27 Things That Keep Email Marketers Up At Night


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We email marketers have it pretty good. Our particular kind of marketing generates an insanely great return on investment. According to the 2013 Direct Marketing Association’s Statistical Fact Book, email campaigns generate a 4300% ROI, with marketers earning $42.08 for every dollar spent.

We’re also pretty spoiled when it comes to tracking. Email marketing lets us know what people do down to the click, even for each individual subscriber. We also benefit from actually being the preferred channel for marketing messages, and we use a medium that many people are all but addicted to. And we positively rock when it comes to email customer engagement, as this chart from eMarketer shows.

Email marketing wins for retention marketing

But despite all the good things about being an email marketer, we still have quite a lot to worry about. If you’ve been finding yourself with a furrowed brow a bit too often, you’re not alone. Here are just a few of the things that can fuel email marketing fears.

1) Deadlines.

As I’m sure you know, there’s no shortage of work to do for email marketer. Sure, we’re thankful for email templates, and autoresponders save a ton of time, but there’s still planning, design, copywriting, testing, landing pages, and tracking. And as soon as you’re done, well, it’s time once again for the next email. Even if you do have all your ducks in a row, and know how to use an editorial calendar to tame the chaos, I’m pretty sure most of us put in at least a little midnight oil just getting ready for the holidays.

2) Deliverability.

If you read our post about spam traps, you know how quickly deliverability can drop. Like 20% overnight. And you’ve surely heard how quickly being placed on an email blacklist can effect your inbox placement.

No one relishes spending hours, if not days, on the phone with mail departments at the major ISPs. But fear not, frightened marketer. Even if the worst-case scenario does happen, you’ve still got your subscriber confirmation records (because you are using double opt-in, right?). If you had to, you’d just have to spend a few days getting to know those Mail department folks. Who knows, they might even be nice. And it would be a great excuse to buy a new phone headset.

3) List churn.

Almost no one talks or writes about it in the email marketing blogs, but list churn exists. It can – and does – eat up 25 to 50% of a list’s subscribers in just one year. It’s kind of like having a sink hole in your list growth efforts.  

How can you keep up with that? It means that just adding 25% to 50% of your subscriber list is not enough. That will only keep your list the same size. So how aggressively do you have to build your list to stay ahead of this monster? You’ve added a pop-up to your site, and you’re optimizing your opt-in boxes as fast as you can, but those unsubscribes just keep coming. What if you do all this work, and only grow your list by 5% this year? What will management think?

battling list churn can make email subscribers desperate

4) Sending an email that is not quite ready.

If you’ve been around for even a few years, you’ve seen them. The emails that got away. The emails that were not ready to be sent and were not supposed to be sent, and yet somehow, some way got sent anyway. To an entire list of thousands.

And you know that even if you trust everyone who works for you, and even if you’ve got safeguards in place (like finishing the email message before you attach a list to it, much less before you schedule it) that even you are just one click away from sending the disaster email.

But it hasn’t happened yet, you tell yourself.

Honestly, though, even those email marketers that did let an email message slip before it was ready for customers eyes? Most of those marketers still have their jobs. They’re just a lot more humble.

5) You’re a spammer.

You’ve taken that nasty comment you got at a cocktail party four years ago to heart. You told them what you did for a living, and that mean person answered back “Oh, so I have you to blame for all that spam in my inbox?”

And you’ve never really recovered. You know you get great engagement rates. You know you’ve made it super-easy to unsubscribe. You even put an unsubscribe link in the header. Hey – you’ve even got a 5% referral rate. Some people are even sending your emails along to their friends.

And yet… it’s not enough. In the dark night of your soul, at 2am, you wonder if maybe you really are a spammer. What if you’re just kidding yourself?

6) Email is about to die.

You made it through Facebook’s run at email, and you survived. You read all the headlines about how email was dead. Still, you carried on. You were profitable, even. Management, thank god, did not throw you under the bus while all the social media people claimed they had taken over the world.

Then slowly, steadily, you started seeing headlines here and there about how email wasn’t dead. About how it was actually out-performing social media.

And still, you find no solace. Maybe you just missed the axe the last time around. Maybe next time it will be true. The kids will be right. They’ll find a way around using email.

And so you keep worrying. Even while all the newspaper advertisers sleep soundly.

7) Google is going to do something horrible with Gmail.

Google seems to put email marketers into a panic every few months. Most recently it was Google Inbox. Many email blogs and marketers posted about how that was going to be the end of email marketing as we know it. A few months before that, we were all in a panic about promotional tabs.

What if Google and the Gmail staff really do hate promotional email messages? What if they are plotting to take down email marketers, the same way they’ve gone on a hunt for affiliates?

8) Is your list hygiene up to par?

Should you really have taken the people who have been inactive for six months off your list? Or was it okay to just go back nine months? Or would twelve months have been safer? What if you’ve just deleted a few people who would have bought? What is this going to do to your list growth? Are you really going to see any improvements in email deliverability?

9) You want to change your sender name, but you’ve been told that’s death to your response rates.

And still, every email you send, you’re still staring at that sender name… wondering how much revenue it’s costing you.

10) Your boss wants you to buy a list. Just to try it.

You’ve told him or her it’s a bad idea to purchase an email list. You’ve told them the horror stories of spam traps, and how it could just be a huge waste of money from the beginning. But they like that list company sales rep too much. Now the best thing you can hope for is to buy the smallest list possible. Maybe you’ll even send it from a separate account.

11) Next quarter, you’re going to have to integrate your email program with a new sales management system.

The manual for this new sales system is 628 pages long. You’re not sure this is even going to be possible. You’re definitely sure you don’t have time for it. You wonder, secretly, if someone hasn’t dreamed this up just to make it harder for you to meet your own sales goals. What if they really are trying to get you?

12) You’re going to be buried in technology.

You’ll end up spending all your time trying to learn it. All your weekends will be spent squinting at software tutorials. And it will only get worse. Five years from now, your desk is going to look like the dashboard of the Millennium Falcon.


13) They're going to take all your technology tools away.

Budgets will be cut, the entire CRM system will crash, or some new marketing fad will convince everyone there’s no need to track ROI or anything else. You’ll have to go back to doing Excel reports to track results.

14) They’re going to take your budget away.

And still expect you to maintain the results. Actually, they’re expecting a 10% increase if you still want a bonus this year.

15) Someone will force you to become a better storyteller, because that’s going to be the #1 most valued skill for marketers in the next decade.

You have no idea how to tell a story. You can barely tell a joke.

16) Nobody in management takes you seriously.

They all think their college-aged children could be doing your job. “How hard is it to send an email, anyway?”

17) Everyone in the office keeps calling your messages “email blasts.”

They refuse to listen to you about all the segmentation work you’ve done. They are not interested in your elegant system of triggered emails. They have no respect for your buyer personas.

18) How accurate is your tracking, really?

Will we even be able to get a straight answer about how opens are being measured? Should you just stop trying to measure them at all, and just compare them email to email? Why do the IT guys smirk at you when you ask these things?

19) Is there some weird device out there somewhere that is rendering emails in some horrible way?

Is it owned by some reclusive, cave-dwelling Ludditite who refuses to upgrade, yet opens every one of your emails just to have something to get angry about? Is the owner of this device on your company board?

20) Are your A/B split test results really statistically valid?

What if they’re not? What if you’ve been optimizing for years, making all your decisions on data that really only had a 90% confidence level?

21) Are you making it too hard for people to unsubscribe from your list…

Or are you making it too easy?

22) Are your competitors jealous enough to sign up for your emails, only to mark them as spam?

Have they hired a team of interns to do this? Could they hire a team of interns to do this?

23) Legal wants to meet and discuss your implementation of CASL and CAN SPAM.

24) Someone will figure out a way to blame you for a $10 million CASL violation.

You’ll immediately be fired, and then have to sell your house to pay the legal fees. Hopefully, if you beg to do public service in Canada for the next decade, they’ll let you skip jail time.

25) You are eventually going to run out of ideas for what to say in your weekly newsletter.

Even if you add in holidays like Ferris Wheel Day and National Piano Month.

26) You'll be exposed.

Some annoying marketing consultant is going take one of your emails and do an entire presentation about all the mistakes in it at the next major email marketing conference. Even worse, you won’t be at the conference. But your boss will be.

27) You’re still not as cool as the social media marketers.

The mobile app people laugh at you behind your back. And they all call your emails “blasts."