Five things your email marketer wants you to know

Since I’ve originated email roles at several companies over the years, I’ve often found myself in the position of creating processes for email production, and making emails with people who don’t have experience making emails. Even in companies that have established creative work request processes, there are still things that most non-email people simply don’t know that make things just a little bit harder than they need to be for the person building the email. This post is for my email friends to casually share with their colleagues to help us all work together better. (If you’re reading this, and you’ve worked with me before and have done any of these things – please know, this isn’t about you specifically, because it has happened at every single job I’ve ever had).

  1. Don’t hyperlink your links

    You’ve written the content for the newsletter and are ready to hand it off to the person coding your email. It’s all organized by sections that match your email template, and you even have a subject line and pre-header text – wonderful! You even hyperlinked the text that you’ll want linked throughout the email to make it easier.

    Please just… don’t.

    When someone is building or coding an email, they’re copying and pasting the content from (probably) a Word or Google doc. That part’s pretty straightforward. But if any of that text needs to be linked somewhere – there’s a bit more HTML code involved, and we need the full URL available to us. Sometimes, especially in a word doc, clicking on linked text doesn’t work right away, and then you have to right click, open it in a new tab, and then copy/paste it into your code. It slows us down.

    This is what I’m talking about:

    Instead, put the link somewhere separate and indicate what words you want linked. You can highlight or bold them if you want – we’re pasting them as plain text so it won’t copy over that formatting. Maybe do something like this:


    Now, I’m not saying this is the correct or only way to do this. Check with the person who’s building your emails to see if they have a preference (and if you are a person who builds emails and have found a good solution for this – please comment with it!).

    Related: If there are images throughout your email, and you’re providing them to your email builder, don’t just embed them in the Word/Google doc. They have to be uploaded/hosted somewhere, and again, HTML will put them in the right spot of the email. Just provide them separately as jpgs, gifs, or pngs. Maybe note in your doc where each one goes if it’s otherwise unclear.

  2. “Click here” is not your business objective.

    While we’re talking about links, I feel like we must address click here, because it still happens. You should never, ever, use “Click here” as text on a link or button. It’s so bad and embarrassing. And for several reasons:

    • It’s boring. If you have a lot of links in your email that all say “click here,” peoples’ eyes will glaze over and they’ll fall asleep before they finish reading your email.
    • It’s probably not actually what they’re going to do. Roughly half of email opens are on mobile (smartphone or tablet). They’re not actually CLICKING anything.
    • It’s 2022 and we all live on the internet. If your link looks like a link (different color text, underlined, etc), people will know what you want them to do.
    • Finally, and most importantly – “click here” is not accessible. Someone reading your email on a screen reader would have no way of knowing what the link is or why they should click here.
      Instead, use a CTA (Call to action) with a verb and a noun that actually describes what you want to happen after they click or tap: Sign up, Buy now, Shop dresses, Download report, Complete Survey, Read article (these are all best for buttons – you can use a few more words in a text link. Just don’t end it with here. You don’t need to.)

  3. We aren’t going to send your email to a list serv.

    So you’ve written a great newsletter for your customers. Your links are clear CTAs and formatted for easy email building. Your email looks great, and you want to make sure all staff at your company gets it when it goes out to the world. You give your email marketer this to add to the send list: team@mycompany.com

    WRONG!!!

    We can’t really send to that. I know you can do it in Gmail or Outlook. But this isn’t Gmail or Outlook. We need the individual email addresses of each person who should receive it. We’re not trying to create more work for you. We’re trying to make sure that people actually see your email.

    So what’s wrong with it? Well, it’s treated as one email address (even if hundreds of people may be attached to it). To follow CAN-SPAM, the law that regulates email marketing in the US, all emails must have an unsubscribe link at the bottom. (This is a good thing, I promise). If I send your email to “team@mycompany.com”, yes, everyone on that listserv will probably receive it – the first time you send to it. However – if even ONE person clicks on that unsubscribe link, it unsubscribes that entire listserv. And then no one gets it. Sending to a listserv also would skew your reporting – you wouldn’t be able to see individuals’ activity on the email. You’d see that the email was opened/clicked hundreds of times perhaps, but you wouldn’t see who did what, and if this email listserv address is included in the send to customers, your numbers will be funky.

    Instead, and I realize this is annoying – you have to develop a process for managing employee email addresses. Whether that’s getting the full list from IT with every send (or once a month, or whatever frequency you need), or even better – make “subscribe to our emails” part of your new employee onboarding process. But it will have to be maintained.

    Related: You may be thinking “I’ll just get around this by forwarding my copy of the email to the listserv! I’VE BEAT THE SYSTEM!!” Sorry, but no. That unsubscribe link will still be at the bottom, and if anyone clicked on it, it would just unsubscribe YOU. And then you won’t get the test emails I send you next time around, and we’ll have to constantly re-subscribe you. I’ve been down this path many times (CEOs who forward a newsletter to their entire staff, for instance). It will be frustrating for you.

  4. Setting up your own Mailchimp account to send your own emails

    Kristin, working with the email team is just too much. I don’t want to deal with all this. I just want to send pretty emails to my specific customers without dealing with all this process. I’m just going to set up a Mailchimp (or Constant Contact, or any other low budget/free ESP) account and do it myself.

    Please don’t.

    I appreciate your enthusiasm for email as a marketing channel. I really do. It’s my favorite too. That’s why I’ve spent 15 years honing my skills in it, and learning all the laws and best practices associated with it, and navigating the challenges around data management when migrating to a new ESP (email service provider). One of which is – if you are sending emails to the same audience through different ESPs, you need a mechanism for tracking unsubscribes throughout each system. If someone unsubscribes from an email I send in our company’s main ESP, and then you upload them into a difference one – yours won’t know that they previously told our company they don’t want to receive emails from us. You’re putting the company at legal risk, and also creating a frustrating user experience for your customer.

    Instead: Talk to your email team! Yes, they may be overworked and not have time for your email. But part of why they’re overworked is because they have a specific email strategy they’re trying to execute, often that has the big picture of all external communications in mind. If you have a great idea for an email the company should send, they probably want to hear about it. If you have something that’s truly niche for a small segment of your customers – they still want to hear about it. They have ways to automate things, and can work them into the overall email program if appropriate. If they tell you no – they probably have a good reason. They are experts in email. They’re not trying to tell you how to do your job, so…

  5. Finally – it’s never JUST an email.

    I know, I know. Email marketers are amazing and make it look easy. But it’s still a lot of work. Even if they’re using an existing template and just putting in new content. There are still email segments (who receives it) to consider, copy editing, calendar management, and reporting. If it’s a brand new email – there’s also design, and plenty of time spent coding the email and testing it to make sure that it’ll render well across email clients and devices. Give your email team as much time as you’re able to with requests like this (if you don’t know how much time they need – ask!).

Bonus #6: Please don’t call it a blast or an eblast.

Email friends – what did I miss? What else do you want your colleagues to know about your work?

I’m on the Humans of Email podcast!

I had the pleasure of being a guest on the brand new and wonderful Humans of Email podcast this week. Take a listen if you want to hear an hour of my vocal fry – I talk about how we formed Women of Email, and why I’m leaning out.

I referenced a few Email Snarketing posts on the podcast – here they are for easy reference if you want to check them out.

  1. The problem with the 20 best email marketers ever
  2. How I didn’t spend my pandemic
  3. Email Marketer Anxiety (or how I learned to stop worrying and just send the emails)
  4. My American Girl doll restoration hobby

And as a bonus – the article I wrote that inspired us to start Women of Email (it’s been removed from its original publication source for….reasons), but you can read it on WoE Co-founder Laura Atkins’ blog.

Also, unrelated to this podcast, but I’m hiring a CRM Lifecycle Strategist at Candid. Know anyone with a background in healthcare/dental who loves email?

I’m speaking at Litmus Live this year!

Excited to announce that at the end of September October, I’ll be speaking at Litmus Live in Boston online about email careers. This is usually my favorite conference to participate in, and I’m looking forward to seeing email friends in person after so much time away learning a whole bunch while wearing stretch pants. Last time I was there – I was just starting my second trimester of pregnancy. Now I have a walking, talking toddler.

The topic for my session is Email Careers: How did we get here (and where do we go?). I’ll be exploring the many paths that people have taken that led them to email, and talking about how the random skills you have from (seemingly) irrelevant parts of you life make you better at your job. I’ll also cover how to use those skills and other soft skills we don’t often talk about to get to the next level of your career.

As part of this session – I’m doing some research about peoples’ email paths. Some of the questions might seem oddly specific, but there are reasons (which you’ll just have to see if you attend the conference!).

Register for the conference, which is being offered both in person and online. Hope to see you there!

The second time I left Girl Scouts*

After a little more than 6 years, I am leaving my job at Girl Scouts. It’s kind of surreal. This is the longest I’ve worked anywhere, and three times longer than my second longest career stint. I’ve done some of the best work of my career here, and I’m very proud of it. I’m moving back to startup life, which surprises me as much as it’ll surprise anyone else who’s been reading this blog since I started it in 2014. But it’s time for a change. It’s time to expand a little beyond email and to finally branch out into learning newer technology products. I’ll share more about where I’m going once I’ve started there, but I’m very excited about what I’ll be doing and where. I’m taking a week off in between for a much needed family vacation – thoughts and prayers requested for a 13 hour (each way…) road trip with a toddler.

But back to some thoughts about Girl Scouts.

There’s a documentary on Hulu called “Tiny Shoulders.” It’s about the team at Mattel working on Barbie when they launched the recent collection of more diverse dolls a few years ago. In the documentary, during one of their PR meetings, they commented on how there aren’t any other brands that have to go through what they do: generations of women with deep connections to their brand, who have very specific ideas about what it is and what it should be, who love the brand passionately but will also be the first to criticize when the brand makes any changes or decisions they don’t agree with.

Uh, in case anyone was wondering – that’s EXACTLY what it’s like working at a brand like Girl Scouts (um, look at the comments/replies on our social media. The trolls work hard, but the GSUSA social media and customer care teams work harder). When I started, I thought marketing here would be fairly easy and straightforward: everyone knows this brand! Everyone loves Girl Scout cookies! Everyone thinks highly of Girl Scouts! And to an extent, that’s true. But that also means everyone has an opinion about everything the brand does. It’s a lot of responsibility.

But while everyone knows about Girl Scouts and it’s deeply ingrained in pop culture (find an American sitcom in the last few decades that hasn’t made any jokes or references to Girl Scouts ever. I’ll wait.), the general public doesn’t always see what it is beyond jokes about cookies and being a “good girl.” Cookie sales are a fundraiser, yes, but it’s such a small portion of what girls do. The cookie program (when done correctly) teaches girls valuable business skills. It’s also an insanely complex business when you get into the weeds of how it operates. I worked on a small portion of it – transactional emails for the Digital Cookie online sales program. There were 67 emails (that had to be updated every spring for the following year, while we were still in the previous cookie season so we could rarely use anything we’d learned from the previous season), and they had a ton of complexity around them with personalization. It was cool (and yes, challenging at times) to be part of the inner workings of something so complex that was so crucial to the organization, especially during the pandemic.

For everyone who has asked me over the years: No, employees are not going to just give you free cookies – so quit asking (seriously, buy them from a girl!). And yes, there is such a thing as too many Girl Scout cookies (but that’s a rare state that only occurs in people directly involved in the production, operations, marketing, and direct sales/distribution of Girl Scout cookies. Regular people should buy as many as they are able to).

Clearing up one other thing – Girl Scouts did not (and will not ever, as far as I know) merge with Boy Scouts. They are completely separate organizations. I got asked about that a lot a few years ago when Boy Scouts started offering a co-ed program. Not going to comment on that too much, but I would say this: There’s plenty of research out there about the benefits of single-gender environments, especially for girls. I have a lot of mixed feelings about it, especially since my only child is a boy, and my family has a long history with both organizations, but I’ll cross that bridge when we get there.

During the last 6 years, I’ve been able to do some pretty cool things professionally: I attended (and spoke at) Dreamforce, Connections, Litmus Live, and several other conferences about my work at Girl Scouts. I volunteered at a massive cookie booth sale for Troop 6000 and helped them sell more than 25,000 boxes of cookies in an afternoon. I tried new GS cookies very far in advance, and got to enjoy my coworkers’ brilliant innovation of making Samoa S’mores (a marshmallow melted between two Samoa cookies – yum!). I co-founded an employee group for working parents and helped make things better for working parents in our organization. I got to use my PR degree for “crisis communications” when a council user accidentally sent an email to four million people instead of 12,000 (and still have PTSD from that experience almost 5 years later). I got to help out at a few photo shoots wrangling girls and uniforms. I participated in some traditional Girl Scout pinning ceremonies, and discovered that I still knew certain Girl Scout songs from my childhood. (Fun fact: Baby Shark was a Girl Scout camp song LONG before it spent its time tormenting parents across the world).

I originated the email role at Girl Scouts of the USA, and was able to grow it into a team of four at one point, and had the opportunity to manage some incredibly talented employees. Of the hundreds of people who I introduced to Salesforce Marketing Cloud, many of them are now certified in it and are becoming advanced users. I onboarded 110 council business units and more than 450 users onto Salesforce Marketing Cloud. I learned that platform deeper than I ever thought I would, and toward the end, learned just how much I still don’t know. I gained a ton of public speaking experience through over a hundred webinars and training sessions, putting together and presenting to Girl Scout staff at councils. When I started – councils were all on different ESPs, and GSUSA was sending image-mapped emails that weren’t responsive. I can leave knowing I absolutely left the campsite much cleaner than I found it. It’s more like a glamp site now, and I’ve spent the last year planting some trees in it that are going to start bearing fruit in the next few months. (Also, I helped plant an actual tree at a Girl Scout property on Earth day!)

Even personally, I’ve experienced several major life events during the last 6 years that I’ve been here: my first trips to Europe, two different apartments, a broken toe that ruined my shoe options forever, forming Women of Email, the death of a dog I’d had for 16 years, losing my grandmother, a pregnancy/having a baby, the pandemic, buying my first home, and leaving NYC after a decade. And my wonderful co-workers have cheered me on and supported me through it all. I’ve met incredibly passionate and wonderful staff at GSUSA and the councils, and it’s been an honor to work with them.

Peace out, Girl Scouts. ❤

*The first was after 6th grade, which I’ve since learned is a VERY common age to stop participating in the program.

Nostalgia girl summer, or how I suddenly went down a deep rabbit hole revisiting my favorite childhood toy

I was an advanced reader in first grade. I immediately loved it. Early in the school year, our classroom had a little library where we could each check out a book to read for a few days. They were the very simple “See Jane Run*” books, and my teacher noticed that I was reading -and finishing- them on the way back to my desk. Since we had an awesome student teacher (who was later hired and became my second grade teacher) who could look after the class, my wonderful teacher took me to the bigger school library by myself and helped me select my very first chapter book: Meet Kirsten.

It was 1991. While American Girl books (and dolls) had been around a few years, they were new to me. Reading about Kirsten, a 9 year old girl from Sweden whose family immigrated to the US in the 1850s, sparked for me a lifelong love of reading: I quickly devoured Meet Kirsten, and the other five books about Kirsten, and then moved on to Samantha, Molly, Felicity, Addy, Ramona Quimby, The Secret Garden, Little House on the Prairie, Little Women (which is still my favorite book, and I re-read it at least once a year), the Babysitters Club, and many other books about girls who were confident, flawed, fun, and – well, real (even though they weren’t actually). 

That year for Christmas, I got a very special gift: A Kirsten doll. These dolls were pretty pricy back then (and, um, still are). I immediately took out her braids so she would have wavy hair like in her birthday book, and so I could learn how to do different kinds of braids. Over the next few years, I would receive most of her outfits (which, uh, cost as much as a very nice outfit for an actual child), and two years later, a Molly doll, because I related to Molly a little more than Kirsten (she played pranks on her brother, tap danced, desperately wanted curly hair, made her own Halloween costumes, and liked to knit. All of which definitely shaped who I was as a child and who I am now). 

As an adult, I eventually gave my Kirsten doll to my niece. I bought her a new outfit at the American Girl store in Manhattan (and fully admit that it was because I wanted to go to the store, since my AG shopping experience had been 100% catalog based). I kept Molly, and all of their original outfits at my dad’s house, with the plan of eventually giving Molly to a daughter of my own if I ever have one. When I worked at Warby Parker, which takes Halloween very seriously, I knew I had to be my favorite glasses-wearer for Halloween on year. All the women there knew exactly who I was. The guys thought I was Madeleine.

In April of this year, my dad and stepmom came to visit us in our new house, and they brought some furniture and other things I had been storing at their house – including my Molly doll and all of the clothes. I immediately decided it would be fun to take on the project of restoring her to her original glory – her hair was very matted and frizzy from years of braid practicing.

A mere week later – I saw on Instagram that a lot of my friends were sharing a post about “Which American Girl doll are you?”  Not a totally new idea; there have been plenty of similar articles/quizzes on Jezebel, Bustle, Buzzfeed and others over the years. (I’m a Molly – no surprises there). But what was special about this one was that it was promoting the 35th anniversary of American Girl dolls, and they were re-releasing the long discontinued original historical dolls.

And that’s when, on an impulse, at 11:30 PM when I should have been sleeping, I darted out of bed and went to my computer to buy a new Kirsten.

The re-release of these dolls has been interesting to watch unfold. When I shared on instagram that I was buying one, my inbox was flooded with messages from friends who were considering doing the same. I even found out that one of the doll’s houses in the books (Samantha) was based off of a Victorian house that’s just a few miles from where I live! I drive by it a few times a week, and it’s identical to the illustrations in the books. There’s a very specific audience that would want these doll: women in their 30s who had the dolls as kids, or women in their 30s who DIDN’T have these dolls but really wanted them. We now have jobs/money, and kids of our own.

The marketing around them has been interesting.  I’ve been getting emails about all of their newer dolls and products. I don’t want those (but I could see how they might think I would, especially if I had a daughter in that age range). I almost wonder if the re-release was actually a play to capture data of women who had a strong affinity for the brand, and were of an age to have daughters who could potentially become new customers. In that regard, it’s kind of a brilliant lead gen strategy – it’s alarming how quickly I was willing to drop $160 on a doll. If they re-released the rest of their outfits and books, I’d probably buy the few that I don’t have from the original run. 

So I’ll continue spending my spare time freshening up my Molly doll’s hair, and changing their outfits seasonally. If you’re lucky enough to have a video call with me, you’ll see them in my background.

*I know that’s not the standard way to reference those books. It’s an episode of Daria where Jane takes up running. But you knew what I meant.

Mother’s Day Opt outs: may have unintended side effects

In the last few years, some brands have started offering temporary opt-outs of certain email campaigns during certain holiday seasons. In particular, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. It comes from a kind place – people who have lost their parents or have difficult relationships with them may not want to be bombarded with messaging about purchasing gifts for them them, as it can be very painful.

When brands do this, they’re likely putting these opt-outs on a suppression list for sends that are about these holidays, and continuing to send them other emails. I think that’s fine – it’s showing empathy for subscribers and providing a better customer experience, while still preserving the relationship. All good. And maybe they’re even saving this list year over year, and if they’re really smart, also using it for suppressions for holiday gift guides at other times of the year.

While marketers have some data about their subscribers (in this case, that they don’t want emails about Mother’s Day and Father’s Day), it’s difficult to interpret accurately. Marketers make (or are expected to make) assumptions about their subscriber behavior based on the little data we can easily access: “oh, they didn’t open that email because it was August and were probably on vacation” (yes, I’ve had people say that to me), “oh, we should send this email during lunch time because they’ll have more time to read it, or “oh, they opted out of my Mother’s Day emails – they must not have a mother (or a good relationship with her).

While that is a perfectly reasonable assumption in many cases, and it’s the behavior the brand intended, it doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story: maybe your subscribers just don’t see your product as an appropriate gift for this holiday, and that’s why they opted out. It’s a hard pill to swallow, and no brand wants to believe that there are people who just don’t want their products (or don’t want them for a specific situation). I just got an email from a deodorant brand about a Mother’s Day gift box. Even for a person who likes and uses that product – I can’t think of a scenario where that would go over well as a Mother’s day gift. Same with a popular socks brand. Love the products, would use them – but not as a Mother’s Day gift.

The email above was sent from a brand I bought towels from a few months ago. They’re great towels – very plush and spa-like. I love them. The brand also sells sheets and bathrobes. I may buy the sheets when I need new sheets since I’ve been so happy with the towels. But would I buy any of these products as Mother’s Day gifts? No. So I opted out of emails about them. In this particular case, it was a little strange – clicking on the link just went to a confirmation page. If I had wanted the emails for Father’s Day but not Mother’s Day, I guess I’m just out of luck. Sheets and towels feel kind of intimate for gifts for your parents, and SNL said it best when it comes to bathrobes as mom gifts. And maybe there’s an argument for spouses buying Mother’s Day gifts because the kids are younger, but sheets would be a weird one, because presumably the parents are sleeping in the same bed and would both use that gift.

(Fun little story there: when I was a kid, my siblings and I thought it would be a good idea to get our mom a waffle iron for Mother’s Day. It wasn’t. She was mad. But we had that waffle iron for years, and I eventually inherited it when I moved out on my own. It finally died right around the time that I became a mother. I told my husband about its origins, and as a joke, he got me a waffle iron for my first Mother’s day. Don’t do this, especially if your wife is only 6 weeks post-partum. Unless she specifically asked for a waffle iron.)

Part of this, at least for me, comes from how hard the past year has been for mothers. We’re doing so much, without all of our normal village of helpers available, and many of us are also working full time. It’s hard. We want to be appreciated, and not with deodorant, socks, or towels.

I think a missing piece in the Mother’s Day marketing conversation is considering which mother your subscribers are shopping for: I have FOUR mother figures (mom, stepmom, mother-in-law, stepmother-in-law). I am also a mother of a young child. So my husband is technically on the hook for figuring out Mother’s Day for a lot of people (and factoring in that both of our moms have birthdays a week later – we have a lot to cover in May!). The types of gifts for mother’s day that he would get me are very different from the types we’d get for any of our own mothers (or not, if we’re talking waffle irons). Just like any other email, it’s still important to target your messaging to the right audience. And that can get tricky for something like this, because most brands wouldn’t have the data to know who is in the market for Mother’s Day gifts, and for which mothers in their life. As a mother, I subscribe to a lot of brands whose target audience is -wait for it- mothers. It feels weird for those brands to send Mother’s Day emails, because we’re the ones who would be receiving the gifts. Send these emails to our spouses and children. (Well, not my child. He’s two.)

So, should your brand do a Mother’s Day opt-out?

Sure, if you want! If you’re planning a lot of email campaigns around Mother’s Day, it can be a valuable service to people who have reasons why Mother’s Day content might be upsetting. Just be careful about what you are deducing from this. People who opt out of these campaigns might have other reasons beyond their personal relationships with their mothers. If you’re seeing a large percentage of your subscribers opting out, pay attention to that, and think about if your products are right for this holiday, or if there might be a better way to frame them.

How I didn’t spend my pandemic

I meant to write this as a year-end recap, and I’ve been writing it in my head for a few weeks. So – here’s what my life has been like since March.

Last year, in early March, about a week before <gestures> all this, I wrote about how I was ready to get back into focusing on my career, as my son was about to turn one and things were calming down in my life. LOL.

Then everything changed. While I was still feeling motivated and not completely mentally drained, I wrote about how marketers should handle marketing during ~these uncertain times~, and ended up being invited to speak on a webinar about it. Somehow, I was getting back into things. Over the next few months, I was on another webinar, a Litmus Live session, and an email “podcast” (Podcast in quotes because it was more of a recorded video chat that’s not actually released as a podcast, but it was fun).

And, I realize it might be a Bad. Idea. to write about this, but here goes – that same week in March, I was in final interview rounds for a job at a company most people would expect me to easily get. I had started the interview process in January, ready for a change. But, I didn’t get the job. Maybe it was because I wasn’t right for the position (certainly possible – it was definitely a stretch for me). Maybe it was because during my final interview, which was a presentation (that I had been working on at VERY WEIRD hours of the night all week) and then being grilled by a panel, I was acutely aware of my husband and son 5 feet away in the next room over, trying really hard (trying, but not succeeding) not to distract me. I don’t know. Maybe it was because I was incredibly sleep deprived, because the same week that everything in NYC shut down, including our daycare, my son turned one and learned how to stand up in his crib, and he started a sleep regression, where he was up until almost midnight every single night – for seven weeks. Which meant that we were taking turns trying to get him to sleep for hours, and eating dinner at 10 PM. Oh, and I was also still doing my normal full time job. But not getting that job was a pretty big punch to the gut – up until then, I’d gotten every job I’ve interviewed for and really wanted for the last decade.

As if all that wasn’t stressful enough – NYC was pretty damn terrifying. We lived in Astoria, Queens, walking distance from a hospital that was hit pretty hard. Constant sirens. In March, they were still telling people only to wear masks if they were sick. We actually rode the subway with no masks at the end of March to take our son to his one year checkup, rationalizing that we could ride the subway without touching anything and holding our son in the carrier, but if we took a cab or uber, we’d have to touch door handles and seatbelts and lots of other things to buckle in the carseat. The walk home from the train (which required getting off at the station 3 blocks from the hospital) was crushing: every single restaurant and business in our vibrant neighborhood was boarded up (thankfully, that was mostly temporary) at 11 AM. There were people wearing hospital bracelets roaming around, and many of them were coughing. We practically ran the 7 blocks to our apartment and didn’t leave for weeks.

I didn’t have time for Zoom happy hours (you know, because of the baby not sleeping). I still haven’t watched Tiger King (and probably… won’t). I haven’t made bread or taken up any other baking endeavors, and the only puzzles I’ve done have been helping my son with wooden 5 piece ones that just have basic shapes. During a time when the whole world was embracing introverting, watching TV, reading, and taking to craft projects and quietness — I didn’t get to. And that was really, really hard for me as a person who loves exactly that kind of lifestyle. I’m grateful that we got to be around our son for first steps, first words, and countless other milestones, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t very resentful and angry listening to people talking about their quarantine hobbies. My hobby was survival.

After a few pretty scary months of only leaving our apartment to walk the dog, things got a bit better in the late spring. Our son finally started going to bed at 7pm again. We met up with friends outside for socially distant hangs and walks, and the park near us re-opened, so we finally had a place our son could burn off energy. We started renting a car on the weekends and going up to Westchester to look at houses, because while things were getting better – we knew we had outgrown our apartment, and honestly, NYC rent becomes pretty frustrating when you can’t access any of the reasons you chose to live in NYC. There’s no more “but the CITY is my backyard!” when everything’s closed indefinitely.

As much as I needed to get out for walks, I got extremely anxious whenever there were too many people out, or if there was a group of guys playing basketball or tennis at the park, not wearing masks. Astoria had become my home, my community, over the past decade, but suddenly I didn’t trust anyone in it and was constantly terrified that we’d get sick. Walking around our neighborhood, I became anxious to the point where it felt like my brain was short circuiting, and I couldn’t think or talk, if there was too much going on around me (even just trying to walk the dog/push the stroller and have a conversation with my husband while other people were… also outside). Then I started having my own “sleep regression,” where I would toss and turn for hours even though I was very exhausted. I now require melatonin gummies, lavender lotion, and the Calm app to have any shot at sleeping, but I still wake up from 3-5 AM most days (but I go to bed around 9:30 or 10). It’s also manifested in constant headaches, and neck and back pain.

Needless to say – any “extra” career things were put on the back burner for a while. I haven’t read anything career related or attended any webinars I wasn’t speaking on. And even for the ones I was speaking on, I only agreed to do it if would be minimal prep on my end. I feel like I haven’t kept up with industry news lately. I – don’t 100% get what AMP for Email is, and for a while thought “Dark Mode” was just how everyone’s feeling lately (isn’t it, though?).

In July, our daycare re-opened. We finally found a house in Westchester that we loved, and our offer was accepted an hour after we made it. By August, I was feeling a lot better, just knowing that we’d soon have a yard and space, and I was feeling a lot less stress since our son had gone back to daycare and I could actually focus during the day — right as work was getting particularly difficult due to staff reductions and a massive migration project.

So I did what anyone else suddenly facing the impending sticker shock of Westchester County property taxes would do, and I started doing some freelance work in the evenings. I was doing my normal job until 5 pm, taking a quick 2 hour break for daycare pickup/baby time/eating, and then working from about 7-10 PM every day for a while. Also while navigating buying our first house and preparing to move. As I’m sure you can imagine, working that late wasn’t great for sleep, and my brain was constantly on overload. I started drinking cans of Recess and listening to yoga music while I was working (but did I actually DO yoga? Nah. No space). I ended up deactivating my Facebook account in September, because I needed to eliminate things that were cluttering my brain. I haven’t missed it.

The freelance work has been exciting – I’ve learned a new ESP I had never used before, I’m building emails again, and dipping my toes back into startup/eCommerce world, which I never thought I’d do again. It was nice to have a new challenge, in a different industry, but one I had a lot of personal interest in. That project’s winding down now, but it was a great way to remind myself what I like about email. And, you know, buy some furniture for the new house.

I don’t know what’s ahead, and I know I can’t really reference the pandemic in past tense just yet, as it’s still very very real, and very bad in many places. But I’m optimistic. I’m optimistic that people I care about have started getting the vaccine. I’m optimistic that if there IS another major lockdown here, I at least have space and a yard now. I’m optimistic that the US is getting a new president this week. I’m optimistic that it’ll be okay soon.

An interview with the person who accidentally unsubscribed

“I consider myself extremely computer-savvy,” said Sue, 47, a woman who accidentally clicked unsubscribe in a recent marketing email, “but this could happen to anybody.”

Sue, like millions of other consumers, knows a thing or two about the internet. She shops online, works online, and oversees her children’s virtual learning. There is not a moment of her day that she is not looking at a screen in some form or another.

“I suppose it started when I saw the tiny link at the bottom of the email that said ‘Click here to unsubscribe.’ As a busy parent, I don’t have time to read buttons or links. Just tell me where to click, and I’ll click it.

And then it was too late. She clicked, and saw that something horrifying had happened: she was unsubscribed.

“It felt like a punch to the gut. How could this happen to me, a person who uses the internet every single day? All I was doing was following the instructions in the email. I just want to make everyone happy. This pandemic has been so difficult, and I’m doing everything I can. If I’m being honest, I’m really struggling here.”

But thank goodness, there was a “resubscribe” option after she realized her error.

“I was so relieved, I had to take a moment and count my blessings,” Sue said, on the verge of tears “I just need one thing to go right this year.” And then, like every parent working from home during a pandemic, she got pulled away from her computer to help her kid with something before she could click the “Resubscribe” button. And then on the way back to her computer, she saw that there were a few dishes that needed to go in the dishwasher, and then she saw that she was running low on dishwasher tablets, and then she got distracted making adjustments to her other Amazon subscriptions, and then realized her saved card had expired, so she had to find her purse to update it, but then realized her new card wasn’t activated yet, so she got out her phone to call and activate it, but saw 15 texts she needed to reply to, and then ended up spending another 32 minutes on that.

Needless to say, by the time she got back to that re-subscribe button, the brand had already written her off, and she had received an email confirming her shameful mistake: it was official. She was unsubscribed.

“I just hope they’ll forgive me,” she said, taking off her glasses and rubbing her eyes, “I want them to know that I really did want to receive their emails. They have to know that.”

What we owe each other: Marketing during the unthinkable

The last time my city shut down for a while due to ~unforeseen circumstances~ was in 2012 during Hurricane Sandy. The subways weren’t running, and it was impossible to get anywhere below 34th street. My office was closed. We were asked to work from home if we could, but for me, that just meant sending a few emails about delayed orders. It was a week after I got back from my wedding and honeymoon, so I happily used the downtime to write my wedding thank you notes.

This time’s a little different. This time – everyone’s affected. This time – it’s not just a forced staycation. This time’s pretty scary.

While companies try to continue “business as usual” (only, you know, at home, and with canceling every in-person event), marketers are trying to navigate the right balance of how to do our jobs. Pretending nothing’s different and sending out normal promotional messages doesn’t feel quite right, but every single brand sending a message about how they’re responding to COVID-19 feels weird too. Like it or not, the reality is, we’re the ones putting a lot of noise out into the world and online. We have an opportunity to influence peoples’ mental states, and a responsibility not to make things worse. We shouldn’t take that lightly. But we also have to continue to do our jobs.

It can feel jarring to see promotional messages about something unrelated when your entire headspace is about something else major going on. I’ve seen this on Twitter, particularly during very sad and difficult moments in time: celebrity deaths, mass shootings, your favorite candidate dropping out of the election (for example… ahem), devastating natural disasters. If you’re grieving and scrolling through an inbox or social media feed that is mostly people talking about the thing you’re grieving, and then suddenly see a brand shouting “BUY MY STUFF!”, it can really make you see that brand in a negative light. Like, read the room, Brand! I’m a little forgiving of pre-scheduled and automated messages in the immediate moments after a crisis breaks, but it’s still something brands should consider, and have a plan for handling when these things arise.

While every company’s situation is different right now based on their business and location, here are some things I would consider as a marketer:

1) Look at all scheduled or automated emails or social posts, including ads, welcome series, and anything else that you normally might not review frequently.
Is there anything that would normally be fine that might seem inappropriate or insensitive now? Are you promoting travel items? Do you have welcome or thank you emails with cutesy subject lines about hugging your customers or shaking their hands, or giving high fives? Trying to get people to buy luxury items, even though many people might be out of work for a few weeks and struggling to pay their bills? Telling new Girl Scouts about traditions involving holding hands in a circle? (Um, for example). Pause and/or rewrite it.

2) Is there a good reason for my brand to comment on this?
We all know that health and safety is of your utmost concern. That should be a given, always. You don’t necessarily need to alert everyone who has ever given you their email address. Some brands do need to comment on it: if your service is being shut down or changed, your event canceled, etc.

If it’s directly affecting a person’s relationship with your brand, it might need an email. Otherwise, you might just be adding to the panic and anxiety a lot of people are feeling right now. If you do have a reason to send an email like this, I don’t mind seeing companies share steps they’re taking to ensure safety and well-being of their employees. Especially if it’s something like ensuring sick leave/PTO for people who are unable to work or whose jobs can’t be done from home. It can help position a brand positively. But just like in any other situation – the best email to send is the one that has a good reason to be sent. If you’ve got nothing to say, then say exactly that. Relevance is always relevant. Et cetera.

3) If you are sending a general message about COVID-19, don’t send it as a transactional email if it’s not a transactional email.
A message from your CEO telling people to wash their hands and that health & safety are of utmost importance, and that you’re going to start sanitizing your store every day (…start???)  is not a transactional email. People who haven’t heard from you in years who have unsubscribed probably don’t need to hear from you now. If you’re alerting someone about a service change or cancellation of something they’ve spent money on – yes, that’s transactional. Send that email.

I’ve gotten several emails this week that are letters from the CEO saying how much they care about their employees’ safety. Great, so happy for your employees, but like – I unsubscribed from your emails 4 years ago. Why are you sending this to me? Don’t.

4) Don’t capitalize on peoples’ fears and anxieties.
I’ll admit – it’s been a rough week for me. I had to cancel my son’s first birthday party we were supposed to have this weekend. I’ve been anxious and had trouble focusing amidst everything that’s going on. I am clicking on just about everything that mentions this virus looking for news and updates. I don’t want you to read that sentence and interpret it as “Cool! More clicks! Let’s do an email about this!” I want you to read that as “My subscribers are real people who might be genuinely very worried right now.” Don’t try to sell them “wellness” packs of yoga classes to prevent illness. Don’t send emails that will make people more anxious, and don’t try to profit off of a worldwide public health crisis.

Here are a few types of emails I would like to get right now, if you’re trying to decide what to send:

  1. You’re probably stressed right now. Here are some pictures of puppies dressed up like doctors. (From any brand really, but probably most relevant from brands I would expect dog content from)
  2. Updates on cancellations of things I’ve signed up for with details about refunds/rescheduling (even if it’s just to say “this event will be rescheduled when we know it’s safe to do so, and your ticket will be applied to that event.”)
  3. Suggestions of songs/monologues from movies that are 20 seconds that can be used while washing hands. I’ve been doing Dolly Parton’s 9-5.
  4. Recipes for things using ingredients with a long shelf life in case of quarantine/difficulty getting out to the grocery store.

In the words of Jerry Springer, “Take care of yourselves. And each other.”