never send another email blast

Email BlastI know this is crazy-talk, but I’m here to convince you to never, ever send out another email blast. Ever. You know what I’m talking about — an email that your nonprofit or organization blasts out of Constant Contact or MailChimp or MyEmma or whatever program to a list of email addresses.

Stop. Sending. Email. Blasts. Now.

Crazy-talk, I know. But stay with me on this.

Here’s what I’m guessing you’re thinking: “Email’s free.” “Online giving is where it’s at.” “Email will help us connect with everyone on our email list and they’ll give (or attend our event).”

I know you worked hard to get those email addresses.

So you “blast” ‘em!

Stop please.

You may even be thinking, “Hey Thomas, you’re the guy who’s always talking digital, “e” and online giving. What’s your beef with an email blast?”

Yep. I’m all about “e” and digital or whatever you choose to call this brave new world. But I’m 100% against email blasts.

I’m not against email. In fact I believe email may be the most powerful yet underutilized tool in your marketing and fundraising toolbox. In fact, I’m so crazy that I think every professional should be building a personal/professional email list (if you’re curious about that you may want to sign up for our newsletter, that’s one of the topics ahead in the newsletter).

If you can reach someone’s inbox with an email that they open and read, you have unparalleled intimacy with that person. The email inbox has fewer distractions than other digital channels. It’s just you and them. And that’s the promiseland if you want to get your message across.

You’re probably ahead of me, but my problem isn’t with email as a tool or channel. My problem is with the term email “blast.” In fact, Constant Contact, MailChimp or MyEmma (or any other tool) aren’t the problem. It’s using them to “blast” emails that’s the problem.

“Blast” isn’t a relationship term. I’m not playing word games with you, I’m observing the fact that time after time when organizations think email “blast” they abuse their email list or they misuse email as a tool.

“Blast” will lead you to think you can blast ‘em whenever you want to (hey, it’s free and it’s just a blast). Email is hardly free. In fact, ultimately it could be the most expensive channel you use. Really.

“Blast” leads you to think of a group, a herd, a pack or a mob of people. Oh, that’s so bad. You don’t think about the individuals when you “blast.” You are thinking about broadcasting, blasting, hosing ‘em down with your message. You should be thinking about communicating like you’re communicating with only me. You have my attention. And that is powerful and valuable.

Here’s how you should think about email:

Every email address is precious. If someone gives you an email address, treasure it and don’t abuse it (or take advantage of their trust in you).

Every email you send is a relationship opportunity. Email gives you the chance to connect with a real, live person. Not the target of a blast. In fact, you should right now begin thinking about how to segment your email list just like you segment your direct mail mailings.

Your reputation as an email sender is valuable equity. It’s like your credit score. It’s precious and fragile. If you send emails that regularly get marked as spam or you don’t keep your email list perfectly clean, you’re blowing it and you will suffer. If you delegate the management of your organization’s email list to the intern or someone who doesn’t understand this, you’re risking future opportunity. Once someone unsubscribes to your email, you have to stop emailing them until or unless they give you permission to email them again. Period.

OK, so everyone knows that, right? But, if so, why do some many organizations treat email like a clear-cut logger treats the forest? If we all know that email addresses are gold and that with the click of a link the recipient can terminate the relationship, then why do so many abuse email as a strategy? It’s because they’re thinking “blast” not relationship.

Every email you send should use my name. Here’s where it can get gimmicky. Without going crazy with data fields, the person you’re emailing should know you’re talking to them. Don’t have names for all your email addresses? I understand, you’re not alone. So beginning today, work very, very hard to get at least a first name. Ultimately we have to get that email address buckled to a donor record so you can really know who you’re talking to. So start today getting names with those email addresses.

Every email you send is an opportunity to learn. Any time you send an email make sure you know the metrics for the previous email you sent. What are your open rate trends? What are your click-thru rate trends? What happens if you put the person’s name in the subject line? What happens with a short subject line?

Every email you send is a chance to connect with a real live person. People who give you their real email address have invited you into their lives. Treat them with respect. Oh . . . and you are sending emails from a live email address, right? An email address with a person’s name attached to it? And if they hit “reply” they won’t get bounced, they’ll get a real person? Right? If you’re not doing that . . . you’re just blasting and that is bad mojo.

As I step off my soapbox and enter the real world, I need to say that the Oneicity team is involved with a ton of email work for our clients. And we certainly use the term “blast” in our work. But we’re doing everything to make any email a relationship-building communication — not a “blast.” So. When you hear us slip and call it a “blast” know our intention. Plus, we’re still figuring out what to say instead of “blast.”

What should you say rather than “blast”? I’d love to know what you think. What do you think about this? Is the word “blast” really all that bad? How are you using email? (And if you wonder what I’m thinking about audience building and email lists, sign up for the newsletter that’s what we’re talking about next).

Steve Thomas
Partner, Oneicity

(photo credit: OakleyOriginals)

Picture of Steve Thomas

Steve Thomas

8 thoughts on “never send another email blast”

  1. I like the new look to your site. Very easy to navigate. I signed up for the book too. Replace “blast” w/ “group hug”, hey, remember there’s no such thing as a bad idea in a brainstorming session :o)
    I agree with you “blast” is impersonal. A relationship builder can’t afford to tote this term around in their mind as they prepare an email for supporters.
    Do you know in general if there tends to be an “email life cycle”? I know personally I tend to open the first 5-10 or so emails I receive from an organization, then for 6 mos to a year or so delete w/o opening, then finally unsubscribe altogether.

    1. Thanks Tim! We had a good time redesigning the site. We’re delighted that it works great with smart phones (those small screens) and it has a screaming fast load time. All are the gold standard today (plus we have a few more tricks up our sleeves). More tweaks and changes to come, but thanks for the feedback.
      No “wrong” ideas in a creative meeting, “group hug” is on the list!
      I don’t know of any hard data on email lifecycle and I’d have a tendency to think that the treatment of the donors would greatly impact the shelf-life of an email address. Treat people well with engaging and on-target emails…the life would be long. Don’t…the shelf-life would be short.
      Great comments, thank you.

  2. It all comes down to tribe and belonging to me. First nation people understood this and called times of communication a “talking circle”. All sides listening and speaking. Mother Theresa shared the same concept. If we care for those we converse with…we both listen and speak. It takes time to interact. Value over time is the great leveler in relationships. In marketing timing in western cultures we tend to think in aggressive and immediate terms. I think we need more “talking circles” in non-profit marketing. The causes we represent have eternal importance. There is so much good to listen and speak about….

    1. I hadn’t connected so many different cultural pieces! Thank you for that Cathie.

      I 100% agree that relationships = value. Or better relationships increase value. We say around here that opportunities follow relationships and relationships provide relationships.

      Great thoughts.

  3. Hi Steve,
    Interesting point. No one refers to a direct mail piece as a “mail blast”. So why do we refer to an email piece as an “email blast”?

    I’d just simplify and use the term “send”. Instead of “sending an email blast” you’d “do an email send”. It’s functionally accurate, with none of the negative imagery, like high pressure water hoses being used on constituents.

    1. Michael–“Send” was one of the thoughts I’d had. I agree. And, thanks for understanding my visceral reaction to “blast”…it is a bit of a hosing down.

      Thanks for adding to the conversation.

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