Sense And Sensibility In Email

Amid the millions of marketing emails that are launched every day, it isn't hard to find some lead balloons. Sometimes even top marketers are guilty of approaches that mislead, defy logic, are distasteful or just plain silly. Here is a sampling from my inbox, presented in the categories of "sense" -- for those lacking in logic -- and "sensibility," for those that may breach feelings or trust.

A targeted email that misses by 1,000 miles.  I subscribe to a travel e-newsletter that recently started sending me more targeted emails based on what they know about me. Good idea? Not in this case! The emails now feature hotel deals in my home town. Seriously -- how likely do they think I am to vacation one mile from home?

Sensible approach: When you get serious about segmentation, ask your subscribers to update their preferences first. I would love to let this publisher know my favorite travel destinations  -- if they asked!   

Silly tie-Ins. How do you like my fancy Super Bowl shoes? Yes, an online shoe store actually sent me a promotional email themed around the Super Bowl. They didn't showcase footwear appropriate for a tailgate party or playing tag football in the backyard or doing a happy dance. They just wanted me to buy some shoes.
Sensible approach: Don't shoehorn your e-marketing into holiday themes unless you can make some connection between the holiday and the content. Be creative!

Check your dates.  Recently an online retailer sent me a "welcome" message, congratulating me on being a new customer. The problem? I have been shopping with them off and on for four years. Instead of making me feel special, the email communication made me feel anonymous and unappreciated for my past custom.

Sensible approach: By all means have a welcome stream queued up and ready to deploy to new subscribers or customers; this is a great practice. But do pay attention to your data. A simple query would have separated out customers who have been on the database for a while.

Let them eat cake. With the world economy shrinking and bailouts growing into the trillions of dollars, one-third of Americans are losing sleep over their personal finances, according to the National Sleep Foundation. In this climate, purveyors of luxury goods face new challenges. Sadly, some upscale sellers seem unaware of people's sensibilities on this score, and some have even depicted their premium goods amid settings of poverty and want.

Sensibility approach:  Unless you are sure the individuals on your email database are cavalier about the times, market with caution. Good taste in depicting the use of luxury goods could spare retailers from any pent-up public outrage. Remember the AIG bonuses...

Lies and misinformation. I once allowed an online community to lighten my wallet by $35 for a membership, based on the assurance that people I knew were actually searching for me on their site. In fact, no one I knew was searching for me, even though some people were undoubtedly searching for friends with my (rather common) name. Retention efforts consisted of continued emails with the same tease.

Sensibility approach: It is not nice to mislead people, and it's no way to build a relationship. Online communities have much to offer -- they can easily build campaigns promoting true stories of members' great experiences and the possibilities inherent in membership, without distorting the truth.

Unsettling subject lines. I receive a newsletter about heart health with the same subject line every month: "Your heart attack newsletter." I experience a mini-infarct every time I see that in my inbox.

Sensibility approach: Even if your subject matter is deadly serious, you can draw readers' attention in creative ways that do not upset them. Lead off with this month's health tip or news about the latest research. Give readers hope through highlighting solutions rather than problems. In any event, every newsletter deserves a subject line that promotes the current content -- not just the title and date. 

Do you wish to achieve sense and sensibility in your email program? Scrutinize your messages for gaffes and gasps, and ask your customers for honest feedback. They will surely help you get back on the most rewarding path.



4 comments about "Sense And Sensibility In Email ".
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  1. Kit Kiefer from Delta Dental of Wisconsin, March 23, 2009 at 9:58 a.m.

    In regard to the first point: Sometimes you can hit the target too well. For instance, persists in insisting that the No. 1 must-read books for me are the books that I've written. Sorry, Amazon: I wrote this junk; I'm sure as heck not going to pay money to you just so I can read it between covers. And besides: You ever hear of comp copies?

  2. Henry Harteveldt from Forrester Research, March 23, 2009 at 10:02 a.m.

    Regarding your first point: Agree that asking preferences is important, and not done well in travel. However, given the economy, some people may be considering staying home rather than flying. The discounts may also be of interest for people coming to visit you.

  3. Cynthia Edwards from Razorfish, March 23, 2009 at 4:36 p.m.

    Juli - I love subject lines (or are they headlines?) you quoted. I would have no objection to them - in fact in my last article, I cited "TravelAdvisor's Dirtiest Hotels!" as a great subject line. These are neither illogical nor offensive, in context.

  4. Kurt Johansen from Johansen International, March 23, 2009 at 10:38 p.m.

    Email marketing is a skill which needs to be recognised. It isn't about sending emails without clarity of purpose, usefulness of message and of benefit to the recipient. Get it right and your List will love you. Get it wrong and well - you deserve whatever happens.
    Australia's Email Marketing Guru

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