Wednesday, June 25, 2008

You've Got Mail

I love direct mail e-mail.

Why? Because I signed up to receive it and it tells me about things that I’m interested in, versus direct snail mail, much of which attempts to sell me stuff I couldn’t care less about, with the very same message it uses to target my elderly neighbors. Because it’s immediate I don’t have to wait for a message that might be urgent – a sale I want to get in on, the weekly availability of concert tickets, air fares or specials at my local grocery store. And because it’s free, I can get regular communications from companies and organizations I care about, communications that would be too expensive for them to send any other way.

I hate direct mail e-mail.

Why? Because I get too much of it too often. Because it’s clogging up my e-mail in-box so that I can barely find my personal e-mail messages. Because I spend the first 5-10 minutes with my e-mail account every night reading a few of these messages and deleting most of them. Because some organizations feel it necessary to send me a message nearly every day – sometimes more than one message in a day.

I conducted a little experiment to see just how helpful – or bothersome – my direct marketing e-mail has become. I saved all of my DM e-mail offers over the nine day period from June 17-25 to see what I could learn about how and why I’m being marketed to. My findings? I received a total of:

*43 e-mail direct marketing offerings in my regular e-mail box
*11 e-mail direct marketing offerings that were labeled as Spam

Doing the math, that’s an average of 6 direct mail e-messages per day!

Of these, the volume winner is an organization called Marketing Profs, a really cool website I just signed up for because it has great tips for marketing professionals. They sent me a whopping 13 e-mail messages over the 9 day period. At first blush it didn’t seem like so many, since they send out e-mails labeled as from Marketing Profs, some labeled as being from “Get to the Point” (an informative newsletter), and others labeled by the “name” of the sender, like the one from “Sharon Hudson at Marketing Profs” These were the hard sells to sign up for the organization’s “pay” services, like the on-line seminars Sharon was pushing.

Coming in second for "official" volume was Pottery Barn which sent me 5 e-mails in 9 days from their regular website and the one for kids. Prevention Magazine (and its parent company Rodale Publications) would have ranked right up there with 6 e-mails, except all of theirs were sent to my Spam box.

OK, so what’s the point of all this? When companies send out too many e-mail messages – even when the consumer has signed up to receive them – they risk drifting into the realm of spammer. Mark Kline of AWeber Communications observes in a post to the company's website that many web-based e-mail services (Yahoo, Google, etc.) allow their subscribers to report messages they don’t want in their in-boxes, and there are ways of monitoring the number of complaints about an organization or a particular e-mail campaign. I won’t get into all of the details about that – you can read more at his post. I was more interested in Kline’s advice for keeping your complaint rate low:

*Don't Take Permission For Granted
When adding subscribers to your campaign, take a moment to think about what kind of permission was given to receive email messages from you. Has each and every person specifically requested to receive email messages from you? Was it clear to them that they were doing this when you got their permission? If not, simply don't add them to your list.

*Use Confirmed Opt-In
Sometimes it takes only one incorrect email address on a list to cause issues. If someone repeatedly receives messages from you they did not request, they very well could mark each message they see as SPAM.

*Send Only Valuable, Relevant Information

It was this last piece of advice that really got my attention. Clicking through on Kline’s thread I found an informative piece from his colleague Justin Premick that took the idea a step further. Premick says obtaining permission isn’t enough, and unwanted e-mail isn't just mail that's labeled as Spam. He states very bluntly: if you’re not relevant you’re irrelevant. He writes:

Relevancy has to do with whether what someone wants and expects to receive from you is actually what they do get from you. Start off by setting subscriber expectations. You have a number of opportunities to do this, but none more important than when someone first signs up. Here, you must answer two key questions:
*What are you going to email me?
*How often are you going to email me?
Once you do that, reinforce those expectations (and stay relevant) by meeting them — by emailing them as often as you told them you would, and by consistently providing value in your messages.

I went back to my informal survey to measure the stuff in my e-mail in-box against Kline’s and Premick’s list of do’s and don’ts.

In my case, I signed up to receive messages from everyone who has sent me one in the past week and a half. But I’m not surprised that Prevention/Rodale were labeled as spam in my network. If you’ve ever purchased a book or a video from them, you know that they have one of those insidious “opt out” check boxes on their order forms where you must remove the check to avoid getting their marketing materials (if you don't believe me check out their subscription form). That goes against Premick’s “confirmed opt-in” advice. While the opt-out might seem like a great sales strategy in the short run, if your company gets a reputation as a spammer you've blown your brand reputation, and pretty soon you can send out as many e-mails as you want and no one will receive them. Where’s the return on that?

My volume-of-email winner, Marketing Profs, sent me information on an almost daily basis. I don’t remember exactly how often they said they would e-mail me or what they would be e-mailing me, but by gosh, it was relevant, informative and interesting. So I'm actually thinking about signing up for their service (I'm on my free trial) – and I might even read most of their e-mails too!

By the way, they also win my award for best e-mail subject line, which you’ll read more about (with some great advice from experts on writing subject lines) in my next post.


John said...

Kudos for tracking your direct email volume. I would not have the patience. I am surprised at the variation in how often a direct emailer chooses to send me messages. Restoration Hardware and Illuminations are at least daily and they wear me out. I have been getting the Marketing Profs emails as well but I don't remember when I signed up for them. Based on your recommendation I will have to take a closer look at them. Patagonia sends me something rarely, so rarely in fact that I am surprised when I get it that I am on their list. It's a trickly balance between too often and not often enough.

And the holy grail of "relevance" is always going to be tricky. Even in a distribution list that has a number of similar characteristics - not everyone is going to be looking for the same thing at the same time.

I am looking for a pair of really cool boots right now but even though BlueFly sends me something just about everyday they are not likely to hit that particular need. Esp in June. But the next time I get a message I will probably click through to see what they have in the boot dept.

Good stuff Anne, thanks.


Anne said...

John --

Thanks for posting. You're right, the relevance issue is the tough one. For example, I get lots of e-mails from Pottery Barn and I delete most of them. But when my husband and I were in the market for some leather furniture, there was that e-mail, reminding me to put Pottery Barn on my list of stores to check. We ended up buying from them. No wonder they keep sending me e-mail!


Heidi M said...


Yeah--I get those MarketingProf e-mails, too. The tricky part is that they have so MUCH relevant stuff that you click to sign up for more and more. I've actually scaled back on the number of my subscriptions. Guess what? I still get relevant stuff, just in a (slightly) smaller quantity. Perhaps they've tapped into our marketing psyche and our general rush for information....where we feel like we need to know more and more.


Anne said...

Heidi --

Thanks for posting. Yeah, as I said in my comments about their headlines, you'd expect a company that gives out marketing advice to have the best handle of anyone on how to dispense it and how often.