Email's Antisocial Sin

In all the talk of social media and its influence on email marketing, it occurred to me that email marketers consistently commit an antisocial sin. Worse still, it is a sin often taught as a "best practice" in order to decrease the hassle of managing a large number of responses to marketing email messages.

I am writing of the dreaded "no-reply@" email address. Consider this near perfect email from Dropbox. The subject line "Come back to Dropbox!" makes it clear why I received the message. True, I signed up for Dropbox about two months ago and I have not used the service much since registering. The creative is clever and grabbed my attention. The message is to the point and the call to action is simple: "check out our tour." The tour includes a well-produced video about how to leverage the service. Perfect, right?



Well, almost, except for the email's "from" address: "" Consider the missed opportunities of this approach: It communicates a lack of customer service

Some have referred to what we are observing in social media as a revolution. For marketers, the revolution lies not in the tools, not in the speed, not even in the ability of consumers to communicate with each other. For marketers, the revolution is that the focus of marketing is changing from selling to serving. Good marketing is increasingly less about creating compelling messages and more about providing excellent customer service. There is an abundance of slick marketing messages. What makes companies stand out from the clutter is an authentic commitment to incredible customer service.

Seeing "no-reply@" in the "from" address raises an immediate red flag. It telegraphs that the email is a one-way street. Even in the case of the Dropbox email, which is essentially a customer service communication, the "from" address communicates, "This message is about us. We don't have time to listen to you."

Consumers want to reply

According to data contained in Forrester's Winning Email in a Down Economy, 29% of consumers want the ability to write back to marketers who send them email. However, only 11% said they want to use email more like they use social networks. This raises the question: If marketers were listening via email, would consumers feel the need to post complaints on Facebook or Twitter? At least on Facebook, they can feel more confident they will get a response. After all, if a company fails to respond on Facebook, the world will see. Silence on the part of marketers in a public forum can be very, very loud!

Email replies have deliverability benefits

In a recent discussion with Deirdre Baird of Pivotal Veracity, she shared, "We have recently confirmed from postmasters at some of the major ISPs that one of the things they are factoring into the delivery equation is whether or not people reply to email messages. If a consumer replies, ISPs look at this as a positive sign that consumers see your emails as legitimate."

Last month, George Bilbrey wrote about how engagement is used by ISPs to determine inbox placement. As he shared, spam complaints and inactive subscribers have been critical components in inbox delivery for some time. However, it makes sense that replies to your email messages would also factor into the mix. I'll reply to my friends and family. I am not likely to reply to a penny stock peddler.

Email marketers have been told for some time to develop an "add to address book" strategy. Alex Madison and Lisa Harmon shared earlier this year that these whitelisting instructions may not be essential relative to other pre-header needs. Could the answer going forward be as simple as saying, "please write back, we'd love to hear from you?"

Clearly there are challenges associated with inviting a potential onslaught of incoming emails. Customer service bandwidth will be impacted. Marketers need to provide input on appropriate responses, and they need to develop means of collecting insightful feedback from consumers and circulating in to the company at large. But seems to me that is the point. This is a revolution, after all, and a few things need to change.

6 comments about "Email's Antisocial Sin".
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  1. Jeff Pugel from Essex Digital Platform, November 11, 2009 at 3:22 p.m.

    Great article....too bad many e-mail marketers don't take heed with this basic notion. It's when the notion that online marketing, any form of it, is a two-way conversations do I usually see sales or conversions take a positive jump since you are not playing in the customer's sand box.

    Very basic, but very critical.

  2. Kurt Johansen from Johansen International, November 11, 2009 at 3:26 p.m.

    If anyone disagrees with this post get out of the email marketing game. Having a noreply@address is like advertising in a weekend paper and only being open Mon-Fri.

  3. Langston Richardson from Cisco, November 11, 2009 at 3:44 p.m.

    A sidebar thought: I wonder how technologies like Google Wave with add-ons that manage the pain points of companies managing their limited resources on social customer communications versus to new customer demand of a brand that engages them in expected interaction?

    I see successful companies break this rule all of the time without ROI repercussions WIll this become an issue over time even for the big brands?

  4. John Bruce, November 11, 2009 at 6:04 p.m.

    Isn't it a CAN-SPAM violation if you don't have a working reply-to email address?

  5. Jeffrey Ogden, November 11, 2009 at 7:09 p.m.

    I agree Morgan. That from email address shouts to me "We blast these out. We don't care who you are."

    The best marketers send emails that seem to be addressed to me one to one. Totally personalized.

    Jeff Ogden, the Fearless Competitor
    Find New Customers

  6. Morgan Stewart from Trendline Interactive, November 12, 2009 at 3:38 p.m.

    @Langston, I have not thought about how Google Wave might help this. I recently got an account and have just started to test it. The concept sounds plausible, but I see several challenges at the moment--not to mention that Wave is a closed system that will only work for others using the service.

    Yes, companies break this rule all the time. My main point is that I believe it is a major threat on the horizon because it runs counter to the social phenomenon.

    @John, Per my sources (disclaimer, I am not a lawyer), there is no working reply-to email address requirement in CAN-SPAM, only that there is a working electronic opt-out mechanism. Technically a "noreply@" email may even work. I typically see it as a warning to customers that replies are not monitored... and that's the problem! We need to listen!

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