Strong opinions, weakly held

Tag: marketing

How to treat email subscribers

Today I spent some time going through the huge number of unread emails in my inbox and found that most of them were from a bunch of mailing lists that I’ve been subscribed to for donating money, buying things, or otherwise submitting forms on the Internet that happened to have my email address in them. I then went about unsubscribing from dozens of marketing email lists and had some thoughts on the experience.

I understand why everybody wants to send me email. It’s a way to reach out to me that I may actual pay attention to, even if I never go back to the Web site. Digital marketing people will tell you that email marketing is very effective, much more so than other paid advertising campaigns. I may hate all that email, but I’m lazy about unsubscribing. Since I’ve been working in analytics, I have also become more sympathetic to marketers, mainly because math behind marketing is cruel.

If you want to grow your business on the Web, you have to increase engagement with your existing audience or you have to add new people to your audience. There are costs associated with either option. Increasing engagement usually means paying people to improve the experience of using the Web site — engineers, designers, product managers, customer support people, and so on. Sending email to people who have already given you their email address is a comparatively cheap way to reengage them.

Growing your audience is even more difficult, because there are no sure things. You can pay for traffic (ads), you can work on search engine optimization, or you can try even more speculative approaches. This is how companies get into businesses like paying bloggers to talk about their products. Even if you take it as a given that the most important component of success is making awesome things people want, there’s still the matter of telling people about it. Just assuming that “If you build it, they will come” is a luxury few companies can afford.

Given that email marketing isn’t going away, here are a few tips to make it suck less. First, how to keep me from unsubscribing in the first place.

Your best shot is to make your email really interesting. I almost never visit Quora, but I do read the Quora Weekly Digest, and often click through. They do a great job of sending me an email every week that has a few really interesting links in it. I kept that subscription.

This demand that email marketers produce interesting stuff goes for nonprofits I’ve donated to as well. Your email should consist of more than a guilt trip.

Your next best shot is to let me know how I can buy things I want at a discount. This works best for specialty retailers who don’t offer discounts frequently. I may hate your emails, but if I can occasionally get a really good deal on an item I want, I’ll stick around, probably.

Nothing else is likely to keep me on your mailing list.

Now let’s talk about unsubscribing. There are tons of blog posts about unsubscribe best practices. Here’s one from Marco Marini, the CEO of ClickMail Marketing. Here’s another one by an important sounding fellow who works in direct marketing. The most important advice in both of them is to accept that people will unsubscribe and to make the process of unsubscribing straightforward.

I’m glad to see people in the industry strongly encouraging email marketers to make unsubscribing easy. Many email marketers have not taken this advice. One charitable organization required me to submit my zip code in order to unsubscribe. Many others require you to reenter your email address, or specify which emails you don’t want any more. Some use dark patterns to trick you into staying on their lists at the last minute. Other emails don’t even include an unsubscribe link, which is illegal these days, I think.

That said, the industry recommendations are still too mild. Here’s how it should actually work:

  1. There should be a clearly labeled unsubscribe link in every email.
  2. When you click on the link, you should be removed from the mailing list in question immediately without taking any further action.
  3. That’s it.

As an email marketer, it behooves you to include a form on the confirmation page that suggests to the user that they stick around, while making it clear that if they do nothing else, they won’t get any more email. You can ask them why they unsubscribed if you think that’s useful, but I would recommend using analytics to measure the effectiveness of your emails rather than asking people. The point is, this may be your last chance to reengage this user, make it count and don’t try to trick them.

If your company has multiple mailing lists, you do have some thinking to do about UI, because you have to figure out whether your unsubscribe link should remove the user from all email lists, or just the list associated with the email. You should probably err on the side of removing them from everything, because unsubscribing from a list and getting email from that sender later is frustrating and raises the likelihood that your email will be reported as spam.

Aside from the fact that as a marketer, frustrating your customers is a bad idea, getting your emails reported as spam can prevent your email from getting delivered at all. Making it painless to unsubscribe is ultimately a way to improve your email delivery rates, which enables you to make sure your email gets to people who actually want it.

Chances are, more engineers than marketers read my blog. The message to you is that your employer is probably producing marketing emails, and you should do a bit of research and make sure that it doesn’t suck at email. The job you save may ultimately be your own.

The point of political advertising

Seth Godin on political ads:

Political TV advertising is designed to do only one thing: suppress the turnout of the opponent’s supporters. If the TV ads can turn you off enough not to vote (“they’re all bums”) then their strategy has succeeded.

There are positive ads as well that are intended to encourage turnout from supporters, but there’s no doubt that he’s right about negative ads.

Here’s my strategy for choosing who to vote for: I never vote for crooks. If a politician seems to be a crook, I won’t vote for them regardless of party. Then I vote for the party whose goals align most closely with my own, regardless of the individual candidate (as long as they’re not a crook).

The secret of the iPhone app store

In an Ars Technica article on the Palm Pre, Jon Stokes explains the benefit the app store provides for the iPhone platform as well as I’ve ever seen:

Even so, you might think 1,000 apps should be plenty to fit everyone’s needs, but then you misunderstand how the iPhone’s App Store contributes to Apple’s success. In short, 100,000 apps is a really, really long tail, and in that tail everyone can find one or two goofy, niche apps that they really like. And when they find those apps—my dad loves the bubble wrap and the Bible translations, my wife loves the koi pond and the kiddie apps that entertain my daughter, and I like the IRC clients—they show it off to friends and family. And when one of my dad’s non-iPhone friends sees the bubble wrap and the six different Bible translations, that person doesn’t say to himself, “my God, it has bubble wrap and Bibles. I must buy this phone.” Rather, he says, “if it has bubble wrap and Bibles, I bet it has something really cool for me, too. I must buy this phone.”

The power of the long tail for app stores is that everyone can find and share a handful of quirky little apps that really excite them for whatever reason. And when they share those apps, they’re essentially shilling for the platform, not the specific apps. Every time two people pull out their iPhones in a crowd and start trading recommendations for incredibly niche apps that fit their specific interests, everyone who doesn’t have an iPhone feels like they’re missing out.

I also learned that the Palm Pre has a mirror on the back. I had no idea.

Photo by Flickr user Ryan Orr.

Convincing people of their incapability

My favorite commercial on TV is for some kind of kitchen gadget. I don’t remember what it’s supposed to do, but it features a woman sticking a knife into an orange and wincing as citrus juice shoots into her eye. The point: performing some seemingly simple task is in fact difficult and dangerous, and you should purchase whatever gadget it is they’re selling to make your life easier.

Michael Ruhlman makes the argument that a huge portion of the food industry is built around convincing people that they’re too stupid to cook. Or that cooking is too hard to bother with.

If I had to pick one bone with the marketing and advertising professions, this would be it. I don’t have an issue with people touting the advantages and capabilities of their products, but I’m disgusted by the corrosive effort to convince people that they are helpless (or unsafe) without whatever product is being pitched. This is of course a problem that goes beyond the food industry — it’s everywhere. And if you asked me to identify the most powerful negative effect advertising has had on society, this is what I’d point toward.

Hulu remembers the early adopters

For their one year anniversary, Hulu sent special T-shirts to the first 100 people who registered for the site. Very cool.

Are you a Mac user at heart?

Mindset Media has created a profile of the typical Mac user. As a Mac user, the question isn’t whether you exhibit these qualities (of course you do), but which of your friends who aren’t yet using Macs are the best targets for conversion based on these criteria. Your eMusic-subscribing, Prius-driving, organically-farmed-broccoli-eating, microbrew-drinking, Kucinich-loving, crappy-Acer-laptop-using, know-it-all buddy really needs your help.

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