I was on a flight the other day and was thumbing through a stack of magazines from the last month or so (airplane time is mindless, magazine reading time for me), and I got to the August issue of Good Housekeeping. Right there on the cover: "Protect your email account. Simple ways to stop a hacker." Not surprisingly, I was compelled to check out the article. It isn't everyday that my profession is highlighted on the cover of Good Housekeeping!
I was really underwhelmed by the article, which included some vague tips like setting up a second account, not opening attachments, having a good password -- and, oh, don't use public WiFi. But it got me thinking about the fact that Joe and Jane consumer don't really much care about our best practices, tactics, targeting, etc. -- and how they affect our programs.
As an industry, our audience likely has a series of misconceived notions about the spammers they think we are. Most of that is predicated on a few unsavory fellows peeing in our email pool (sorry for the visual), but the other piece is the public's fundamental lack of understanding about email.
It isn't necessary for everyone to know how it all works, but if you could give the consumer a bit of education on what we do, what would you tell them? What questions do you answer at dinner parties about your job? And how does the lack of understanding possibly affect your programs?
If given the chance to write for Good Housekeeping, here's what I would share with their readers about email. Then I'll discuss how each issue could affect your programs.
1. It is safe to unsubscribe from email. Yes, it
was once true that clicking on an unsubscribe link in a questionable email only served to confirm it as a valid address with the spammer. However, today, legitimate brands are required by
CAN-SPAM to remove your address within 10 days of unsubscribing. So, if the email comes from a recognizable brand and looks legit, the most effective way to stop getting emails is by
unsubscribing. Just because you don't remember subscribing doesn't mean it's spam or from a nefarious sender -- you could have been added to the list through a partnership with a brand you
currently do business with.
Impact: Consumers are more security- and privacy-sensitive than ever before (and rightfully so), but if they don't want your message, and aren't unsubscribing for fear of being hacked or spammed -- what's the alternative? Complaining, or worse, doing nothing and ignoring your messages. High complaint rates and long-term disengagement can have a negative impact on your deliverability and inbox placement.
2. Marking email as spam doesn't necessarily mean you've unsubscribed. If
you're trying to get off an email list, hitting the "this is spam" button isn't going to provide you with the instant gratification that you seek. ISPs look at "this is spam" complaints in
aggregate to determine if the emails from the sender should start landing in the Junk folder. So, if it's a legitimate email and you're feeling too lazy to follow through the unsubscribe process, the
chances are that that the "this is spam" button isn't going to meet your needs. Plus, even if you are successful, that's one more message that you have to skip over as you survey your junk folder for
Impact: There is a misconceived notion that if the recipient clicks "this is spam," they will never again receive email from you. Yet, you continue to send. This can have a negative impact on their perception of your brand. Then there's the repetitive complaints for those ISPs that do not have FBL processes.
3. Image-rendering is out of the brands' control. Before you start complaining about how the emails from your favorite brand always show up
without any images, you need to realize that the images are turned off by the ISPs, not the sender. The good news is that, as the consumer, you have the power to fix that. By adding the sender
to your "Safe Sender" list or webmail Contact List, you can essentially "white list" that sender and begin experiencing the brand's email in its full HTML glory. In a perfect world, the sender would
be designing the email to still be readable with images off, but since that's not always the case, you can take the initiative to make the emails you enjoy receiving more readable.
Impact: Consumers are fickle and easily annoyed -- it's human nature. If they think you're messing with them by forcing them to click on a link to see the pictures, they may just stop opening your messages. It may seem far-fetched, but I have heard this complaint from friends on more than one occasion.
4. Review your email
preferences before you unsubscribe. If you're getting way too many emails from a brand that you like, check to see if they have a preference center before unsubscribing. Many companies
make it possible to change the frequency of the emails that they send you -- as well as the type of information that they contain. By fine-tuning your email preferences, you can start receiving more
relevant messages at the frequency that best suits your needs.
Impact: Well if consumers knew this -- and you had frequency management preferences -- it just might save you the loss of an email address. That wouldn't stink, right?
Those are the first four topics that came to mind, but I'm sure there are others as well. What do you think the public should know about email marketing that would make the experience better for everyone involved -- marketers and consumers alike? Post your ideas in the comments, and let's see if we can't start changing consumer perceptions. Maybe we'll even ask Good Housekeeping to help us out -- it seems email is on their radar after all!