What Do Your Subscribers Think About Your Email Program?

I regularly ask my clients a few questions about their subscribers' perceptions of the emails they receive. They are something to the effect of: What do your email subscribers think about your program? Why did they subscribe in the first place? Are they getting what they expected when they signed up for your emails?

The answers I get are almost invariably based on the usual email metrics and benchmarks ("We have 30% open and click rates, so  we must be doing okay") or conjecture ("They subscribe because we're a retailer and they want discounts and info on new products"). Very seldom can a marketer tell me, "It's because we asked them directly."  

Many marketers survey their customer base on a variety of topics. But what almost no one does is ask their subscribers about the email program itself, and users' perceptions and valuation of the program. With that in mind, here are some important considerations when surveying subscribers about their view of your email program.

The value to the marketer. Marketers realize several benefits from asking this type of information. It helps identify gaps between what we think we are doing, and what we are actually achieving with our marketing programs through direct feedback from the subscriber. It also identifies hand-raisers and potential brand advocates for future targeting efforts, as we can tie survey feedback into segmentation. That, of course, leads to the old standby: it can help increase relevance. Finally, it allows customers to feel they have a voice, and can improve loyalty.

What to focus on. There is no shortage of areas about which you can ask questions. I recommend focusing on why subscribers first signed up, how what they receive matches their expectations, their perception of frequency, the value they associate with getting the emails, and, potentially, some insight into other email subscriptions they maintain. You also may want to ask about use of certain features, such as Forward to a Friend, depending on your business or industry.



If you offer both newsletters and promotional/marketing messages, then you'll want to understand the customer's view on each, since they may have vastly different feelings about the two.  Also ask what type of content the subscriber would like to see. Be sure to include a blend of both current content (to make sure people are even aware that it's already being offered) and other content ideas you might have. Don't focus on creative elements, as these considerations are very subjective.

Whom to ask. You'll want to survey a range of subscriber groups in order to understand variations among them. The opinions of regular customers and engaged subscribers (those who regularly open or click) should be accounted for, of course. But you'll also want to question lower-value customers, different age and demographic groups, and subscribers to single versus multiple lists. Finally, surveying lapsed customers or subscribers may give you surprising insight into why they are no longer actively engaged with you.

What to do with the feedback. Your survey results and their application should be a piece of the larger puzzle of your marketing communications strategy. They should be incorporated into previous behavior, profile and preference data, organizational goals, and any other considerations.

At the very least,  survey results can immediately inform testing plans, helping you focus on specific areas identified by subscribers. If they say your offers don't compel them enough to act, then offer testing may be the most important thing you do next, rather than guessing that maybe it's the subject lines or creative that are holding you back. Feedback can also help you optimize your content or number of subscriptions, among other things.

Surveying subscribers about your email program and its value to them is vital. Conduct these surveys before making critical program decisions, so that you aren't simply guessing about how your readers feel! This key insight will help take your program to the next level.

3 comments about "What Do Your Subscribers Think About Your Email Program?".
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  1. Morgan Stewart from Trendline Interactive, March 2, 2009 at 12:32 p.m.

    Nice article Richard! I have found it very useful to ask about existing program components in two ways. First, ask about how they perceive the quality of different components of the program (e.g., articles vs. offers vs. weekly circular). Second, ask about the importance they attach to these different components. This provides a basis for comparing what people think you are doing well versus what they want you to be doing well--which gives you a great idea of which aspects of the program need to be tackled first.

    Another tactic, simply ask an open ended, "What would you do to improve our program?" This feedback can be a challenge to read through, but the rewards gained far outweigh the time spent trudging through the responses.

    One thing I think you missed on "what to do with the feedback" is to tell subscribers that you have listened to their feedback. Subscribers want to feel heard and I have seen amazing results come from a simple, "Thanks to your input we have made the following changes to our program..." message.

  2. Richard Rushing from Epsilon, March 3, 2009 at 9:22 a.m.

    Morgan, I agree with all your points. I could have gone on and one with this topic!

  3. Blake Hochberger from University of Texas- Austin, March 10, 2009 at 12:06 a.m.


    I'm doing some work for school/searching for career opportunities in the digital media realm once I graduate this May and found this to be one of the more simple, yet compelling pieces out there on email marketing. It's amazing how much common sense is left out of these digital processes.

    Great article and great insights. Thanks you.

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