It's Really About How To Stay In Business

Some might think it a little pessimistic to write a report on going-out-of-business email strategies. However, my hope is that few marketers will ever have to put the advice directly to use. The bigger takeaway is a question that every email marketing should ask themselves: Is my email program being used tactically or strategically?

Those that are using it tactically view email campaigns as isolated one-off events. An email is sent out and sales are tallied up. There's no bigger picture. Their subscribers are just numbers that produce more numbers.

Those that are using it strategically view email campaigns as part of an ongoing conversation, an ever-changing relationship with individual subscribers. To those in this group, their email list is an extremely valuable and closely guarded asset.

For the report, I examined the email messaging of six major online retailers who were going out of business. It was incredible how poorly some retailers treated their subscribers -- both as people and as a business asset.

For instance, Sharper Image never mentioned that it was ceasing operations. In May of last year the company just stopped sending emails to its subscribers. While random, anonymous visitors to the Web site were at least told to "stay tuned" for something big, email subscribers were told nothing.

Such behavior is a great way alienate your most loyal customers, which some might say doesn't matter if you're going under. But the great irony is that many brands get a second chance in the end. That's what happened to four of the six retailers that we looked at, including Sharper Image.

Reborn as a product manufacturer earlier this year, Sharper Image formally announced its relaunch at the Consumer Electronics Show. As far as I know, though, that news was never shared with its email subscribers. That represents a colossal mismanagement of business assets and likely seriously stunted Sharper Image's future prospects.

While Sharper Image clearly viewed its email list as a tactical asset, Systemax definitely saw the strategic value of CompUSA's email list when ut acquired the struggling brand in January of 2008. Systemax only let a month go by before reengaging CompUSA subscribers with a welcome email that trumpeted the "all-new" CompUSA. The email explained how the retailer's offerings and operations were better now and engaged subscribers with a discount. The email also solicited feedback on the new Web site and gave uninterested subscribers an easy way to opt-out via a prominent unsubscribe link at the top of the email -- a feature retained for several months.

With most retailers currently struggling, it's tempting to fall into a tactical mindset, especially since many CXOs view email that way. But that's short-term thinking that undervalues subscribers and leads to an underperforming email marketing ROI.

Does your company view email marketing as tactical or strategic? And if your company views it tactically, what are you doing to change that thinking



2 comments about "It's Really About How To Stay In Business ".
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  1. Barbara French, May 5, 2009 at 2:58 p.m.

    Chad, Great post. You make points that apply broadly -- in fact, you're describing what should be business as usual for email programs. The days of getting away with tactical treatment of customers are fading fast. The same applies to other types of stakeholders and influencers as well.

  2. Chad White from Litmus, May 5, 2009 at 6:20 p.m.

    Kate, thanks for adding that insight. In the cases I referenced I don't know if the email program went to one side of the business at the detriment of the other. That would certainly explain what happened in at least one case that I witnessed.

    Erin and Barbara, thanks for your comments as well.

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