How did the stupidest people in our industry all find their way into the same job?
Email marketing has become a game of cheap, underhanded tactics at best, and criminal at worst: a dangerous concoction of blatantly lying to customers, creating purposefully confusing checkout processes with permission for email marketing auto-checked, and then gracefully ignoring the customer preference and marketing to them anyway. This is then stirred to a raging boil by slimy marketers that harm the very customers they are supposed to build relationships with.
Consumer trust of email marketing is gone, and for good reason. They have been repeatedly screwed by an industry gladly willing to sacrifice integrity for a one-time sale.
Let's Start by Naming
Lest this become a theoretical column, here are four examples of major companies that have violated consumer trust by ignoring email marketing preferences:
Crate and Barrel (CB2): I made a purchase from CB2 a month ago, and within a few days of selecting to not receive marketing emails, began receiving them at least once a week.
Dell: Despite spending hundreds of thousands of dollars a year with Dell through my company, and attempting to unsubscribe several times, they insist on sending me poorly targeted emails weekly.
Live Nation: I bought front-row tickets to a Kings of Leon concert a few months ago, and immediately began receiving emails about concerts in the city where it was held.
Saks Fifth Avenue: Of all the companies who should be guarding their reputation like the crown jewels, Saks took a few small purchases I made on its Web site, and granted themselves permission to send me constant emails. They don't even have the basic targeting ability to only send men's products.
These are big companies that should be examples of best practices. Instead, they are symbolic of the egregious abuse that goes on in the email marketing world.
I'm sure you have a hundred more examples of major companies that promised not to email you, and abused that trust. Call them out in the comments.
How Did We Get Here?
The root of this issue is that email marketers are tracking an incomplete view of their impact. They are measuring positive things, like the amount of views, clicks, and revenue they drive.
What email marketers should be looking at is the number of customers they drive away.
Wasting your customer's time and violating their trust will have two very painful downstream ramifications. First, it will cause them to vote with their feet and drive up your attrition. Second, it will create angry and vocal customers (consider this column Exhibit A). In a world where every customer can reach thousands of people through blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and other tools, it has never been more costly to violate a customer's trust.
Four Simple Steps
Fortunately, the path to the promised land is a commonsensical one.
There are four very basic things that every email marketer can do to get in their customers' good graces:
1. Let the customer choose frequency: Your customers should be able to easily choose to receive email daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, or no emails at all. End of story.
2. Entertain, then inform: Take a cue from Urban Daddy and hire a damn writer. If you are going to ask us to spend the time to read your email, your job is to make it a great read. Be funny, be charming, be captivating.
3. Never, ever, ever, violate trust: Ask customers explicitly for permission before you email them, and consolidate your email lists so a single unsubscribe takes them off EVERY list. I have heard countless excuses from marketers that their marketing is fragmented, and they have no control over list management.
4. Keep it personal: Once you have a relationship with a customer, don't trash it by sending them irrelevant emails. Contrary to popular opinion, sending nothing is a much, much better option. In 2010, it's better to be forgotten by a single customer, than hated by the masses.
Hitting Rock Bottom and Starting to Dig
I really hope that email marketers will heed this warning, and pull themselves out of the credibility abyss they willingly dove into headfirst. I'm not optimistic, though, as chasing short-term returns is a hard drug to wean yourself from.
Ultimately, success is not measured in how many subscribers you have -- but in how many subscribers welcome your message.