Email automated content fails

Automated emails are a marketer’s dream. I remember in the not so distant past being blown away by the concept of pre-scheduling a send, and then being blown away even more by the even better concept of having daily automated sends. Now, there are even more ways to automate emails so they pretty much write themselves.

Awesome, right? Or not.

Over the weekend, I went to BookCon in NYC. It was a day attached to the end of BEA (a large publishing industry convention) where book lovers could see panels, meet authors, and get a lot of free books. The organizers of the event had an app that participants could download to see schedules, updates, and most interestingly, a newsfeed with comments and photos from other BookCon attendees. It was a cool way for attendees to find people with similar interests, and I’m sure on the marketing side, it was a great way to get real-time feedback about the event and data about the attendees. (Hmm, the 17-22 year old group seemed overwhelmingly interested in all things John Green. Go figure.)

BookCon also sent a few automated emails throughout the day. At other conventions/conferences I’ve been to, that’s a pretty routine thing. Usually there are updates about events and speakers, or perhaps links to recordings from presentations. BookCon decided to pull user-generated content from the app. These are the two emails I received during the day, while I was still at the event. I heard there were about 30,000 attendees. Granted, they probably didn’t all opt in to email, and they probably didn’t all download the app. But of all the comments people were leaving about how cool it was to meet their favorite authors, this is what BookCon sent out to attendees.

1. Subject line: Today at BookCon
Sent at 1:17 PM


2. Subject line: Today at Bookcon
Sent at 6:10 PM



(For the record, Evie R. and June H. were pretty accurate. I left with a pile of free books; several of which were autographed. I had a great time, but I also chose not to wait in crazy lines for the really good panels. It got pretty nuts.)

The lesson: If you’re going to send emails with user-generated content, um, read it first.

The next automated email I recently received was from the social media platform everyone loves to hate and hates to love: Google Plus. Poor Google Plus. They tried, but they never really caught on. Maybe it’s because they send me emails like this. (This email went to my old Gmail account under my maiden name):



(Sorry for the hacky photoshop job. Just wanted to illustrate that they put me in there twice).

Granted, I think I have Google plus accounts through several email addresses, including my work one. So I could see how they might have pulled it in twice. But this isn’t the first email like this I’ve ever received. I don’t even use Google Plus, and this isn’t going to make me start.

The lesson:  Find ways to de-dupe people’s accounts so they don’t get ridiculous emails like this.

Then today, I got this email from the Barack Obama campaign. I think. Well, it was from the Democratic Party, but the from name said “Barack Obama.” I’m sure we all read the article a while back about all the amazing A/B testing the Obama email team did during the elections. (If you didn’t, go read it. It’s more interesting than this post.) They’re pretty impressive with their  subject lines. And today was no exception.

From Name: Barack Obama
Subject line: I need you in [neighborhood I live in. Small part of an outer borough of NYC]

obama email

Now, it’s not even necessarily a bad email. And $3 really isn’t a lot to ask. It’s the “P.S.” that gets me. They already know I live in New York. A flight and hotel in New York City is not really an incentive for me (I live closer to an NYC airport than Manhattan…). Surely they could have pulled in different content for subscribers who lived in New York (I don’t know, maybe a trip to Washington DC or something?).

The lesson: If you’re offering a free trip, make sure it’s relevant to the people you’re offering it to.


This content is just for you, and other lies brands tell us in emails

I’m finally caught up on my inbox, and I even managed to get up early and categorize everything. Now I have a spreadsheet full of post ideas that may or may not ever get written, but at least I’ve looked at every single email today. It’s a journey, people.

Here are a few emails I came across a few weeks ago. Copywriting for emails can be a challenge, especially when you write emails for a brand that sends emails every day. Unless you have exciting new products or promotions every day, it’s easy for copy to become stale and boring. But that’s no excuse to just say things because you need to get an email out the door.

This email came from NY & Company in April. The subject line started off promising:

Subject: Get 50% off NOW!

The email itself was exciting too – Get 50% off EVERYTHING (in huge letters). Okay, great, But then there’s the fine print explaining what is not actually 50% off. It’s, um… actually a lot of stuff. Enough to make the use of the word “EVERYTHING!” seem REALLY sketchy. Don’t lie to me, NY & Company.


Then Dillard’s sent me this automated email. I know as an email marketer, I’ve been approached by MANY vendors who promise the ability to automate personalized emails based on site activity, and I’m always a little bit wary. This email from Dillard’s is one such email.

The problem? The only time I’ve ever spent on their site was when I was signing up for their emails, and at that point, I only viewed the home page and the email signup. I filled out a preference center and selected everything, which might explain how Dillard’s picked these products “Just for me.”

Subject: Just for you!


Granted, most of their subscribers probably aren’t selecting all possible preferences. I’m sure these emails can be very effective if someone is browsing specific content, and they get shown similar items. But that didn’t happen here, and I ended up with a really weird email. Let’s just throw random products in an email and see what sticks!

Last, we have this email from Banana Republic on 4/24. The subject line certainly made me open the email…

Subject: Hey! Youll want to see this…

Turns out, I didn’t. I like Banana Republic as a brand. I buy a lot of clothing there. They do have a lot of emails that I really do want to see. But this one? There was absolutely nothing special about it. It was a 40% off sale (which they seem to do every week these days), and there weren’t any new products. I’m sure this email performed well, because the subject line was strong, but I felt a little cheated out of a good email…and I really hate that.


Quit trying to make “Spring Black Friday” happen, Lowe’s

When I got my first “Spring Black Friday” email from Lowe’s on May 1, I tensed up a little. Is this really a thing? Am I going to start getting Spring Black Friday emails on top of the 40 Mother’s Day emails I’m already getting every day too? Over the next few days, I kept my eyes out for Spring Black Friday emails from other brands.

Like it or not, Black Friday is powerful and works because just about every brand participates. They pretty much have to. Even brands that don’t do promotions (like mine) still have to send some sort of counter Black Friday email to stay relevant.

But Spring Black Friday? I’m sorry Lowe’s, but this is the Fetch to your Gretchen Weiners. As in, stop trying to make it happen. It’s not going to happen.

Don’t worry, marketers. Spring Black Friday isn’t a thing. Lowe’s is the only brand I saw sending emails about it. And it wasn’t even a Friday. It was two whole weekends. The whole campaign was executed so poorly they’ve pretty much guaranteed this will NEVER be a thing.

First up, the subject lines I received:

May 1: Heads Up, New York! Spring Black Friday Starts Today

May 2: Spring Black Friday Is in Full Swing

May 3: Amazing Spring Black Friday Offers Continue

May 4: Don’t Miss Spring Black Friday Savings

May 8: Final Days! Spring Black Friday Savings! 

May 9: Hey New York! It’s the Final Spring Black Friday Weekend

May 10: Spring Black Friday is Almost Over!

May 11: Don’t Wait! Spring Black Friday Ends Tomorrow.


S0, of these days, May 2 and May 9 were the only Fridays.  Yet this one “Friday” seems to extend Thursday-Sunday, for two weekends in a row. Why call them Black Friday at all? For me (and this may be the extreme introvert talking), “Black Friday” conjures up thoughts of getting up way too early, cold weather, stampedes, extreme crowds, and a lot of anxiety. However, Spring, gardening, and working on making my apartment nicer… don’t. I don’t want to make a sexist generalization here, but I’d imagine their target demographic is men. Men probably don’t react to Black Friday the same way women do (other than camping out at Best Buy, I guess), and I bet they care about Black Friday even less.

Then there’s the personalization by city thing. Lowe’s has a few locations in Brooklyn and eastern NJ, but they’re way too far away for most people in New York City to want to shop at. Most purchases at this type of store are generally bigger and require a car (or, you know, owning a home or yard that needs improvement). We have several Home Depot locations in Manhattan (near subway stations, no less!), and a few in Queens.

Since this campaign was a pretty big deal for Lowe’s (I guess?), and they sent eight emails about it, surely the emails were at least really good, right?

Meh. Granted, I’m not exactly their target market (despite my NYC location. Or something). I have no idea if these are even good deals, since I never really purchase any of these items, and won’t need to for the forseeable future. Lowe’s emails always have a very – basic design that just screams “I was built in in a WYSIWYG.”  I don’t even mind that it’s simple. Really simple.

I’m a little curious about the language of the green buttons – some say “Shop now” and some day “Buy now.” Was that an A/B test within the email (which wouldn’t work, since it’s totally different products and price points), or just inconsistent copy editing?

lowes1 lowes2 lowes3 lowes4

I’m just glad we all survived another Black Friday.

Pointless points

Loyalty programs can be a great way to keep customers engaged. I know that I’m a part of several, and they really do give me incentive to stick to a specific brand when I otherwise wouldn’t. Most of the loyalty programs I use are food related (what can I say? I go to the same 3 places for lunch most of the time. If I can get free meals out of it, great!).  But there are a few brands that do it really well – Sephora and Gap Credit card come to mind. I shop at Sephora and Gap fairly frequently, and I love getting little extras (whether product or discounts) as a reward for doing so.

But what about the brands that I DON’T shop at? Or at least, brands that I’ve subscribed to for Email Snarketing that don’t know I actually shop there since I’m not purchasing through this email address.

1. Shop Your Way (Remember them? It’s actually Sears, using the worst From name ever)

I meant to write about this sooner (at least, closer to the Tax Days post), since it came on April 17. Compared to the other tax day emails, it wasn’t so bad. If I had any idea of what their points program was, and if I actively used it, I would have liked the subject line a lot. But I have no context for what their points system is. It appears that these points are added temporarily or something. I don’t know if it works like any other points system, where people can earn them from shopping, and I honestly wasn’t interested enough to care. (Where it says “ES,” it would normally be a first name. I just put “ES” as my first name in the preference center).

Subject Line: Free points for you ✎ No 1040 to fill out!

sears1 sears2


I think by “Points” they just mean “A few dollars off.” I got this other email a few weeks later.

Subject line: Surprise points inside! Use ’em by 5/6

sears3 sears4

Yawn. I’m bored with this.

2. Sephora

Now, I know I just complimented Sephora on its rewards program just a few minutes ago. I like it. I’ve gotten a lot of free samples with my purchases because of its rewards program. But as a new subscriber, I don’t know about this program yet. So this email is pretty meaningless to me. I would have liked to see a welcome series (or at least an email) explaining the Beauty Insider program. They touched on it a bit in their welcome email, but it was at the bottom and didn’t really explain the points thing at all.

This email was beautiful (which is exactly what I’d expect from Sephora. I love their emails), but I’m only going to show the first part that’s about the points.  If your subject line is about the points, and your main CTA s about the points, maybe somewhere in the email you should explain why I should care about points.

Subject line: Triple points. Yes, triple.

sephora points

If you’re going to have a points program, great. Just tell me why I want to have points, and how I can earn them. Both of these emails make me think of “Whose Line is it Anyway?” (where everything is made up, and the points don’t matter.) Make them matter!



Countdown to Mother’s day: Weird messaging

I’ve received about 70 emails specifically about Mother’s day (in this account) since April 7 (maybe more, I dunno. They all blur together.). Some of the emails have been helpful, some have been overkill, and some have been flat-out weird. Here are the weirdest.


I realize that Mother’s day is a pretty big deal for flower companies. Flowers are probably the easiest/most obvious Mother’s day gift there is. And flowers can get pricey, so it totally makes sense that frequent discounts are a great way to market them. That doesn’t make it okay for them to violate CAN-SPAM. But even before the broken unsubscribe link incident, some of their Mother’s day messaging was already on my list for this post.

First, they’ve been playing around with different from names/icons in from names. Okay, fine. But as someone who hasn’t purchased from you yet, this can be confusing. Why are you calling me a VIP? What, exactly, makes ME a “great customer”? If I’m a great customer (me, someone who doesn’t order flowers from you and instead writes cranky blog posts), I’m a little concerned about the stability of your business.

proflowers from name

Here are some of their recent subject lines from the last few weeks:

  • 4/24: LAST CHANCE! Prices go up for Mother’s Day Tomorrow – Get The Best Deal on Mom’s Bouquet: Save up to 44%
  • 4/26: Thanks for being a great customer. Here’s up to 52% off Mother’s Day bouquets
  • 4/28: 57% off. ProFlowers tested, Mother’s Day approved
  • 4/29: ✿ Stunning bouquets for Mom, from $19.99!
  • 4/30: You only have ➊ week left to Avoid Rush Delivery Rates. Don’t wait!
  • 5/1: URGENT: Last Chance for a $19.99 Special for Mother’s Day!
  • 5/2: Get 61% off this Mother’s Day Email Exclusive. Through This Weekend Only!
  • 5/2: Oops! We fixed our links. Please accept an Extra 25% off for any inconvenience!
    (That one may have been a direct result of an interaction I had with them on Twitter….)
  • 5/3: Don’t Forget Mom! Save 54% and Avoid Rush Delivery Rates
  • 5/4: Only 3 Days Left to Avoid Rush Delivery Rates and Save 52%
  • 5/5: Use Your $20 Mother’s Day Credit…

I wonder if their copywriter’s mother ever read him/her “The Boy who Cried Wolf.”

It’s hard to take any of these extremely urgent subject lines seriously, especially since they’ve already shown a pattern of offering increasingly better discounts. The $20 credit seems like the best deal so far. They have a minimum purchase price of $29.99 (so that $19.99 special from 4/29? It’s an upselling trick to get you to add on chocolates and a colorful vase), but if the $20 credit counts toward that, it might actually be worth ordering some flowers. Maybe I will.  (Does that mean their emails worked, or does it mean I’m just curious to see what kind of messaging they’ll send next year since they’d have some info about me and who I might send flowers? I’ll just say it’s the latter.).



I hope you’re not buying anything more than a card as a Mother’s day gift from Walgreen’s, but if you are, they have some interesting suggestions. The subject line is probably something most people can relate to – Hey, I ❤ Mom too! Maybe this email will have something relevant to that.

Let me just stress that while I did my weird campy spliced screenshot method, this is the full email. I didn’t accidentally forget to take a screenshot of the copy explaining that fragrances might be a good gift idea for Mom. I didn’t cut out any kind of sub-head that might have said, “Okay, now we’re moving on to feature other products we also sell. Don’t buy Rogaine for your mom for Mother’s day.” Nope, the full email is right here for your viewing pleasure.

Subject line: We ♥ Mom15% OFF ALL Fragrances + Other Deals | 20OFF Contacts


walgreens2_05052014 walgreens3_05052014 walgreens5_05052014 walgreens6_05052014

But seriously – don’t buy your mom Rogaine for Mother’s day.

Have a $5 snack on the way to a Banana Republic Factory Store while I dig through all these emails

I just got back from a short (but lovely and very much needed) trip to Indianapolis to visit a friend, and my Promotions tab has about 200 marketing emails to go through and categorize for blog posts. Meanwhile, I already had a bunch of them I had been meaning to write about. Soooo…I’m going to try to get to as many as I can the next few weeks before I go on vacation again in two weeks. (I feel like I should clarify that last year I took about 5 days off total, and I worked through most of them. I have a team now, so I have to make up for a lot of lost beach time.)


Here’s an email I got from Banana Republic Factory Store a few weeks ago. I don’t think they even have any of those stores near me (which is a crying shame, because I would shop there all the time). They’ve sent a few emails like this recently, and they start out normal enough:

Subject: 50% off your purchase starts today!

But then the bottom section has this little module on the left:


Soooo…. they want customers to buy a snack or drink somewhere – anywhere – else, and then come in and get an extra $5 off their purchase? This is so crazy it just might work. Or, maybe it’s just a little bit crazy. I can’t get past the logistics of this. They’re basically encouraging customers to bring food and drinks inside the store, which I’m sure their associates just love. Are there limitations on what counts as a snack? Could I get a value meal at a fast food place, bring it into the store, and then get a discount? Can I “expense” my breakfast but shop later in the afternoon? So many questions.

I’m curious about how this campaign went. I know some BR Factory stores are in large outdoor outlet malls that have food options, so it actually may have been brilliant.