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What you can learn from a bad email

Three years ago, I lived in California. I loved living in California, because I was close to wine country and golf courses, and it was always nice. But I ended up moving to Texas because the cost of living in paradise was too high. I could have bought an upscale Tesla for what I was paying for rent each year.

It was three years ago, however. I am a full time Texan now. So, you can imagine my surprise of opening my inbox one day and seeing an email from PG & E, the Californian electricity company.

When I saw the name of the sender, I felt confused, surprised, worried and worried. Was it a long-delayed demand for a neglected payment? Believe me, marketers – you do not want your subscribers to experience any of these feelings, especially not all at once.

Here's what I found when I opened the e-mail:

Where the email went wrong

This e-mail is a classic example of what happens when you think your e-mail is clear and sensible, but your end users are confused.

Lack of accurate customer data
I am no longer a PG & E customer. So, why is my e-mail always a live file? Apparently, nobody deleted my email promotional messages when I closed my account. This oversight is easy to repair.

Marketers, review your data to make sure the people you've listed are still customers. In the case of PG & E, the company was sending an email to someone (and I'm sure I'm not the only one) who has not been a customer for three years. It's more than enough time to update the database.

This is a crucial step to get it right for any business, but especially for retailers and other e-commerce businesses. Are you sure your customers really ordered the products you say they did? This is a critical data point to check if you are doing targeted or dynamic emails. You must ensure that your order data is accurate up to the customer level.

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This update and verification of data should be an integral part of your messaging process. If you have not checked each time, you could also alarm or annoy your customers with inaccurate and outdated messages.

Design (or its absence) )
Consumers are smart enough about email to recognize poorly designed emails. My company learned in a consumer study in 2016 that two-thirds or more of them would reject an email if it looked bad on the mobile.

Given all the money I've paid to PG & E over the years, I guess the company has enough marketing knowledge to create a brand message representing a logo and other devices, which reassures me this sender and not a scammer.

Instead, this message seems sketchy at first glance. And this first glance is crucial because email readers will only give a few seconds to your message, to judge its value, even assuming that they open it. . From foreign language characters to textual content, this email seems misleading.

Since I did not expect to receive an email from PG & E now that I was paying for a different utility to keep the lights on, I was already hyper-alert, and the lack of Branding did not help.

Marketers, how do you make sure your emails are your brand and encourage your readers to trust them?

No unsubscribe link
This email does not contain any unsubscribe links, an omission that violates CAN-SPAM, all federal laws and regulations governing commercial emails in the USA.

It would be difficult to call this a transactional email, which does not require unsubscribe link because I am no longer a customer. The lack of personalization (no details about my account, my old home address, etc.) reinforces my opinion that it is a promotional message broadcast telling me how PG & E has been beneficial for the environment.

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In addition, the fine print at the bottom of the email indicate that it was sent "by a third party to PG & E on behalf of the California Public Utility Commission". Did PG & E sell my email address to a third party without telling me? The name of the shipper is "Pacific Gas and Electric Company", which does not correspond to the statement of the third party.

Unanswered sender address
The last sin that commits this email is the sender's e-mail address. This is the type of message I prefer: the "no answer". It creates a negative impression at the most crucial time: the inbox when your subscribers decide to open or not to trust your emails.

Also, "no-reply" does not relieve you of the obligation to check the mailbox associated with your sender address for comments and unsubscribes that customers will inevitably send you even if you told them not to do it. (See "Should Marketing E-mails Use an Unanswered E-mail Address?")


As the holidays approach, the volume of emails will increase up to ten or more times for most of us in the retail sector. This e-mail experience is a good signal to remind us when we start running on our vacation plans, to look at things and examine how emails appear to our subscribers and customers.

I'm not talking about PG & E because I'm sure the intention was not to mislead. However, e-mail involves gross violations of best practices in data use, design and customer service that need to be flagged and corrected.

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Review your own email campaigns for some of the problems I've reported here. While I applaud PG & E for being kind to the planet and having green policies, the company must first thoroughly understand the fundamentals.

Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. The authors of the staff are listed here.