Posted on: November 16, 2011
By: Iris Dorbian
Mental opt-out: Email marketing's silent killer
When it comes to managing effective email campaigns, think about this: even having loyal customers sign up for your emails won’t guarantee success.
In fact, the opt-in phenomenon could be working against you. Because lots of consumers are starting to feel that some businesses—ones they actually like doing business with—are abusing the privilege of communicating with them.
How? By inundating them with too many emails and irrelevant offers. Customers opted in because they trusted the business, only to find themselves regretting their decision to enter into a long-term relationship.
And the trouble can start long before they start flagging a company’s emails as spam. It begins when customers just start to delete them without reading them. And in doing so, they become immune to the company’s appeals and offers.
It’s called mental opt-out. The results can be dire.
According to the study:
- 54% of consumers are turned off because email pitches are too frequent.
- 49% report that the content is repetitive or boring.
- 47% report being overwhelmed by the overall amount of email they receive.
- 25% say the content isn’t relevant.
Blanketing current and potential customers with unwanted pitches can quickly erode brand loyalty and poison the well of new sales prospects, according to Graham Jones, a frequent BBC commentator on online and social media behavior.
A recent marketing study examined why consumers sever their online brand relationships and made the same point with sobering numbers.
Solution: speak directly — and knowledgeably — to the individual
Everything now has to be hugely personal, argues Jones. As a result, he adds, businesses “need to get to know their customers individually much, much better.”
To know your customers better, make better use of data. Powerful new modeling tools can identify not only the individuals you should target, but also those it would be more profitable to leave alone—including those who will buy whether you target them or not, those who won't buy no matter what you do, and those who are likely to react negatively to your marketing message.
If possible, also integrate your email communications and customer relationship databases with web analytics. And use the data you have from other channels, too. For instance, email that customer who phoned the call center to let her know the company’s following up on her request.
You can start small and take incremental steps. Just stay focused on what you’re trying to achieve.
The Daily Candy, a website and email newsletter that highlights the hottest sales in specific cities, used in-house analytics to track the downstream trajectory of its marketing emails.
“They studied very carefully the open rates and the forward-to-a-friend rates,” says Daniel Ambrose, managing partner at ambro.com, a media management-consulting firm whose clients include Hearst, about.com, and iVillage. “They then took the top 10 percent of the responses and looked at what was different about those emails that got forwarded to a friend the most.”
That information enabled The Daily Candy to improve the relevance of its content so it would resonate more with customers. Result: additional momentum from word-of-mouth.
Ultimately, avoiding opt-outs is about living up to each customer’s expectations, starting with that very first email they agree to receive.
“Do email marketing wrong, and your readers will neither like nor trust you,” says Kathryn Weber, an email marketer who recently appeared on CBS Money Watch. And if that trust is broken, they’ll be even less likely to buy your products or services.
After all, as she points out, “We like to do business with people we like and trust.”
Five tips to minimize mental opt-outs
A few best practices can go a long way to keeping consumers interested and willing to hear you out:
Understand your whole audience, but target each individual: Addressing someone by name is just the beginning of personalization. You need to go way further. “The more an email is clearly directed to and about the individual, the less likely the reader will tune out,” says Jones, who has written extensively about online consumer behavior. “Emails need to show that the company truly understands the individual.” That’s why email promotions based on individual customers’ buying history are often so successful.
Don’t troll for clicks: Punch up your headlines, but don’t try to lure recipients with a bait-and-switch lead. “Follow up on the promise of the headline,” advises Ambrose. Weber, the email marketer, also cautions that customers quickly begin to ignore emails studded with too many links.
Once you’ve got their attention, have something to say: Too much email can wear out your audience and make them instinctively go for the delete button. Consumers expect marketers to show some restraint. Whatever else they may think about your company, you want them to think of you as one of the best senders in their inbox. So don’t just send generic promotions, give them specifics. And vary what you have to say.
Accept that some churn is inevitable: Sometimes people stop paying attention to emails because other things in their lives have changed. Parents of pre-schoolers don’t care about those infant formula offers that were so welcome a year ago. Companies using email marketing “have to constantly get new sign-ups,” notes Ambrose. “They can’t expect customers to be interested in a product forever.”
Let people go if they want: It may sound counterintuitive, but making it easy for customers to unsubscribe from your emails may help you more than stubbornly holding onto them. Only 16 percent of consumers believe their intent to purchase from a company declined after unsubscribing, according to one study. On the other hand, making it difficult to unsubscribe can seriously damage a brand’s credibility.