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Ken Magill

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How to Screw up Your Email Program in Two Easy Steps


By Ken Magill

It just takes that one stupid mistake to screw up an email program—or in the following case, a combination of them.

On June 28, I opened my email inbox to find five investment-oriented messages from Mark Skousen. I had never heard of Mark Skousen.

Where most people would have hit the “Report Spam” button—and it turns out, probably did—because of the nature of my work, I opened a couple of them.

The messages were from Eagle Publications, a conservative publisher in Washington D.C. My guess is I opted into one or more of its lists or it got my address from some conservative organization. I am on a ton of political lists left, right and center—again, because of the nature of my work—and I can say from personal experience that political organizations show no compunction about sharing names.

In any case, Skousen’s messages demonstrated two stupid email mistakes in one effort: First, the messages contained an unknown name in the “from” line. Over the years, studies have determined that people decide whether or not to open an email based primarily on who is in the “from” line and what types of experiences they’ve had with that sender before.

The second mistake, of course, was they sent five messages in a single morning.

“Whatever,” I thought. “It’s not the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen.”

And I went on with my day.

Later, however, I checked my spam folder as I do every day and in it was a message from … drum roll, please. Mark Skousen.

“Oops… Our Systems Went Haywire,” said the subject line.

“Dear Friend,” the message began

“This morning you may have received several emails from Mark Skousen that were sent due to a technical error. We deeply apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused and I assure you that we have fixed the problem.

“Please accept this Special Report ‘Options Secrets Revealed’ as my apology.

“Once again we are sorry for this error.


“Roger Michalski
“VP/Group Publisher”

The fact that the message was delivered to my spam folder when I never reported the morning’s messages as spam indicates the damage was done. Apparently enough other people hit the “report spam” button that morning over the original five messages that Gmail deemed the apology message as spam and treated it as such.

It’s hard to imagine other ISPs didn’t draw the same conclusion.

There are any number of explanations for what may have gone wrong. Someone pulling the wrong list could explain the unfamiliar “from” name, for example.

But why it happened doesn’t matter. It happened.

And with email, it just takes that one mistake.


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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: Stephanie Miller
Date: 2011-07-06 11:35:23
Subject: There but for the Grace of God go I....

Every time I see this sort of thing, I cringe. You are right, Ken, it only takes one mistake. It's a wonder that email marketers are able to sleep at night - the pressure is high and not only are we overworked and getting little support from other internal groups who give us rush jobs all the time... we are expected to be experts in a bunch of different categories: deliverability, privacy, legal, creative testing, offer optimization, segmentation, data management.... and more. All hail to the thousands of email marketers who get it right - nearly all of the time. These issues are truly the exception. Scary. But exceptions. Thanks as always for a great article. SAM @stephanieSAM