Commentary

When Good Companies Do Bad Things

It never ceases to amaze me what a poor job some larger companies do when it comes to their email marketing programs. I'm not talking about small companies that -- perhaps -- don't have the time and resources to do it right. I'm talking really big companies that destroy their email brand equity every time they hit "send."

My latest pet peeves are two practices that I see over and over again. One is just illegal: not putting an opt-out link in the email itself. Usually these emails come from news organizations or PR firms. One I received today wanted to launch an executable file when I hit unsubscribe, which for some reason it couldn't find on my hard drive. Why it was looking for an executable file on my hard drive, I have no idea.

The other thing that drives me mad, and must lose companies a lot of subscribers, is no email update feature. I often move trade publications from my business inbox into my Gmail account where they don't clutter my work inbox. You would be astounded by how many companies send out emails but don't give you the option of changing your email address. My only option is to unsubscribe and then resubscribe later with my new address. Usually I just unsubscribe and the publisher loses a reader.

Recently someone sent me a great example of an email that just drove them crazy. It was an email renewal form for the Wall Street Journal online edition. Here's what drove them up the wall: The email was two pages long, and only in the end did it say that if you wanted to renew the Wall Street Journal Online edition, you didn't have to do anything, it would automatically renew. If it was auto-renew, why wasn't that mentioned upfront -- rather than forcing users to wade through two pages to find out? Instead, according to my friend, they "spend almost one page trying to 'sell me' the product that I have already bought. I bet that their existing customers don't need to be sold. They should be trying to go quietly in the night and not get people to start thinking about whether they really want to renew. All the one page does is to create thinking (provided that you read the email, which I usually don't)."

My friend is also a subscriber to Barron's print edition. In the Wall Street Journal email they mention that you can also renew your Barron's online edition for only $20. The trouble? Barron's (owned by the same company, Dow Jones) charges you $49 for the online edition. My friend didn't subscribe since she thought it was outrageous to charge someone that much money for the online edition of a publication she already subscribed to. Now to find out that she could have received the same subscription for only $20 through the Wall Street Journal renewal added insult to injury.

My friend was so incensed that it would be $29 cheaper to get Barron's Online through extending her Wall Street Journal Online subscription, she called customer service. Of course what she found out was that her online and print edition subscriptions were handled by different divisions, different databases and there was no way to organize it into one renewal process for all her Dow Jones publications. In fact she was told that since all her subscriptions had different end dates, she would have to call back (yes, they actually said she would need to call back) at the end of November (all this took place in October) in order to get Barron's Online at the $20 price. They had no way of prorating her subscription and would have to charge her $20 for one month until one of her other subscriptions ran out, and then another $20 for the year starting at the end of November.

Of course, I didn't have the heart to tell my friend that Rupert Murdoch just announced that he was doing away with online fees for the Dow Jones publications. That might be just more than she could take.

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