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Why did my e-mail campaign get such a low response?

In today’s exciting world of Google Instant and social media changes every day, sometimes boring old e-mail gets overlooked. Each day, however, several intrepid marketers venture into our e-mail in-boxes, with most dispatched by the delete key with nary a second look. There are many reasons why your marketing e-mails might be getting a low response rate–spam filters, boring titles, poor offers, incorrect targeting, and many more–but I want to use a real example today to focus on a problem that some marketers still don’t appreciate–the effect of phishing on response rates.

 Phishers impersonate legitimate companies, stealing their company names, e-mail addresses, logos, visual design, and anything else they can think of, all in the hopes of fooling your customers with a counterfeit message. Phishing attacks often come under the guise of a message from customer service, asking the recipient to log into their account after clicking on a link in the message.

Hook, Line, Sinker (How I fell for a phishing ...

Image by ToastyKen via Flickr

Those fooled by this ruse are redirected to a rogue site (which looks just like yours) that happily collects their passwords, allowing the phishers access to their accounts. Most phishers parlay several of these break-ins to amass enough information to pile up fraudulent credit card charges or a larger scale identity theft.

But what does this have to do with your legitimate e-mail marketing? Plenty. Your customers might mistake your e-mail for a phishing attempt, which is just what happened to my wife.

We had been targeted in the past by phone calls from unsavory magazine distributors trying to sell us a renewal to our subscription to Guideposts Magazine. We had called the publisher and been told not to respond to those sales pitches. Then my wife got this in her e-mail:
It sure used the word “Guideposts” enough times (which I have highlighted in this image), but it smelled phishy to her, because she is a savvy Internet user. It came from an unknown domain (, it had no logo, no phone number, no person’s name. When she moused over the “click here” link to preview its destination, the domain was listed as “”—doesn’t that just give you confidence?

She went to the Guideposts Web site, and after a lot of work, eventually found a phone number to call. After a few clueless interactions with operators, she finally reached someone who confirmed that this e-mail was, indeed, from Guideposts and was completely legitimate. But would you be shocked if you found out that it had a very low response rate?

Guideposts violated two of the three important rules to avoid looking like a phisher:

  • One source. Use a single domain as the source of all your e-mail. Don’t set up cutesy domain names for each campaign–it teaches your customers that they’ll never know from whence your legitimate messages come. That provides an opening for phishers to pick their own cutesy domain names to impersonate you. Instead, force the phisher to impersonate your single source of e-mail–that makes it tougher on them. If the e-mail had come from, my wife might not have been as suspicious.
  • One destination. Clean up your customer records so that you send all e-mail from your company to one e-mail address per customer. Because customers typically have multiple e-mail addresses, if they know that all e-mail from you comes to only one of them, they can spot phishing attempts easily when they come to other addresses. We only got one e-mail from Guideposts, so they might be following this rule.
  • One contact. When customers aren’t sure if a particular e-mail is legitimate or is a phishing attempt, they should be able to easily contact someone at your company to find out. Your contact should be the central clearinghouse of all e-mails being sent, and should be able to quickly provide the correct answer. This might sound easy, but large companies with far-flung marketing groups might have no single focal point with knowledge of all e-mail campaigns. Nothing will doom your credibility more quickly than being unable to verify whether you sent an e-mail to your customer. Guideposts had no easy way to be contacted, and fumbled the contact points that they had.

You know that you aren’t a phisher, but how do your customers know? If you’re sending out e-mail, you must eliminate that foul phish smell by avoiding all association with phishing techniques and by helping your customers when they need it. If you do, maybe you won’t be asking why your e-mail campaign got such a low response.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is a Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also served as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website,, most recently as the Manager of Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He was a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research and is now a Senior Fellow of The Conference Board. A Certified Speaking Professional, Mike regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide

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