The first email program I worked on in 1999 attracted over 4 million subscribers in the first year. Getting people to sign up for email promotions and newsletters used to be easy. Start with a Web site, add some decent content, a "Sign up for our free newsletter" banner, and a form -- and voila! Subscribers!
Things have changed. It's gotten more difficult. Still, many brands are driving considerable growth in the channel and consumers report using email more and more despite recurring speculation about email's looming demise by misinformed pundits. It's simply that the bar is always rising. Consumers understand how to play the email game. They know that brands can deliver really good content tailored to their personal interests, and they seek out those programs.
The list growth challenge is solved through a combination of creativity and deep customer insight. In March and April, I directed an extensive series of focus groups, interviews, and surveys to understand the motivations behind consumers' engagement with brands online. A new report, Email X-Factors, addresses why consumers engage with companies through email. Three important rules for list growth emerged from our findings:
1) You must overcome hesitation. If consumers don't trust you, they won't subscribe. At best, they'll give you their "spam address." To build trust, you must address two questions consumers ask themselves before supplying their email address to a company:
"Will my email be shared?" Consumers know some companies will sell or share their email address and they believe this is the primary source of spam. If they suspect you are one of those companies, you won't get a good email address no matter how tempting the incentive.
"How difficult will it be to unsubscribe?" Consumers also know it is difficult to unsubscribe from some companies. The potential for pain in the future if the email program fails to deliver is constantly weighed against the benefits promoted by the brand.
2) Honor your side of the economic exchange. Consumers know their email address is valuable to marketers. It's an economic exchange where they expect to get something of value from your brand in return.
The simplest way to provide this value is through monetary incentives such as discounts, notices about upcoming sales, and "freebies" offered in exchange for registration.
However, the economic exchange doesn't need to be monetarily based. 82% of consumers said they had subscribed for reasons not directly tied to a financial incentive. These included things like education, entertainment, product news, and gaining access to exclusive content.
Regardless of content strategy, real value is demonstrated in two ways:
"Are the advantages of membership clear?" Consumers sign up to get members-only benefits. If the advantages aren't clear, they would rather just visit your Web site from time to time.
"Is the content relevant to me?" Consumers know relevant content when they see it because they see it every day. To meet your end of the exchange, efforts to deliver tailored content need to be evident to the subscriber.
3) Follow the golden rule. We ended focus groups by asking, "What is your advice to digital marketers? What should they do to earn your business?"
The answers focused on respect, making it worthwhile, sending information that makes sense, being clear and concise, offering discounts, and providing good customer service. The clearest and most concise was a 45-year-old mother of four who said, "I just want them to be honest. I'm honest when I join."
Too many forget this in pursuit of large email databases. True, gimmicks can work. Buying or renting lists can work, but consumers hate being tricked. They feel used, disrespected and angry. Not a single consumer we encountered said they were OK with marketers sharing their email address. No, they go out of their way to ensure their address isn't shared or sold.
Consumers are constantly searching for new and valuable content. They want deals! They want information! They want to be delighted! And they want to be treated with respect.
We all do!