Nothing fails as badly (or regularly) as a marketing automation fail…

As robots and “automation software” increasingly take over the tasks of humans, the number of customer service problems and technical glitches seem to be increasing. Yet ironically, in most cases, the simple reason for the failure is the lack of human involvement.

Here is the first of a couple of examples I’ll share with you:

Adobe is a very successful company and makes some great products, some of which I use. They were a client years ago and I also have friends who work there. On 14th May Adobe sent me an email with the subject line: “Gartner Magic Quadrant names Adobe a Leader in Multichannel Marketing Hubs“. Now as I’ve owned an email SaaS business, I thought I’d see what the Magic Quadrant had to say, though I wondered if I was supposed to be puffing on something when reading stuff by the Magic Quadrant?

The email is an image with the ridiculous headline: “Your customer has many sides. Engage them all.” There were no images of customers, just technology.

I laughed so much I just had to click on the link to see how many sides my customers now have – apart from the obvious backside. And as I’m already married I don’t want to engage any of them.

The link was for a report titled: “Connecting with People Across Their Every Dimension” so I was a tad confused given the subject line. The link took me to this page:

It’s not immediately obvious what to click on for the report. There is a “request a demo” button but that’s not the report button. Eventually I realised the headline “Gartner: Magic Quadrant for Multichannel Marketing Hubs” was the link, so I clicked on it and it opened to this:

The page simply says: Access to this content has expired

So I went back to the email and tried again – same result.

I scrolled through the email to see how to contact Adobe. But like most marketing automation brands – they don’t want to provide customer service to customers or prospects. They force people to do everything themselves via (often useless) websites, rather than provide humans (or at worse, chat bots) to help. It’s the equivalent of going into a retail store and asking the salesperson if they have a product in stock, and getting told to go look out the back in the storeroom yourself.

The email fineprint tells me not to reply to the email, even though it was personally addressed to me (well to my subscription email name – Ted). I have to go to a damn website and search for the contact information:

PLEASE DO NOT REPLY TO THIS MESSAGE. To obtain information on how to contact Adobe, visit the web at:

This is so wrong on so many service levels, not to mention the language: “To obtain information on how to contact Adobe” – I don’t want to obtain information on how to contact Adobe, I just want to contact Adobe.

Apart from the link not working and not being able to contact Adobe without opening up a website, the message itself indicates what’s wrong with many digital marketing businesses these days.

Like so many of these companies, Adobe obviously doesn’t employ copywriters or art directors – it employs graphic or industrial designers – people who know how to design, but not how to communicate. And they employ typists not copywriters.

Some of the obvious giveaways:

  • Centred headline across more than one line
  • Widow or orphan in the headline
  • Full stops in the headline (these tell you to stop reading)
  • Two full stops in the headline (stop reading or else)
  • Centred body copy – with widows
  • Breaking a publication title across two lines, with the final words hanging as widows
  • Reversing white out of black type in a sans serif font – significantly reduces readability and comprehension
  • Use of the jargon-monkey button on the keyboard – this message is full of it:

Let’s deconstruct:

Today’s customer expects personalised content when it matters most” In simple terms, this is complete B.S. Today’s customers are no different to yesterday’s, last week’s or last century’s customers. They just want good service – if it involves personalised content so be it. But they are not “expecting personalised content” – most don’t want any more damn content. Marketers are the ones who want to create content – not consumers. Read more below.*

And when you understand all the human complexities that drive customer decisions,” “understand the human complexities???” It’s not brain surgery – it’s marketing. Maybe this refers to a complex customer decision like “I think I’ll buy a cup of coffee” or “I will click here to download the report” – definitely need to understand the associated human complexities for such decisions. We’ll fail otherwise and never be able to “deliver experiences that speak to them, get them to click, and make a lasting impression.

#changehands #fingersdownthroat

These types of messages are contributing to the reason the majority of people don’t trust online content as much as they trust printed content. It’s why the marketing industry is ranked near the bottom on the consumer trust barometers.

But wait – there’s more…

A week later on the 21st May, Adobe sent me this message:

The message has a report attached, a week after I had tried to download it. How long did it take the humans at Adobe to realise the link didn’t work? Didn’t a human test the link when it went live, so to speak?

This message also demonstrated the wrong people are creating the emails:

  • The Adobe team is singular not plural – so ‘we mistakenly linked you” cannot be. An individual created the email link, not a team of people.
  • Teams don’t send emails, individuals do – did a bunch of marketers sit around a send-button each waiting anxiously to push the button together as a team?
  • “We care about the quality and relevance of our communications and have taken measures to fix the issue.” No. No. No. Stop the passive language. There is no need to say “we…have taken measures” just say “the problem is fixed.”
  • Stop talking about yourself – there are numerous ways this message could have been written with more relevance so it delivered in Adobe’s words, “experiences that speak to them, get them to click, and make a lasting impression.”

BUT WAIT, there’s even more…

The report that I tried to download on the 14th is titled:
Connecting with People Across Their Every Dimension.”

The report the Adobe team sent me on the 21st May is titled:
Analysts Report Magic Quadrant for Multichannel Marketing Hubs“.

So now I’m confused. The report I was sent reflects the subject line of the email. It talks about SaaS that delivers messages in many channels to customers. But it doesn’t talk about the many sides of the customer, as per the headline in the email message, or the title of the report I tried to download.

So is the subject line and the landing page correct, but the email message incorrect? Or is the report title in the email message correct, but the subject line and landing page incorrect? It’s enough to make a simple marketer reach for the Magic… I suspect you get my drift.

This is so typical of what happens when technologists pretend to be marketers. What is going on at Adobe? Where are the experienced marketers? Where are the people who care or are accountable?

If you would like to learn some facts about readership, comprehension and designing to communicate, read the brilliant book by Colin Wheildon – “Communicating or JUST MAKING PRETTY SHAPES.” If you contact me on I’ll send you a FREE PDF of the book – no downloading or teams involved.

Gotta go now – am going to download a definitive guide to downloading definitive guides…

You can read more here:





  1. Fantastic commentary Mal
    You hit the nail on the head
    Customers like me just want to talk with someone or have contact with companies made easy
    I would love to get the PDF
    Lindsay Grose

  2. Love your work Malcolm. Can you venture to suggest what a ‘multi channel marketing hub’ is and why anyone should care that Adobe is a ‘Leader’ in this sorcery?

  3. There are certainly a few reasons which are beyond the extent of the software and if not implemented accurately can lead the inability to a very ground-breaking marketing tool.

    Marketing automation will drive a gigantic opportunity for your business if the objectives are placed properly.

  4. There are certainly a few reasons which are beyond the extent of the software and if not implemented accurately can lead the inability to a very ground-breaking marketing tool.

    Marketing automation will drive a gigantic opportunity for your business if the objectives are placed properly.

    • Thanks Betty, I’ve had an email marketing software business (SaaS for about 15 years. Don’t think it’s groundbreaking, but automation can help when done well. The problem is the good stuff is the exception. And as you can see, you’ve uploaded your comment twice under different names so even WordPress isn’t infallible…

  5. Thanks Malcolm for another informative and thought-provoking post!

    It was painful reading those “Marketing Communication Objects” from Adobe. Not sure if technology companies are particularly bad in this area or if it’s big companies in general.

    Customer service seems to have got worse recently. In a number of cases where it used to be pretty easy to contact the company (“Contact Us” really did enable me to do that!)…now you have to search through the website to find something that works.

    Thanks for the reminder about the Colin Wheildon book. I’d forgotten I had it 🙂 Excellent book based on real-world results. Time for me to review it again.

  6. Thanks Kevin, the martech and adtech industries seem to be doing their best to take the human element out of commerce. There is a big opening for authentic customer service using real people, as against bots and AI.

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