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Ken Magill

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On Email and the Importance of Thinking 'BS'

7/8/14
 
By Ken Magill
 
Lately, I’ve been instructing my son on the importance of thinking “bullshit.”
 
“When somebody tells you something, I want your default thought to be: ‘That’s bullshit,’ even with your teachers,” I’ve been saying. “A lot of people throughout your life are going to tell you things that are just plain bullshit. And if you don’t believe anything anyone tells you before you can prove it to yourself, you can avoid a lot of it.
 
“I don’t want you telling people they’re full of shit,” I said. “That would be rude. But I want you thinking it.”
 
As an example of the benefits of thinking “bullshit,” I explained to him the only reason he exists is because I thought “bullshit.”
 
When the wife and I decided to have a baby 13 years ago, we had no problem conceiving. We had problems getting the babies to stick, though.
 
We lost three pregnancies before our son was born. Just before we conceived him, our fourth pregnancy, the wife came home from an appointment with the fertility doctor crying.
 
“She said we’re done,” said the wife.
 
“What do you mean we’re done?” I asked.
 
“She said it’s over for me. I can never get pregnant again.”
 
“Oh, bullshit,” I thought. “There’s no way a woman’s body shuts off like a light switch.” I didn’t say anything, though. The wife was not in the mood for any of my shit. But I thought it.
 
The wife had taken a drug that weekend that from experience I knew would make her most likely to conceive on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
 
So I made sure shit happened on those three days without letting her know why.
 
Some weeks later, the normally energetic, intelligent wife became exhausted and her IQ had seemingly dropped by about 50 points, two signs from the three previous pregnancies that she was pregnant again.
 
“Honey, you’re stupid and you’re exhausted. Get an EPT test tomorrow,” I said.
 
The next day, I came back from running errands to a message on the answering machine: “Holy shit! I got two lines! I’m pregnant!”
 
Nine months later, we had our son. And 11 years later, I’m teaching him the importance of thinking everything is bullshit.
 
What does this have to do with email marketing? Well, there’s a lot of bullshit in this industry and not enough thinking “bullshit.”
 
And the failure to think “bullshit” is costing companies money.
 
The biggest piece of bullshit in email marketing is the need for so-called engagement.
 
The inherent goodness of striving for engagement became email-marketing conventional wisdom several years back when some experts said email inbox providers were going to start making deliverability decisions on an individual-inbox basis.
 
Someone could sign up for a newsletter, the thinking went, but if they ignored it, sooner or later the sender’s messages would start getting diverted to that recipient’s spam folder. The logical conclusion, therefore, was send fewer emails, get rid of non-responders and drive opens and clicks up.
 
However, the whole idea has turned out to be bullshit. Dela Quist, CEO of email marketing agency Alchemy Worx, may have been the first in marketing circles to call bullshit on the concept of engagement.
 
If he wasn’t the first, he has certainly been the loudest. Unless he is completely making his numbers up—which admittedly he may be—he has demonstrated that when marketers send more email they make more money.
 
If he’s right—and he’s convinced me he is—a lot of folks are leaving a lot of money on the table because of adherence to a concept that is pure bullshit.
 
So the next time someone comes out with a study that says the best day to send email is on a Tuesday, or that subject lines with from 18 to 36 characters are the most likely to get opened or that email marketers should not use the word “free,” the first thought that should come to mind is: “Oh, bullshit.”
 
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