The Biggest Lie in Email Marketing (Why Most Email is Junk Mail)

This post is from Danny Iny, who markets naked and

This post is from Danny Iny, who markets naked and on firepoles.

Email is the third rail of online marketing.

Sure, Twitter, Facebook and RSS can be nice, but there’s just no comparing them to the raw power that comes with invited access to your prospect’s inbox.

Of course, with power comes risk, and the same is true with email marketing; do it wrong, and you’re toast – the moment you’re seen as junk mail, your open rates will plummet and your spam complaints will soar, your deliverability will drop and your account may even be suspended.

In other words, your emails won’t get through, and when they do, nobody will listen or care.

So how can you make sure that doesn’t happen to you? Probably not the way you think…

Your Awesome Messages are Still Junk Mail

Since people have been able to write, they’ve sent each other letters. And at one time, a letter – the ability to write, read, send or receive it – was an honor and a privilege.

That’s really not the case anymore. Soon after the invention of mail came the invention of junk mail. And it’s annoying.

And as marketers, we know this, so we do our best to NOT be labeled as junk mail. We get double opt-ins, offer one-click unsubscribe, and deliver the best content-to-pitch ratios that the sales people will let us.

These are all good things, but they don’t really matter.

Our messages are still, largely, being seen by the people on our mailing lists as junk mail.

Email only stops being junk mail when the recipient doesn’t just read it – but treats it as coming from someone they know and like. Someone they want to hear from, because previous interactions have been positive and rewarding.

If that’s not happening, then all of the double-opt-ins and amazing content in the world won’t stop it from being digital trash can fodder. Conversations over the Internet, as in real life, are only valid when they go two ways.

The Solution: Make it a Conversation!

This all changes the instant your communication becomes two-way. When people start reading, considering, taking action and responding.

It’s one thing to walk out of a movie you’re not enjoying, but it?s entirely another thing to ignore a person you’re having a face to face conversation with.

That’s the important word here: conversation.

Whether it’s face to face or via email, a conversation is when two people – you and the recipient of your email – exchange sentiments, observations, opinions or ideas.

So how do you do it?

Well, it isn’t rocket science, but it’s the kind of “common sense” that is really only common sense after you’ve heard it and tried it.

The first thing you have to do is make sure that the emails you send to your list are from someone; isn’t going to cut it! Get rid of the no-reply, and put a real person’s name there.

A name alone isn’t enough, though; merely giving the appearance of a real person reaching out is a cop-out. You’ll need to make a real person the recipient of all those email responses, so that when your list members receive an email from there really is a John talking to them, listening to them and responding to them.

Depending on how much email you receive, you might even need to hire a person for the job.

Will this cost you something? Absolutely. But the expense will be small in comparison to the benefits you will accrue in terms of goodwill, and increased sales will more than cover the difference.

Now That You’re a Person, Give Them a Reason to Reply

Now that you have someone in charge of email, ask yourself – what makes you want to talk to someone? What are the qualities, the cues, or the lead-ins you look for that make having a conversation with someone face to face a pleasure?

Pretty high on the list is being asked about oneself. Also a sense that the listener is really interested in what you’re saying. Then there is the likelihood that you’re going to be treated with respect and opened up to new ideas… and that’s just the beginning – I imagine you could think of a lot more pretty easily.

Well, if you like these things, then it’s a safe bet that your audience will too!

You can:

  • Ask them to tell you about themselves and their work.
  • Ask them their opinion on the ideas you presented.
  • Ask for feedback on ideas you have.
  • Ask them to tell you what they’re interested in hearing more about.
  • Share the answers they give you through social media, your email campaign and your website.
  • Respond to everyone who takes the time to answer one of your questions.

People like to feel valued just as much through a computer screen as they do sitting in a bar with their friends.

What it really comes down to, at the end of the day, is remembering that your list isn’t just a list. It’s a list of people who all have busy lives and other things they could be doing with their time. That means you need to do everything in your power to keep them aware of the fact that you are also a real person, and are taking time out of your day to connect with them.

The connection between you isn’t going to be built in a day, relationships take time, dedication and a great deal of hard work. However, the bridges that you build now with your customers will stand for the rest of your lives, and benefit you both going forward.

Never forget that people generally want to do business with people they know and like. So be a person that the members of your email list can really know and like!

Danny Iny (@DannyIny) is the co-founder of Firepole Marketing, the “Freddy Krueger of Blogging,” and the co-author (with Guy Kawasaki, Brian Clark, and many others) of Engagement from Scratch! (available on Amazon, or as a free download). The latest and greatest thing you can get from him (for free, of course) is his Naked Marketing Manifesto, about marketing that really works!


  1. Zach

    10/1/2012 11:11 am

    Haha just when I thought I was done looking at Danny’s naked firepole’s for the day, I come here to work on my auto responder and find him again…Freddy Kreuger of blogging indeed.

    Anyways, great post as usual. I feel like there are so many people offering so many autoresponder series’ that it’s almost impossible to not appear as spam to begin with.

    It’s a real talent getting someone to actually pay attention to your emails in their inbox, and then getting them to click a link as well? That’s madness. Danny, you offer some great ideas in this post that I will definitely be implementing.


  2. Peter Netz Lassen

    10/1/2012 4:04 pm

    Hi Danny!

    That is solid advise and it’s personal. Getting a conversation going and asking for feed back is super cool. There might be a few email from “opinion” peop. But reply can be “lost” deleted and replied is such a way that the conversation is ended.
    I personally do not do business with the “no-reply” email peop. It’s such a conversation stopper 🙂 for me.

    I have copied you list to my “remember” to do … so next time I update my follow-up series… I will be changing a few things! Thx mate!

  3. Judy Casey

    10/2/2012 10:15 pm

    YES!!! Danny you could not have said it better. And it is so true that people won’t “care how much you know until they know how much you care”.


  4. Andrej

    10/4/2012 1:46 pm

    Yeah great post. People want to have conversations, They don`t want to listen to monologues.

  5. Scot

    10/4/2012 1:59 pm

    Another key idea, not to be underestimated, is what Aweber did with regard to this very post.

    Instead of printing the content all out in the e-mail broadcast itself, point the subscribers to a blog post. Voila…instant real-world opportunity for 2-way interaction.

    (BTW, I feel more part of the community already!)

  6. Carrie Smith

    10/4/2012 2:07 pm

    I was just thinking the same thing as Zach! I just finished getting my daily dose of Danny via blog and email and BOOM here he is again. With valuable content as usual!

    Without a doubt, starting a conversation with your readers or customers is the best way to develop a life-long professional relationship. And having loyal followers is what brings in the money!

  7. BDL

    10/5/2012 1:06 pm

    Good responsive data is the most important factor in any email campaign. If a person receives an email they don’t expect they are likely to report that email.

  8. Kent

    10/6/2012 7:44 am

    When we talk about conversation, then we need to refer to a master called Dale Carnegie. When we talk, we talk people’s interests, not us. We put focus on them, not us. Your definitely will have higher open rate.

  9. cynthia ann leighton

    10/7/2012 11:12 pm

    Wow. Powerful article. Thanks for bringing this to us, your customers.

    Appreciate the o-so-many memorable tips.


  10. Randall Magwood

    10/13/2012 8:17 pm

    These tips are some of the best email marketing advice I’ve heard in 3 years. You’ve given people a treasure full of email marketing advice in one blog post than they could ever learn by reading a full book about it. Great post!

  11. Karolina

    10/26/2012 2:01 am

    Hey guys, what’s your experience with the actual communication happening? Do you have a clue of how many people really respond? Is it really working or are people too overwhelmed by the amount of information and emails they are receiving? Any thoughts?

  12. Chimezirim Odimba

    11/1/2012 1:49 pm

    It’s so funny how the gurus (who are supposed to know better) are the ones breaking all the rules of email marketing. While they may brag about the size of their list, I’d prefer to brag about the level of engagement, trust and authority I am achieving by treating my subscribers with respect.

  13. Tony

    3/21/2013 9:47 am

    So the biggest lie in email marketing is what exactly? I think I might have missed the point.

  14. Amanda Gagnon

    3/21/2013 10:36 am

    Tony – It’s that if someone signs up for your emails, you aren’t sending ‘junk mail.’ Truth is, if someone’s not sending exactly what they, or if they are and it’s low quality, it’s junk mail.