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Ways to irritate (and appease) email subscribers

Ways to irritate (and appease) email subscribers Chris Marriott

Over the past couple of years, I've spoken and written much about something I have labeled "the marketing democracy." Empowered as never before by digital channels and devices, consumers now "vote" for the winners and losers in the battle for their hearts, minds, and wallets -- and they decide when and where these "elections" are held. There are four basic truths regarding this new marketing democracy:



  • Consumers trust each other more than they trust marketers.

  • Online conversations persist (forever) and are immediately global and potentially hyper-local.

  • Today's media glut has more and more consumers tuning out marketing messages.

  • People don't share ads; they read and share things that interest them.

It helps to understand the marketing democracy's attitudes toward marketing in general by imagining your target consumers with their hands on the faucet. When they are willing to listen to you, they turn it on. When they don't want to hear from you, they simply turn it off, shutting off any marketing messages you may be sending their way.


Each channel has its own hurdles in regards to engaging the marketing democracy, and email is no different. In theory, an opted-in customer should represent someone who has turned on the faucet. In practice, we face that moment of truth every time that person opens his or her email and sees one of your emails in the inbox. At this point, consumers can turn on the faucet (open the email), or keep it turned off (ignore or delete your email). As we explored in my last column, they might return later to turn on the faucet, but there's no guarantee of that.


In order to do everything in your power to cater to the mindset of the marketing democracy, here are four do's and don'ts. If you follow these suggestions, you're more likely to start winning some elections in the marketing democracy!


Don't pre-check the box that allows you to send them additional promotional emails after they've registered for a subscription or -- worse -- when they have simply purchased something from your ecommerce site and are checking out. It's a mistake to think the marketing democracy appreciates your thoughtful assistance, thereby saving them the arduous task of checking the box themselves. Consumers are more likely to think you are hoping they don't notice it's checked, which is a bad first impression to make. And if you think they are delighted when your emails start popping up in their inbox uninvited because your campaigns are so awesome, you'd be wrong again. At best, they'll ignore you. Worse still, they might mark you as spam, which can impact your deliverability for those who do want to hear from you.


Do show them products and services that your research has shown they are likely to be interested in purchasing from you. Your research can be based on past purchase behavior, life stage segmentation, or even web browsing behavior. Too many retailers still see email as a cheap channel for unloading distressed merchandise to their email subscriber base. Do you really think you're making a good impression with the marketing democracy when you spend your time showing offers based on what you want to sell rather than what they might want to buy? If you practice the former, that faucet is going to remain firmly shut after the first few emails.


Don't ignore things your customers have already told you, whether via a preference center, polls or even call center. The only reason members of the marketing democracy ever tell you anything about themselves is when they believe there will be a quid pro quo translating into increased relevancy, special offers, or better service (or all three).


Here's an example: A few years ago, an airline's preference center asked individuals to check a box indicated which language they spoke. The list was quite comprehensive. The marketing democracy would immediately assume this was being asked so that their individual email subscriptions would be sent in whatever language they checked. Well, that wasn't actually the plan. No matter what box you checked, you got your emails in English. After a few emails, the call center started getting quite a few calls complaining about it. I have no idea why the airline requested that information in the first place, but whatever value was gained in getting it was far outweighed by a disgruntled electorate. (Hint: This airline also breaks guitars.)


Speaking of call centers, do find a way to empower yours to make things right, particularly with you best customers. (And trust me, your best customers are likely to be one of the more influential wings of the marketing democracy!) "I'm sorry, that's just the way it is" is not a satisfactory answer to a concern. If people are calling you for anything other than an order, it's going to be a complaint or concern. And your frontline phone staff is rarely given any authority to make things right.


Let me give you another (different) airline example: Recently, I was thrilled to receive an email from an airline on which I've flown more than 100,000 miles a year with for the last four years. I open everything it sends me. In this case, it was a "thank you" for my patronage email that offered me a free round trip ticket from New York to a number of select cities. One of those cities happened to be where my oldest son attends college. So I thought, "Great, I can save money this Christmas break!" When I went to book it, I was dismayed to discover that the round trip had to start in New York. The booking engine actually gave no other options. Thinking to myself "a round trip is a round trip," I called the airline -- the exclusive number for folks flying more than 100,000 miles. I got a bit of sympathy -- and little else. I wanted this person to go to battle for me. It didn't happen. And you know what? This airline would have been better to have never sent me the offer because now I'm angry with its rigidity on such a little issue. And that faucet might not open as frequently in the future.


So there are four ways to get you started campaigning to the new marketing democracy. In its world, the customer always decides. Next month, we'll talk more about these consumers and how to avoid mistakes in this new world of marketing. In the meantime, I wish you all a happy and safe Thanksgiving!


Chris Marriott is VP of agency services at StrongMail.


On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

Chris is the President and Founder of Marketing Democracy, LLC. Marketing Democracy provides email marketers with a range of consulting services around vendor selection (RFPs), vendor migration, and email marketing optimization.  Clients...

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