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Ken Magill

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Face it, Your Messages Go Mostly Unread


By Ken Magill

After more than a decade of covering email marketing, here is what the industry has begun to sound like to me:

Oh my god! Eighty percent of Internet users check their email on mobile devices! Drop everything! We have to design for mobile devices!

Thumbs! Thumbs! Thumbs!

We have to design for thumbs!

But what mobile operating system should we design for?! Hell, I don’t know! All of them!

But what if they open it on their desktops?! Oh my god! What then?!

Responsive design! Responsive design!

Responsive design can tell if they’re opening it on their iPhone while taking a crap! On a disgusting public toilet! Because they couldn’t hold it! In Penn Station in New York! Where that crazy guy rocks back and forth in front of the mirror and makes faces every day!

Quick! We need public crapping responsive iPhone designers!

Oh my god! Seventy percent of people crap in dirty public toilets because they couldn’t hold it and check their emails on the mobile devices on Tuesdays at 1:53 p.m.!

We need to send our public crapping responsive email campaigns on Tuesdays at 1:53 p.m.!

Preferences! It’s all about preferences!


They need to be able to buy with one thumb! While engaging in crapping! Because they couldn’t hold it! In dirty public toilets at 1:53 p.m. on Tuesdays while that crazy guy makes faces in the mirror! In Penn Station!

On Tuesdays!



Be relevant and engage them when they prefer to hear from you while they’re crapping with their mobile devices!

Pant! Pant! Pant!

Let’s talk about what really matters in email marketing: Your “from” line and your “subject” line.

Mostly your subject line because it’s the one thing you can work on from campaign to campaign.

Multiple studies have shown that most people who open emails do so based on who is in the from line and the experiences they have had with the sender. So basically you work on that by being consistently good at what you do.

But here’s the thing: Most people don’t open your email, period.

A 20 percent open rate is considered pretty darned good, remember?

You need to craft a subject line that makes a valuable offer of some sort and can stand on its own because, for the most part, that’s what it’s going to do. It’ll sit unopened in the recipient’s inbox until they delete it or—as in the case of hoarders like me—it gets pushed out of sight by new incoming messages.

Email marketing agency Alchemy Worx CEO Dela Quist made this point in a presentation recently to the Direct Marketing Club of New York.

And you know what? He’s dead right.

This isn’t to advocate abandoning efforts on creative and other email marketing techniques. For example, I would never say not to implement a welcome series of emails or not to implement an abandoned-order program. They work like crazy and every email marketer should have them.

This is about setting priorities.

I would bet a box of San Cristobal Monumento cigars—my hands-down favorite—that in most email marketing departments, the subject line is the last thing dashed off before the campaign goes out the door.

Call it ass-backward email marketing.

People should be able to act on a commercial email without ever clicking on any part of it. Email campaign creation should start with crafting the subject line—or lines if you’re one of the 18 marketers in North America and Europe who test their email.

Subject lines are the one and only thing you can count on your recipients seeing—assuming your messages reach the inbox, but that’s another story.

Now, I’ve got to go take a crap and check email on my Droid while that crazy guy rocks back and forth and makes faces in the mirror in Penn Station.


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Terms: Feel free to be as big a jerk as you want, but don't attack anyone other than me personally. And don't criticize people or companies other than me anonymously. Got something crappy to say? Say it under your real name. Anonymous potshots and personal attacks aimed at me, however, are fine.

Posted by: Ken Magill
Date: 2013-04-09 13:14:09
Subject: Background

It's white on my screen. What browser are you using so I can check?
Posted by: matt caldwell
Date: 2013-04-09 12:49:43

hilarious! love this.
Posted by: Jared
Date: 2013-04-09 12:28:45
Subject: Design

Love your articles, but they sure would be easier to read on a white background. Keep up the great work!