Our industry is currently facing one of the most significant threats to its health and continued existence. I'm not referring to the threat of social networking, video marketing or other emerging marketing channels. What has me concerned is self-inflicted by those of us within the email space: the rampant over-mailing of promotional messages.
We're in Q4 -- naturally many email marketers ramp up their mailings for the holiday season -- but I saw the dramatic increase in email frequency across the board as early as June of this year. In the short term, I'm sure increasing the frequency of promotional messages has a positive effect on the bottom line, but let's examine the long-term consequences on our individual programs and on the industry as a whole.
Inbox clutter: As consumers continue to receive increased volumes of promotional emails from different marketers, inboxes are becoming far too cluttered, making it ever more difficult to reach your recipients.
Higher spam complaint levels: This, as most readers are well aware, has a real negative impact on deliverability. It also results in poor brand impressions, which can hinder future sales across channels.
Faster list churn rates: As more recipients suffer from email overload, unsubscribe rates rise faster than the rate of acquiring new subscribers. This can result in the value of subscriber lists decreasing over time, negating the short-term lift in revenue from increased mailings.
Consumer fatigue: As more and more messages pour into consumer inboxes, many are choosing to opt out altogether, either by no longer engaging with any promotional messages or by using specific email that address that function as dumping grounds for unwanted messages they never read. This poses the greatest long-term threat to our industry.
Now that I've laid out the reasons we should be concerned, let's look to the future. Let's consider what we can do to benefit both our programs and the industry as a whole.
The single most important thing you can do is to develop a healthy frequency strategy as part of your overarching email program. Both Jordan Ayan and Ryan Deutsch had excellent advice in their articles covering the same topic of consumer fatigue and over-mailing earlier this week. Jordan Ayan recommended a number of steps marketers could take to manage frequency and customer preferences more intelligently; Ryan Deutsch recommended we forgo promotional messages altogether (at least for a week or two as an experiment), and focus more on transactional touchpoints.
For success in 2009, we need to take both approaches. We need to look at how often we are mailing our subscribers and give them the ability to control frequency and what types of messages they receive. And just as importantly, we need to change our focus from being primarily promotional to lifecycle-focused where we message recipients differently, depending on where they are in relation to our organizations.
The beauty of the email channel is that it's ideal for one-to-one communications. We can have a dialog with recipients based on their current relationship with our organization. Unfortunately, most email programs are still following the old batch-and-blast mass-market approach.
Following Ryan Deutsch's advice to start off 2009 on a new foot, let's make this the year we adapt intelligent frequency practices and lifecycle marketing into our email programs.