Saying ‘I Do’ In Email

I spoke at INBOX and Internet Retailer in the past five days, and at both events heard smart marketers say, “Why do readers unsubscribe/ignore/complain about my emails? They opted in!”

The answer is that permission is not forever. Subscribers opt-in and then promptly forget about their actions. It’s not unusual to see a high number of complaints and unsubscribes on a Welcome Message. Nor is permission a panacea. Opt in doesn’t replace relevancy and keeping your promises.

To that end, here are a few key moments in the subscriber experience when permission should not be assumed:

• When you add a new content set
• When you launch a new product/press release, etc.
• When you haven’t emailed in a really long time (like more than 3 months)
• When you “find” an old file that hasn’t been used (maybe ever)—yes, this happens all the time!
• When you’ve already sent more email this week/month than you promised.

Do you need to re-permission everyone just to send a press release or introduce a new type of email promotion/newsletter? Not necessarily. But be sure to make it really clear that you are sending subscribers something outside the original permission grant, and give them a very visible and prominent chance to unsubscribe. Do this for several messages in a row, not just once. I know it feels counter-intuitive to encourage an unsubscribe, but really what you are doing is re-confirming the permission grant. And, when you use a Preference Center, an unsubscribe request can be “flipped” into a satisfying interaction with your brand and email program.

The alternative is higher ISP complaints (and depressed deliverability) as well as brand degradation and reduced subscriber satisfaction. Subscribers have a lower tolerance for email messages than we marketers do. Be sure you understand and respect what we call the Subscriber Fatigue Factor—when subscribers start to turn off your email program for lack of relevancy or too high frequency. Your Subscriber Fatigue Factor can be determined through control group testing.

But for now, avoid sending more than you promised, and always be clear what the value is to the subscriber before you send.

—Stephanie Miller