11 Simple Changes That Would Improve This Email: Gentle Critique


Jeanne Jennings

This small business is attempting email marketing, but it has a lot of room for improvement. Can you apply any of these tips to your strategy?

I love email marketing. It makes me really sad when I see a small business trying to leverage the power of the channel making small mistakes which could be the difference between success and failure.

Case in point: an email I received earlier this month. It appears below; I’ve redacted the details to protect the organization. To set the scene: I attended a business networking event at this restaurant and dropped my business card in a bowl to win a gift certificate. This is the first communication I received from them.

Take a quick look with your best email marketing eye and make a note of what you’d suggest they change in their next go round. My thoughts on 11 things they could have done better follow.


Do you have your list? Here’s mine; let’s start at the top.

1. Permission

While opt-in permission isn’t required in the U.S., it’s a best practice; explicit permission helps protect your brand from spam complaints, which can lead to a poor email reputation and blacklisting. The deal was drop a business card for a chance to win a gift certificate, not drop a business card to be added to their email list. A small point since it is legal, but still a consideration. A simple note on the sign saying that this is an email sign-up as well as a drawing would have negated this issue.

2. The Send Time

This email was sent to the email address on people’s business cards – was 9:30 p.m. on a Friday night the best send time? I think not – I would advise them to test sending messages to business addresses during business hours. It may not improve response (because there are so many other issues here), but it very likely might help and it shouldn’t hurt.

3. The From Address

The display or friendly From address did not include the restaurant’s brand; instead it was a generic “cateringDC.” I would suggest they lead with their brand here – it would have gotten my attention since I had eaten there (and enjoyed the food) relatively recently. I would also suggesting using the catering manager’s as well as the restaurant’s name in the From line – this has been shown to boost open rates and fits with the “personal letter” format.

4. The Subject Line

I was glad to see the brand here, since it wasn’t in the friendly From address. But if it had instead been in the From address, that would have freed up this space for a more benefit-oriented phrase (“‘Restaurant Name’ Catering” doesn’t really grab you). The subject line should tell the reader what’s in it for them – preferably in a way that entices them to open the email.

5. The Attachments

Attachments in a marketing email are rarely a good idea; links to view the information online is a much better way to go. It doesn’t have to do with your email being marked as spam necessarily; it’s about the reader experience. I am loathe to open an attachment (a) from someone I don’t know, (b) when I’m not expecting to receive an attachment from the sender, and/or (c) when a link would be a much better choice. And most people I know, inside and outside the industry, feel the same.

And the catering menu is an Excel workbook? That’s a new and unexpected use for the file type.

6. The Salutation

There’s a bit of presumptuousness here – Future Client? And the use of a semicolon is odd; it should be a comma. Also, since this email address was taken from my business card they have my first name – why not use it? Even the most basic and affordable email send solutions allow for first name personalization.

Although by the look of the “To” line, this was a bootstrap job; they likely didn’t use an email service provider or other business send solution. But they need to look into one if they are serious about email marketing. It’s not that expensive. At least they appear to have put the recipients’ addresses in a BCC field.

7. The Opening Paragraph

Effective email marketing builds relationships; this email just sells. They missed a huge opportunity to thank me for attending the event, to say they hoped that I enjoyed the food, and more. But instead they launch right into the sales pitch.

8. Use of Semicolons

I am so grateful for the grammar lessons that were drilled into my head throughout my schooling. I’m not always perfect, but I’m pretty good. There’s another misuse of a semicolon in the first paragraph.

It’s not so much about the semicolons as it is about putting your best foot forward. These are errors that spell-check would correct, or mistakes that a friend who’s good at grammar would catch. It’s sloppy and reflects poorly on the catering manager and the restaurant to have grammatical errors like these in an email.

9. The Offer

This, in my mind, is the biggest miss of the entire email.

You’ve got my email address, even though I did not opt-in. You are sending me an email and I am reading it, even though I did not opt-in. You didn’t use my name or reference my recent visit. You skipped the pleasantries of conversation and went directly to the sales pitch.

And while you want my business you aren’t offering me anything to feel special; you aren’t giving me a good reason to put you at the top of my list the next time I need an office lunch catered.

There are so many things they could have done here.

It’s nice that there’s no delivery fee – you could have positioned that as a something you get for being on the email list, something you’ll get if you mention this email. Even if no one pays a delivery charge, it would still be a more powerful offer positioning it this way.

Going a step further, how about a discount off your first order or something free thrown in – like a group dessert or appetizer at no cost when you place an order of $50 or more. Even something smaller than that with personal appeal – the person who places the order gets a coupon for a free personal size appetizer on their next visit – would be something.

It would also be nice to see some urgency here – a deadline for the offer to spur people to action in the near future.

These are just off the top of my head. I’m sure there are more great ideas that would improve this offer. It’s just sad that the restaurant didn’t think of any.

10. Reference to Attachment

They reference the attachment in the second paragraph, but there are actually two attachments and in Outlook they appear above, not below, the copy. An understandable mistake, but why suggest that people look down – just tell them it’s an attachment (or better – use links that take readers to the information online instead of attachments – see the note above).

11. Unsubscribe Mechanism

Would you consider this a transactional message or a marketing message? I place it clearly in the marketing realm. As such, CAN-SPAM requires that it have an unsubscribe mechanism, which it does not. Is the FTC going to come after them? Probably not. But for those of us that didn’t opt-in in the first place, it’s really poor form not to give us a way to unsubscribe from future emails.

This is baked into even the most basic business send solutions; investing in one would be at the top of my list of recommendations for this restaurant.

Does all this sound cruel? It’s not meant to. I just hate to see businesses waste their time and energy on email marketing that doesn’t meet the basic standards and best practices of the industry. Now that we’ve walked through 11 ways this email could be better, turn your sights to your own email messages – and simple things you could do to make them more effective.

Until next time,