Marketing Automation is Getting Out-of-Hand

Names blurred to protect the “innocent”

I’m getting extremely tired of being on the receiving end of marketing automation.

If you’re not familiar with it, marketing automation is basically what it sounds like: automating typical marketing activities like posting on social media. It’s bad enough that half of Twitter appears to be marketing bots, but it’s email marketing automation that is getting really annoying.

You might know what I’m talking about: those emails you get that appear as though they’re directly from an actual human being. They’re from a human email address, they address you by your first name (and usually they get it right), and if you reply to them your email goes directly to the person who is “emailing” you. In other words, they’re designed to look exactly like a normal direct email.

Except they’re not. They’re automated campaigns that use a set of email templates. Where it says “Hey Adrian, I see you just posted a job for an experienced web developer”, I know there’s a template that looks like:

Dear FIRST_NAME, I see you just posted a job for JOB_TITLE.

Like this:

If you don’t know what I’m referring to, it may be because you weren’t aware that these emails were automated. In other words, you may have been suckered into thinking they were legitimate emails from people who were contacting you directly. If so, chances are, you’ve replied to them.

Why are these emails annoying?

  • I get enough emails every day. Too many, in fact. I don’t need more and I definitely don’t need them from a bot.
  • The whole approach is disingenuous. The emails are designed to give an impression that they are personal, direct contacts, when they are not. False pretences are no way to start a business relationship.
  • There’s no way to unsubscribe. Including a link for “unsubscribe” would break the illusion that these emails are not automated. In my opinion, this contravenes anti-spam legislation.
  • They try to play on the recipient’s sense of courtesy. They look like an actual email, and it really feels rude not to reply.

I find this latter point especially aggravating. People are designing their email automation templates to play on the sense of obligation and even guilt of their recipients, even though no obligation or guilt should be felt, since you’re not getting emails from a human being, you’re getting emails from a bot.

Here’s an example from LinkedIn. This is the fifth email I have received from this “person”. His automation templates are clever enough to refer to the previous emails he has sent that I have so rudely failed to reply to.

I understand the reasoning behind these systems, but I think they’re rude and dishonest, especially when they’re designed to play on people’s sense of courtesy and manners. I would much prefer an honest communication: “Hi there, this is an automated message from LinkedIn — we noticed you posted a job offering and thought maybe you’d be interested in our job posting service…”

Yes, that’d probably be less effective. But at least it’d be honest.

Align on This

A little perspective on design, technology, and business.

Align on This

A little perspective on design, technology, and business.

Parallel Digital Studio

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Parallel is a digital product studio, helping companies build user-friendly experiences.

Align on This

A little perspective on design, technology, and business.