Monday, January 9, 2012

No Unsubscribes in 2012!

Wishful thinking, I know. How about at least reducing the number of unsubscribes by becoming a smarter marketer?

With each New Year, I make a conscious effort to purge all the clutter I’ve amassed over the past 12 months. January, (at least in Chicago), blesses us with nightfall before 5:00 and temperatures colder than one can bear. Forced indoors, all of life’s assets are up for renewal. Clothes that have fallen out of style or become too tight - Goodwill. “Important” documents that have long since lost their purpose - shredded.

And then, there’s EMAIL
Starting Jan 1, I try to suspend the natural inclination to simply send unwanted messages to the trash. Instead, I take the time to sign in on an actual computer and unsubscribe.  It’s mostly new emailers who get the ax – businesses with whom I bought from for the first time over the holidays. But there are always a number of long-time relationships with which I decide to sever ties as well. In veritably, it’s the people from whom I hear too often.

I suppose there is no golden rule, and “expert” opinions will clash. The ideal frequency of emails varies greatly by industry/product type and by level of customer engagement. Maybe the most important thing to do is go back-to-basics and look at your metrics. We’re talking opens, clicks, and click-throughs.

Quality over Quantity

Although monetarily-speaking it may cost very little to deploy an email, marketers must bear in mind the pitfalls of customer fatigue. Weigh the cost of damages to brand equity (and sales) associated with recipients who have begun to instinctively send your emails to the trash. If they aren’t even seeing your offers, they can’t react favorably to those which are relevant.
You don’t want to reach the point where you’ve been reduced to white noise. Less (can be) more. 

Here are a few of my inbox’s top offenders from 2011:
(In no particular order)

Here is a retailer whose business model is designed around gifting for life-events. On the web, customers can create a profile, save important dates, and opt-in to e-reminders when said dates are approaching. Perfect.

For a long time that’s how our relationship worked; silence until a self-identified date was approaching. Then, bam! – an email reminder, complete with last year’s gift selection and similar offerings; a target marketer’s dream!

But lately it’s been an email a day. Sometimes two, if a “sales deadline” is approaching. No specific event, no personalization whatsoever.

The Opt-Out Process:

1-800-Flowers has an opt-down clause (see below), but limits it to a reduction of one email per week. Still too much for me. Once unsubscribed, I was dumped onto a blank page; whether or not the opt-out was a success remains unknown.

Banana Republic
Sure. It’s my “last chance” for a midweek treat. Until next week. And don’t worry; there will be a near-identical sale tomorrow – aptly named for the weekend.

Every morning like clockwork, before even getting out of bed, another BR message gets deleted. I love you Banana, and your sales are usually quite good. But enough already – potassium overload!

The Opt-Out Process:

And it’s “change my email preferences” to the rescue! Another last-minute save brought to us by the opt-down! Unfortunately, BR still has some work to do. You can’t adjust frequency here. Instead, you can narrow solicitations by gender (and further for women with “petites”). Not as robust as I would have liked.

HotWire “Deals”
Allow me to set the stage for my aggravation. I was planning a beach vacation last August, and decided to explore a few rental car options. Another member of my party booked a car through their service and I abandoned search. I still get weekly emails alerting me to three-cent swings in price for rental cars in Myrtle Beach - my “personalized” deal.

What have the good people at Hotwire found to be the average window of time one explores rental car options prior to making a choice? Do they really think I still need a compact in Myrtle Beach, some six months after my initial search?

The Opt-Out Process:

Here, we have a more robust amount of choices at our disposal, including opting-out of “personalized” alerts vs. “general” savings notices, big deals and specific trip watcher services. Well done, HotWire! Still, it would be great if there was a way to earmark specific “personalized” offers as no longer relevant. There was a feedback box to describe one’s experience on the subscription page (below). You better believe I made the request.  
GREAT addition, guys!
So there you have it. A small sample from my email “dump list” for 2012.

As Marketers, what can we do?

Does anything really require daily emails? I can’t think of one brand or product that I’d want to hear from every day. If you’re emailing your prospects daily, just stop. That’s the first thing.

Also, look at your open-rates. Consider isolating a group of individuals who have left your emails unopened for a while. Cease all communication with them for a few months. Then, hit ‘em with a marquee offer. See if their open rate changes. Absence may make their heart grow fonder.

Next, segment, segment, segment! With your new found insight, begin to break your customer list down by frequency of open/response. Rate offers by varying degree of marketability and only deploy to customer tiers most likely to responds.

Ponder what you can move to Social Media. Variety is the spice of life. You want to announce a week-long promotion via email, fine. Don’t count down the days of the sale with follow-up emails. Instead, opt for tweeting the promo or reminding followers on Facebook. If you’re struggling to come up with new content, it’s a good sign you don’t have enough to say to warrant an email in the first place. Send out a quick 140 on Twitter instead. Your email and social media audiences might not be a complete overlap, but you can work on that integration later.

And above all else, replace Opt-Out with “Opt-Down.” I was amazed by the number of big name brands that still favor one-click unsubscribe over an opt-down option. It’s what saved me with Banana Republic! Give your customers the ability to define your relationship on their terms. It sure beats losing their attention all together!

Who did you purge from your inbox the holiday season and why?
How easy or effective was the opt-out process? Share!

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