The Dastardly Dangers Of Over-Mailing

Our industry is currently facing one of the most significant threats to its health and continued existence. I'm not referring to the threat of social networking, video marketing or other emerging marketing channels. What has me concerned is self-inflicted by those of us within the email space: the rampant over-mailing of promotional messages.

We're in Q4 -- naturally many email marketers ramp up their mailings for the holiday season -- but I saw the dramatic increase in email frequency across the board as early as June of this year. In the short term, I'm sure increasing the frequency of promotional messages has a positive effect on the bottom line, but let's examine the long-term consequences on our individual programs and on the industry as a whole.

Inbox clutter: As consumers continue to receive increased volumes of promotional emails from different marketers, inboxes are becoming far too cluttered, making it ever more difficult to reach your recipients.



Higher spam complaint levels: This, as most readers are well aware, has a real negative impact on deliverability. It also results in poor brand impressions, which can hinder future sales across channels.

Faster list churn rates: As more recipients suffer from email overload, unsubscribe rates rise faster than the rate of acquiring new subscribers. This can result in the value of subscriber lists decreasing over time, negating the short-term lift in revenue from increased mailings.

Consumer fatigue: As more and more messages pour into consumer inboxes, many are choosing to opt out altogether, either by no longer engaging with any promotional messages or by using specific email that address that function as dumping grounds for unwanted messages they never read. This poses the greatest long-term threat to our industry.

Now that I've laid out the reasons we should be concerned, let's look to the future.  Let's consider what we can do to benefit both our programs and the industry as a whole.

The single most important thing you can do is to develop a healthy frequency strategy as part of your overarching email program. Both Jordan Ayan and Ryan Deutsch had excellent advice in their articles covering the same topic of consumer fatigue and over-mailing earlier this week. Jordan Ayan recommended a number of steps marketers could take to manage frequency and customer preferences more intelligently; Ryan Deutsch recommended we forgo promotional messages altogether (at least for a week or two as an experiment), and focus more on transactional touchpoints.

For success in 2009, we need to take both approaches. We need to look at how often we are mailing our subscribers and give them the ability to control frequency and what types of messages they receive. And just as importantly, we need to change our focus from being primarily promotional to lifecycle-focused where we message recipients differently, depending on where they are in relation to our organizations.

The beauty of the email channel is that it's ideal for one-to-one communications. We can have a dialog with recipients based on their current relationship with our organization. Unfortunately, most email programs are still following the old batch-and-blast mass-market approach.

Following Ryan Deutsch's advice to start off 2009 on a new foot, let's make this the year we adapt intelligent frequency practices and lifecycle marketing into our email programs.

1 comment about "The Dastardly Dangers Of Over-Mailing".
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  1. Suzanne Delrow from EAA, December 4, 2008 at 10:27 a.m.

    As an email marketer, I agree completely with Aaron's observations. As a consumer, I've noticed some interesting choices from retailers this year.

    With the exception in the following paragraphs of Williams-Sonoma and Walgreens, the other retailers have behaved more the opposite of what I would have expected *as a consumer*.

    I don't believe I've had more than a couple of emails from JC Penney, but I have received at least one piece of postal mail from them every day since about the first of November. Yesterday I received two sale catalogs along with a postcard for shipping savings. I do purchase from their online catalog as well as the brick and mortar - but frankly I'm sick of throwing all that paper in the recylcing bin. (consumer fatigue!)

    I receive one to two emails per week from Limoges (costume jewlery), although I never opted in and have never purchased anything from them. Apparently no target marketing or segmenting going on here. The same can be said for Swarovski. (inbox clutter)

    I've always enjoyed the emails from Williams-Sonoma and Land's End as they are very well done and attrative emarketing pieces, but I have received very few from Land's End this year - and the quality has definitely slipped.

    Hallmark - in my opinion the biggest specialty retailer completely missing the band wagon. Hallmark has a 'member club' where you earn points for purchases and receive coupons for $$ off greeting card purchases. Many of the local Hallmark stores in my area have closed (I assume due to lack of sales). I'm a member, have opted in for email marketing, and have purchased online as well as brick and mortar. I believe I've received two emails from them since November 1 (and maybe 3 or 4 pieces of postal mail). Their website is attractive, interesting and they have a huge variety of products and services. I would love to see more of this roll over into their emarketing.

    And my final retailer comments - Walgreens. I use their online photo-ordering service often. I receive quite a few emails from them, but I have to admit they seem to know what they are doing. They send me coupons or sales notices that apply to what services I've used - photo services - or for general discounts and coupons. They have 'weekend' sales for which I receive the email on Thursday or Friday (keep it in the forefront of the consumer's mind) and they don't inundate me with emails that don't apply to my buying/service habits. Their message is clear and their subject line is clear and to the point. I open every one of them.

    There needs to be a balance, but it seems most of these retail marketers and emarketers are not thinking through their frequency strategy, which I feel CAN and SHOULD change during the holiday season. The lesson FROM me as a consumer is that more emails from you do not prompt more sales from me. Targeted emails, focused emails, however, just might.

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