In Defense Of/Lessons From Radio Shack

Dear E-mail Diva,

What do you think of Radio Shack firing employees via e-mail?

Steve Mullins, Mullins & Associates

Dear Steve,

There is a big lesson for e-mail marketers here, but first let me say something in defense of this practice.

Being laid off or fired is usually a pretty painful experience. I, for one, would much rather have some time to react privately--cry, scream, dance, whatever--before I have to face my supervisor and my coworkers. Waiting to be summoned to the conference room on layoff day is no picnic, particularly if you're at the end of the list (or even if you're not on the list.). And let's not forget about the pink slip employees found in their mailbox or paycheck in the olden days--not terribly warm and fuzzy either.

Radio Shack did offer follow-up meetings for its laid-off employees, who I imagine were better prepared with questions, and more composed, than they would have been with a face-to-face surprise.



The important reminder to marketers is that people have strong--mostly negative--feelings about e-mail as a medium. The problem with e-mail is that it's inexpensive and (relatively) easy to find "warm bodies" to receive it. As a result, too many are eager to abuse it. Spammers and legitimate e-mailers are not in two separate camps, they're somewhere on a continuum.

Many e-mailers believe they can reliably determine what is relevant to a potential audience, and that makes it OK to send them e-mail, even without an opt-in. But consider the wealth of information available if one has a physical address: name, age, gender, children, charitable contributions, home value, magazine subscriptions, catalog purchases--the list is long. In what direct marketers no doubt refer to as the "good old days," you could even get DMV information--height, weight, and color of eyes and hair--and financial information. And yet how many totally useless pieces of postal mail do you get every day?

Consider how much less is known about a typical e-mail addressee. In some cases, only that: the e-mail address. I worked with a company that had one of the best e-mail databases around. There was web visit, e-mail response, survey and appended demographic and psychographic data (for those with a physical address). Still, it was frequently difficult to find the data that would reliably indicate relevance for a particular e-mail topic.

We must always strive to be relevant--and the way to ensure that is to get permission and gather stated preferences. Because, as the Radio Shack debacle illustrates, people love to hate e-mail. That means marketers have to take the high road, or we'll kill the goose that laid the golden egg.

Good luck building relevance!

The E-mail Diva

Send your questions or submit your e-mail for critique to Melinda Krueger, the E-mail Diva, at All submissions may be published; please indicate if you would like your name or company name withheld.

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