'Mom, All I Want Is To Change My Email Address'

OK, so I took some liberties with the line “All I wanted was a Pepsi” from the song “Institutionalized” by Suicidal Tendencies (one of my all-time favorite songs).

But after trying to change my email address across 25 email subscriptions, I felt about as frustrated as the teenager in this song whose mom accused him of being on drugs -- but all he wanted was a Pepsi.

Why? Because almost nobody makes this process easy to do.

Sorry to say, email marketers, but most of you get an “F” for the effort it takes to change an email address.

New Email Address = Hours of Updating

Email address-changing can be a large contributor to list churn, along with hard bounces, unsubscribes and spam complaints. Statistics from several years ago showed 30% of subscribers in general change their email addresses every year, while 17% of Americans create a new email address every six months.

Although I couldn't find more recent statistics, I believe these rates have declined quite a bit but are still a significant contributor to address churn.



The issue became personal when I switched to a new work email address after IBM acquired my employer. That meant I needed to update all of the work-related email newsletters I receive, or at least the ones I read regularly or value the most.

But this potentially onerous task also let me see how the unsubscribe/address-change process works from the subscriber's viewpoint. So, I captured my experience the best way I know how, with a spreadsheet and screenshots.

What I Found: Confusion, Dead Ends, Extra Work

Less than a handful of the brand emails I tried to update (25 so far) let me change my email address without requiring me to unsubscribe and resubscribe.

That might not sound so difficult. What's a few keystrokes, after all? After about 10 attempts, however, I was annoyed and frustrated, ready to listen to my punk rock collection from the late '70s in order to blow off some steam.

It wasn't just the drudgery of typing and retyping my old and new addresses over and over. On some pages, I wasted time trying to figure out just how to unsubscribe. Or, the preference link was hard to find or read in the email itself.

On other pages, the unsubscribe link took me to a Web page that was confusing and buried the profile or had an email change option in a tiny text link located nearly off the page.

Why Do Marketers Make Changing an Email Address So Difficult?

If you know that 10% to 20% of your email database could change over every year -- especially for B2B marketers whose subscribers change email addresses when they change jobs -- why not do more to make the process easier?

1. The software won't allow it. Some email software platforms use the email address as the primary identifier (key) for each record and do not allow the address to be changed.

2. They haven't focused on it yet. Many marketers haven’t paid attention to this subscriber need and might assume that subscribers can simply opt out and then resubscribe.

3. They don't see a pay-off. When I polled some email marketers, their sentiment fell into two camps:  1. Very few subscribers click on “email address update” links. 2. Too few subscribers use preference centers in general to justify the expense and technology changes they might require.

I know that ROI and Level of Effort (LOE) are genuine concerns. However, user experience is something you can't always measure with these yardsticks. Improving your email address change process won't grow your revenue by leaps and bounds, but it might help retain a number of your better customers and prospects.

In my next Email Insider column, I'll suggest some best practices that will help take the friction out of your address change process. In the meantime, I would love to hear how your company handles email address changes and what your experience has been.

Until next time, take it up a notch!

2 comments about "'Mom, All I Want Is To Change My Email Address'".
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  1. Bruce Wood from Champion Newspapers, September 4, 2014 at 4:46 p.m.

    Email marketers just think it's not costing them any money. I know of one, Best Buy, where it cost them a bundle just from me. Six years ago or so I used to receive Best Buy's weekly specials via email. I tried unsuccessfully for years to get them to send it to my new email address. I even received emails from customer support informing me the problem was fixed (but it wasn't). They were able to finally change my email address in their system but I still don't receive their weekly specials via email (maybe they've stopped them altogether?). Best Buy is one of my favorite stores and I actually wanted their emails. After about three years of trying I gave up.

  2. Loren McDonald from IBM Marketing Cloud, September 4, 2014 at 5:17 p.m.

    Bruce, thanks for chiming in with your personal experience - you make my point exactly! There are legitimate technology issues that can make this a bit challenging for brands, but if so - then at least make the process of opt-ing out and then resubscribing really simple. But to your point, while I don't have data to prove it, I think brands are losing more email subscribers due to a poor preference center process than they recognize. What percent of unsubscribes are valuable customers who just want to change their email address - and then never get around to re-subscribing? Thanks again for sharing!

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