. Codrut Turcanu

    6/6/2008 4:22 am

    Great post Justin.

    Actually when we send any message through email or any other means, our main aim must be is to connect with the reader. Instead of trying to fool our readers through spamming it would be better if we use that time and resources for giving out value to our subscribers.

  27. Ron

    6/6/2008 9:30 am

    The headline that screamed at you, screamed at me for a different reason…. blast was what it said, and that is singular, and then was follwed by "are they effective" which references something plural. I think 50% or more of the emails I get from marketers flag themselves by poor grammar, poor spelling and often incorrect use of words. I received an email this morning with the subject "You ready Ron" …. at least they knew the keyboard had a shift key, and had used it.

  28. John Rodriguez

    6/6/2008 2:31 pm

    Blast shmast, I say. Po-tay-toe po-tah-to.

    It’s just playing with semantics. As long we’re responsible email marketers and treating our readers well, giving them what they want, what difference does it make what word we use?

  29. Paul

    6/8/2008 1:33 pm

    As marketers, our bottom line product is the words that we use. When I started my sales career years ago, I went through the Tom Hopkins sales training course and he included a list of words that can help kill a sale. I’ve lived by it since then for two reasons, sales-killing words not only killed the sale often can negatively impact our own psyche because the negative word affects us in less than obvious ways.

    Amateurs pitch products and close the deal. Professionals give presentations and the client buys. You can send a "blast to a list" and offend readers or send a "good promotion to your subscribers" with a real perceived value. IMHO, the blaster mentality prevents establishing a relationship with subscribers. If that’s what you are thinking, then that’s what you are.

    Mama taught us "Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are gonna get." However, if the wrapper is moldy and the chocolate seems bad, we throw it away!

  30. Petition to Ban The Phrase "Email Blast" | Bronto Blog

    6/10/2008 8:56 am

    […] has been stewing for some time. Just as I began formulating my ideas for it, Mathew Patterson and @justinpremick and beat me to the punch. Blasted! They both make some excellent points. Make sure to check out the […]

  31. John Rodriguez

    7/2/2008 3:46 pm

    Interesting follow up to this discussion. I was checking out MarketingSherpa’s latest "Chart of the Week" and they mention "email blast"…

    Coincidentally, the article mentions declining open rates and how they may not be the most useful metric for measuring the success of email campaigns. (Justin, could make for an interesting post/discussion…)

    http://www.marketingsherpa.com/article.php?ident=30671&pop=no

  32. Justin Premick

    7/2/2008 3:58 pm

    John,

    Thanks for posting that – I saw it too and briefly tweeted my thoughts on it – but you’re right, a broader discussion might be helpful. Good stuff, thanks!

  33. Claire Milne

    2/19/2009 5:31 pm

    I’m amazed to see the word "blast" still used on Cellectivex after so many comments against it. I personally find the word offensive, and worse, I fear it will deter the members of my UK group from using the groupsite. Why hasn’t it yet been changed to one of the many alternatives?

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    […] (An aside: the word “capture,” when used in relationship with list-building, is in my opinion almost as dangerous a term as “email blast.”) […]

  35. ScottWritesEverything.com | Blast – The Naughtiest Word in Email Marketing

    9/1/2009 11:00 pm

    […] Premick, with “Email Marketing: Not Such a Blast,” gave his opinion as well: Terms like “blast” are dangerous, not only because […]

  36. Gmail Introduces The Priority Inbox

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  37. Laura

    11/14/2011 7:53 pm

    Completely hate this term. So much so that I was directed to this site via my aggravated “I hate the term email blast” google search. lol.