Like junkies and other chronic abusers, even some legitimate businesses can’t seem to stop themselves from abusing their permission-based lists with too frequent, often irrelevant mailings. They can’t resist the quick hit even if the results are below average. But for even this minimal revenue kick, these mailers risk antagonizing their audience. Recipients will tune out, opt out, and direct future mailings to the junk and spam folders. When you consider the potential lifetime value of an interested e-mail recipient, this amounts to a death sentence.
We’re all guilty of e-mail abuse once in a while. The problem arises when we do it repeatedly, unable to resist sending another offer much like the previous handful, even though the last few bombed. At that point, our customers are sending us a clear message—stop mailing, or we’ll relegate you to the spam pile.
Tweaking the offer slightly or rearranging a few words isn’t going to fool anybody. Those treasured recipients who originally gave you permission to send them e-mail are not gluttons for punishment. At this point, you become irrelevant; their spam filters will intercept your message before they ever see it.
My advice: Keep mailing but get smart about it. First, focus on making customers feel good about having a relationship with your company. Second, if you can’t resist the craving to send e-mail, send something that they want to receive—something interesting, relevant, and possibly even nonpromotional (or at least not directly promotional).
With that in mind, here are some ways to break the abusive e-mail habit and keep your e-mail program off death row:
• Make the hard marketing decisions. Understand that mailing frequently is not necessarily mailing smarter. You need to know when it is right to mail and when it isn’t. When in doubt, send less frequently rather than more frequently. At the least your promotions will seem fresher.
• Know your recipients. People like to be treated as individuals. That means knowing what holidays they celebrate and what events they get excited about. Are they Mother’s Day people, Valentine romantics, or sports fanatics? Are they generous gift-givers or conservative shoppers? By knowing who they are, you can better target and time your promotions and get greater response.
• Carefully segment your lists. Sure, it is a lot easier to fire off the promotion to the entire list. But making the extra effort to segment your lists and then think through which segments will be most responsive to a particular promotion at a particular time will not just increase your response rate but also preserve the relevance of your mailings.
• Make your messages highly relevant and your offers truly worthwhile. Address issues your recipients are interested in. Sounds pretty basic, but how many times do e-mail senders ignore that simple truth? If you are a travel marketer, that means addressing destinations your recipients might want to go and offering a price that makes it worth going—from the airport nearest them, of course. If you are a consumer products retailer, that means addressing things related to products the recipients have bought recently. If the recipient recently bought an MP3 player, then promote great deals on MP3 accessories.
• Send nonpromotional, relationship-building e-mail. In other words, send something that doesn’t ask for an immediate order. This may be the hardest thing to do. Marketers are programmed to always ask for the order, but sometimes not asking for the order can generate more business in the long run. For example, a fashion marketer can provide regular mailings on fashion and style tips. A health-products marketer can provide health information and health tips. When your e-mails are received as trusted sources of worthwhile information of interest, you will be the first company they go to when they are ready to buy.
So when the craving to send yet another abusive e-mail overtakes your organization, resist the temptation. Recipients opting out may not be forever, but it can be difficult and costly to get a recipient who has opted out due to your abusive e-mail practices to opt in again.
John Rizzi is president/CEO of e-Dialog, an e-mail services provider based in Lexington, MA.