The new season of The Walking Dead starts this Sunday and what better way to honor it than applying what we’ve learned from this AMC hit to email marketing and email lists. Here are the main parallels between this form of marketing and The Walking Dead.

List management: A Ricktatorship

There comes a time where you have to take a stand with your email list and decide who is on board and receptive to your message and who is not. There’s no need to lose your mind and answer the phone to your dead wife, but a cull of the following types of email addresses – while brutal –  is absolutely necessary:

  1. Duplicate and Invalid Email Addresses: Make sure your CRM is de-duplicating all list subscribers.
  2. Alias Email Addresses:  Many ESPs don’t deliver emails to alias addresses like
  3. Hard Bouncing Email Addresses: A hard bouncing email address is when an email bounces for a permanent reason, such as having an invalid or blocked email address.  A soft bounce is only temporary and should remain on your list. A soft bounce happens for a temporary reason, such as an auto responder or a full mailbox. These soft bounces should remain on your list but continuously monitored in case this temporary issue becomes a long term problem.
  4. Disengaged Email Recipients: If a recipient has stopped opening or clicking through your emails you should make them part of a re-engagement campaign that asks them for feedback. If after these attempts the recipient is still disengaged then you’ll benefit from proactively removing them from your list before they mark you as SPAM.
  5. Contacts Who Did Not Opt In: Keep yourself out of jail and maintain your reputation by deleting emails on your list that you’ve bought or scraped. This will also help improve your open and click through rates.
  6. Unsubscribes: If someone unsubscribes, they must be removed from your email list. It’s the law! Dale and I will get into this more in a later section.

If you can get the right people subscribed to your email list then the hard work is done. You’ll benefit from above average open, click through, and conversion rates. Additionally you’ll find that you have greater engagement from your recipients.

Do not open dead inside

New Teaser For THE WALKING DEAD – Don’t Open… by davehouseofhorrors

Your subject line is the only thing that stands between your email recipients opening your email. No doubt some email recipients feel the same way Rick did in the opening scenes of season one when they read your email subject line.

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You need to grab the reader’s attention and the quality of your subject line is critical. A solid subject line is key to open rates and exposure to your email message.  Your subject line should address your reader’s concerns and needs; for example, if your email list is full survivors of a zombie apocalypse* and one of their primary stressors are a lack of supplies, you might want to use a subject line that says “Ready to stop scavenging for food?” By phrasing an offer in terms of a value proposition that is relevant to your recipients, they’ll be intrigued and want to find out how you can help solve their problems.

*I understand that in the event of a zombie apocalypse there would be no electricity, no cell phones, no Internet, and no email.

Chances are Dale disapproves of what you’re doing.

If you’re doing any of the following then you’re violating the CAN-SPAM Act* (or the ‘Controlling the Assault of Non- Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act of 2003):

*Site is temporarily down due to Government Shutdown

1. Using misleading, deceptive, or falsified information in your “From,” “To,” “Reply-To,” subject line, and routing information. 

This is not the town of Woodbury where you can turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse with a little propaganda. You have to identify who is sending the email and that the subject line clearly indicates what the content of the email is about.

2. Excluding your physical postal address from the email.

Every email you send out has to have a legitimate physical postal address included. E.g., Hershel’s Farm, Middle of Nowhere, GA.

3. Excluding an opt-out link, and not honoring unsubscribes promptly.

Like Walkers trapped in a barn on Hershel’s farm, no one is happy when they are trapped, and especially when they cannot unsubscribe from a marketing email. You must include a clear and obvious way for recipients to unsubscribe from all email communication. If a recipient does ask to be removed from your list, you must honor their request within 10 business days. You cannot sell their email address or transfer it to another list.

Learn more with our eBook!

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The violations above have big consequences such as penalties of up to $16,000 for each separate email violation. But not only are you breaking the law, you’re also being unethical. Dale would most certainly disapprove.

Where’s Carl?

A question all Walking Dead fans were asking themselves during Season 2.  Just as Lori had difficulty keeping track of her son Carl in almost every episode, most email marketers are tracking standard email metrics but may be overlooking some more important ones.

According to Marketing Sherpa’s 2013 Email Marketing Benchmark Report, of the 1,095 marketers surveyed, 17% are not responsible for tracking, analyzing or reporting email metrics for their organization. That’s 186 marketers asking “Where’s the data?”

Did I miss anything?

I’m sure I’m just skimming the surface of the parallels between The Walking Dead and Email Marketing. So if I’ve missed anything or you have something to add please let me know by leaving your insights in the comment section.

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