Stepping Into the Email Marketing Ring With Ken Magill


What do you get when you interview email marketing’s favourite investigative reporter and self-described cantankerous curmudgeon? You get a no-holds barred opinion “octagon” on everything from online privacy to the good, bad and ugly of email marketing. Ken Magill even takes a couple of swings at your humble reporter — don’t worry I managed to duck just in time.


You can find more of Ken’s insight and unvarnished email marketing opinions at his blog.


What are most people doing wrong in email marketing? What are they doing right?

The most common mistake I see is failing to set people’s expectations. Where email goes wrong is where the brand’s behavior is not in alignment with subscriber expectations.

Likewise, what I see marketers doing right is clearly setting expectations with their subscribers. When someone signs up for your list they should immediately get a confirmation message telling them exactly what to expect. The mailer should then adhere to whatever it is they said they’d do.


If someone asked why they should bother with email marketing, what would your answer be?

Believe it or not, I’ve had that conversation. And generally when someone has to ask that question, there’s no explaining it to them. They make every excuse to explain how their business is different.

The benefits of email marketing are obvious to everyone reading this.


You blogged recently about best practices and made the point that the industry has been relatively ineffective at promoting them. Can best practices work or do we need tighter legislation to address those who don’t follow best practices?

Have you read nothing I’ve ever written on email legislation? No, we don’t need more legislation. Canada’s new anti-spam law is already a case of overkill.

Here is the reason. Once government gets involved in dictating best practices, government must define them. For example, have you seen the Canadian government’s definition of permission? It’s insane.

The ISPs and blocklist operators such as Spamhaus are perfectly capable of driving best, or at least acceptable, practices without the government getting involved.


Is personal privacy dead or should we expect to see a push for legislation to better protect our privacy?

No offense, but I reject the premise of that question. It offers a false choice.

Please understand the privacy movement isn’t remotely about protecting anyone’s privacy. Notice their silence, for example, when it was revealed American state governments are building massive databases on public-school students’ health and financial information.


With few exceptions, when so-called privacy advocates squawk is when the effort involves making money. The privacy movement is a thinly veiled attack on capitalism, nothing more, nothing less. They hate free enterprise.


Monetary and marketplace constraints are already in place to help prevent marketers and advertisers from harming people with behavioral information. If advertisers even go so far as to just creep people out, they risk losing money.

Moreover, these constraints were in place long before the Internet. There is a story in direct marketing circles – possibly apocryphal – where a travel marketer sent direct mail to known travelers to Germany. In one version, the outer envelope said: “If you travel to Germany.” In another, the envelope said: “Because you travel to Germany.”

The story has it that the people who received the “Because” envelope flipped out and the marketer learned not to approach anyone that way again.

Whether that story is true or not is not the point. The point is the mere fact that that story has been told repeatedly in direct marketing circles means they are well aware of the negative effects of making prospects uncomfortable. You don’t make a sale buy pissing people off and they know it. Or if they don’t, they soon learn it.

No one has yet been able to truthfully name a single instance where someone has been hurt by an advertiser using profiling information.

The recent, well-traveled New York Times article, for example, in which the author claimed Target identified a teen as pregnant and sent baby-related marketing materials to her, which in turn infuriated her father, was pure bull**** on stilts to anyone with even a smidgeon of common sense.

They can’t come up with a case of real harm, so they make it up.

And of course we’ll see a push for legislation, but it won’t be to protect anyone’s privacy. It will be an effort to kill behaviorally based online advertising because so-called privacy advocates hate it, plain and simple. And if they succeed, we will all suffer for it.


What’s the shiny new thing for email marketing in 2012?

I’m a Luddite. I don’t do shiny new things. I said Twitter was idiotic, remember? And now I use it every day. I’m not the guy to ask about new things. I tend to hold onto old things until they’re so dead they smell.


Speaking of predictions, would you share with us at least one big prediction for 2012 in the email marketing industry that email marketers should be preparing for?

Not to be even more cantankerous than I’ve already been, but I generally don’t do predictions, either. I view them as more of an opportunity to make an ass of oneself than anything else.

For a doozey of an example of why I try to avoid making predictions, check this out.

2012 does seem to be the year that marketers who are loosey goosey with their permission practices get smacked, however.