Subscribers to Marketers: I'm Not Gonna Take It Anymore!

Stephanie Miller, email marketing expert
By Stephanie Miller
VP, Global Market Development

Here’s some more fodder to build your case for investing in your email program to build long term value, protect your revenue and demand generation success.

While 64% of consumers say promotional offers dominate both the email and traditional mail they receive, only 41% view them as must-read communications and another 22% say that they would definitely defect from supporting a brand in protest of irrelevant mailings, according to a new study out from the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Council and InfoPrint Solutions. Register to download the full study.

Here at Return Path, we’ve long encouraged marketers to consider that the inverse of your click through rate is not neutral. If 5% of your subscribers take action, that doesn’t necessarily mean the other 95% are happy. Inbox clutter is worse than ever, and this study shows what others before it have also found: It turns out your customers and prospects notice your contribution (to the clutter) – and hold you accountable.

We’ve known all along that too much email that is not helpful to subscribers is not helpful to brands and marketers, either. There is a penalty in email marketing that doesn’t exist in other direct channels, and thus raising the bar for relevancy. It’s called “complaints” (counted every time someone clicks the Report Spam button), which is still the most important factor in sender reputation and for reaching the inbox to earn a response.

Unfortunately, the pull to just keep sending away because it’s “cheap” continues to overrule our customer-centric sensibilities. We earn revenue with each broadcast, but we also generate complaints and wear down many other subscribers. Marketers have been unwilling or unable to make the full business case that includes the cost of replacing lost subscribers due to complaints, unsubscribes and fatigue.

Time to stop that. I know it’s not trivial to create and execute on a strong content and contact strategy. But honestly, what online marketing today isn’t driven by a great content strategy? Create compelling content that generates leads and moves customers through the sales cycle – this is what we do! Offers and promotions are often welcome, but only when they are targeted to segments that care about them, and sent at a pace and frequency appreciated by the buyer.

Since all our marketing is social today, and all the best online marketing is about engaging in conversations, why is it so hard to think that email marketers would lead this charge for their companies? Let’s get in front of the opportunity, and work to guide our organizations toward mutually beneficial conversations with our customers.

It’s not so hard to imagine email marketers taking the lead. You probably already do some of this today.

  • Trigger a custom offer post purchase
  • Dynamically place the most relevant articles at the top of the newsletter for each segment
  • Send a 5-piece Getting Started Guide to new members or to downloaders of a free trial software program
  • Send a custom welcome series after subscription sign up
  • Invite non-responsive subscribers to engage in other channels, or at different frequency
  • Permission interested customers into a 25-day daily Holiday Shopping guide
  • We just need to do more of it, and make it more central to our programs. Let’s face it – just because we send it, doesn’t mean subscribers will read it, even if they gave us permission. In the CMO Council study, emailed monthly bills are “always” opened by just 72% of respondents, where promotional emails are always opened by 41%. Even news alerts are not that critical – only 37% said they always open them.

    Take a lesson from this study to remember how subscriber fatigue drains the email channel of revenue. This subscriber revolt is real and pervasive. Combat it now. Aim to make at least 2-3 messages a month, per subscriber, much more relevant through segmentation, targeting and dynamic content. Most ESPs and MTA software solutions can automate this for you.

    What this study says is basically, “Many of our subscribers think our email program is unworthy of our brand.” Is that good enough for your bottom line – or your long -term marketing goals? I certainly hope not.

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