June 12, 2014

The Evolution of Email

My inbox is bombarded by email marketers.

Admittedly, this is because I work in the industry and sign up for just about every list I come across. Still, it can be overwhelming.

When I think about it, though, the issue isn’t necessarily how much email people are sending, it’s that they typically send shitty emails.

I keep thinking there has to be a better way to go about email marketing. How can we force marketers to send relevant, interesting content? I’ve always thought about this from an education standpoint: teaching them how to send better emails.

But, what would happen if I stepped into the role of an email service provider? How can an ESP force marketers to stop sending crap emails to crap lists?

A Strange Idea

So, I started thinking: what if an ESP could take a stance on what kind of customers they keep? How could an ESP use their services to help ensure that their customers are sending great content that people actually crave it?

This is a weird and utterly impractical idea, but here it goes…

Meet Darwin

Darwin is a new kind of email service provider. While it still has all of the features that email marketers need (list management, design tools, email templates, sending facilities, robust deliverability, reporting tools), you can only access these tools by proving that what you’re sending is worthwhile to subscribers.


I imagine this would be a free service. I can’t fathom charging people to let me be an asshole to them.

Nearly all of Darwin’s features are locked down until you can prove that people want to hear from you, on a continued basis. It’s kind of like a game. Except way less fun for those playing. Except me, because I’m in charge of Darwin.


First things first: building your subscriber list.

Signing up to Darwin, marketers get two things:

I despise double opt-in, so we won’t even worry about that. Just a form and an email.

Connecting with Darwin

By all means, encourage people to sign up for your list, but your email should make it clear to them that they may not hear from you after this. Not unless you meet your goals.

The only way for marketers to unlock actually sending an email campaign is by hitting a subscriber goal. Let’s say you successfully sign up 200 subscribers. Cool, you’ve unlocked email campaigns.

There might be different goals depending on your vertical. I’m not going to force a small non-profit to hit 2,000 subscribers before sending a campaign, I’m not that big of a dick. Unless you’re a large retailer, then you have to hit 200,000. Deal with it.

Email Campaigns

Once you’ve hit your signup goal you can actually start, you know… marketing via email.

You can set up some simple campaigns, send them out to subscribers, etc.

I think at this point, you will be forced to upload full HTML and host images on your own server. Darwin wants to know you’re serious about what you’re doing. Naturally, I’ll employ Kevin Mandeville to check out everyone’s code. If it’s not up to par, Darwin will kill your account.


Once we’ve seen your can build amazing templates, we’ll give you access to the greatest design tool known. But not until you prove yourself.

We’ll be tracking your campaigns for you, but you won’t get to see those results. Yet.

Darwin will enforce unreasonably high standards for campaign engagement. High open rates, high click rates, we’ll monitor social networks to see who’s sharing what, etc. If you’re not performing, chances are you are sending shitty emails. Guess what? Darwin hates you, you’re out.

If you can hit those benchmarks, then you survive. You can hit the next point on the evolutionary chain.


Now, you can actually get access to reporting. See how much your subscribers love you. If you’ve made it this far, these numbers will only make you want to do better. We’ll gladly share reports with you.


Marketers love testing things out, especially once they get their hands on some numbers. Chances are, you’ll want to start doing some A/B splits, test out different subject lines, etc.

Get the drift yet?

If you can keep those numbers up over the long run, say a year or so, we’ll give you access to testing.


Now you’ve unlocked testing. Run as many tests as you want, on whatever you want. You’ve earned it. Careful, though—if your numbers start to dip, we’ll take it away. Darwin is mean like that.

What next?

I have no idea what would be beyond that. A hell of a lot of happy, engaged readers, I’m sure. And likely more than a few frustrated marketers. That’s ok, though.

But Darwin would probably top out at some point. Maybe after testing, you get a delicious cake sent to your house once a week. Who knows?

Obviously, there is no way something like this would get off the ground. But, it’s fun to think about, huh?

I just want to see less crap in my inbox. I love email marketing. I love a lot of companies. But I typically hate how a lot of them approach email marketing. I’m giving you access to something that is damned near holy—my inbox—and you can’t even bother to send me something worthwhile?

I know, I’m a grump. I can easily unsubscribe. But doesn’t starting a new, uber-exclusive ESP that takes no prisoners sound like more fun?

Welcome to Darwin.

Evolution image modified from the original by Johanna Pung