Email According To 'Good Housekeeping'

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 legitimate messages.

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.

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!

6 comments about "Email According To 'Good Housekeeping'".
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  1. Chad White from Litmus, July 21, 2011 at 10:18 a.m.

    There's tons of misinformation out there and the ISPs don't generally do a good job of explaining how things work. Without a strong email marketing trade group, doing any kind of widespread consumer education is very difficult. The best that email marketers can do is use well-designed and clear sign-up pages, sign-up confirmation pages, welcome messages, preference centers and unsubscribe pages to educate their individual subscribers as best they can. After doing that, it's best to accept that consumers don't always do what we want or even what's in their own best interest. That's just how it is.

  2. Andy Devoto from Vivid Seats, July 21, 2011 at 11:26 a.m.

    Love this article! #1 is the biggest misconception out there. A lot of my friends tell me they won't click the unsubscribe button because they think it means they will just get more emails--which may have been true in 1997, but is definitely not the case today. #2 is important to educate people on as well. Marking my legitimate email that you signed up for as spam because you no longer want to be on the list can have deleterious effects on everyone else who really does want to receive our communications as their ISP may block all of our email from getting through. 2 things I would add: "add sender to contacts" is your friend, and the second one is a bit more selfish. If an email encourages you to go online and buy something, don't search for my company, click on a paid ad and then buy it; click through my email so I get credit!

  3. Andrew Kordek from Trendline Interactive, July 21, 2011 at 2:55 p.m.


    Good stuff. This is why I have longed questioned features such as labels or priority inbox and the adoption rate of the consumer. Sure..its great eye and play candy for uber email dorks like you and me (you are an email dork right), but I wonder if the average subscriber/user even cares.

    Andrew Kordek
    Co-Founder, Trendline Interactive
    An Email Marketing Agency

  4. Cece Forrester from tbd, July 21, 2011 at 6:49 p.m.

    Kara, most of your points are good, but I will put my consumer hat on and correct you on one thing. If I don't want it, it's spam. Fine print that said you might give others my e-mail through a "partnership" is not the same thing as my subscribing. Only if I consciously remember subscribing myself--and continue to remember it each time--is a message not spam to me. You may not like it, but the ultimate spam-or-not-spam ruling takes place in the recipient's mind, and there is no other authority to which you can appeal that decision. It's your responsibility to help them recognize your message as something they asked for, and your problem if they don't.

    Oh, and by the way, I might purposely flag your messages as spam instead of simply unsubscribing, if I especially dislike the way you went about subscribing me without true permission--and believe me there are lots of little stunts that deserve this treatment. Damaging your reputation with the ISP may be exactly what I'm out to do in such a case. So don't cheat and don't kid yourself that what you want to do overrides my expressed wishes in the matter.

  5. Kurt Johansen from Johansen International, July 21, 2011 at 6:49 p.m.

    Kara, I agree, planes are a great way to catch on magazines. I call it 'bubblegum for the eyes'. But their articles are very superficial. Email Marketing is about 1. Your List 2. Your Relationship with your List and 3. Your Offer. When you have the three in congruence you will do extremely well. Make sure you segment your lists so recipients receive targeted messages. If you need to send a message to all and every list you have make sure they know who you are and personalise your email. The bottom line is "People Buy From Friends", not businesses or companies. Cheers Kurt - Australia's Leading Email Marketing Coach to the Small to Medium Business Owner.

  6. Rachel Rothman from Good Housekeeping, July 22, 2011 at 2:12 p.m.

    It's always informative to find out what people say about we write about in Good Housekeeping magazine and on our blog Inside the Institute. Please check out our response to Tara Trivunovic at:

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