What a One Day Email Exercise Taught Me About Marketing Complacency

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Last week I took part in a one day research assignment organized by my colleague Maigen Sawyer. The assignment was to catalogue our emails for an entire day. We were to write down the sender, the subject line, timing, whether we opened it or not and why? We had no preconceived notions on what we were to learn from the exercise. Just observe and see how you are being marketed to. At the end of the day I was surprised by what I learned.

Buried by Email
I can guarantee that I am not alone in having a bloated inbox. By not going through the daily dance of reading and deleting emails as they trickled into my inbox, I was able to see just how much time I was spending being distracted by emails. Email newsletters and updates from companies that I may have ordered from or had downloaded white papers from or viewed webinars. Regardless of whether or not these communications held any relevance to me anymore I had continued to acquiesce to these solicitations.

The Great Unsubscribe
As a consumer I was awakened by how lazy I had been. I was allowing others to steal bandwidth from me with offers that could be categorized as empty at best. At least half of the promotion-based emails were offers that repeated with a frequency that could be easily predicted. Oh, 20% off today only? Let me look back…yup, that one comes every 4 weeks.

After evaluating all of my email and realizing how I was trading off too much of my attention to marketers who were sending me offers and content that were irrelevant. I ran through the list I now had in Excel and reviewed each and every email that seemed to be an offender. I read each email thoroughly to see if the sender had attempted at all to understand me and tailor their communications for me – through my demographics or my behaviors.  I went on a unsubscribe crusade. But this is when it got interesting.

You Had Me at Goodbye
As I worked through my inbox eradicating subscriptions to unwanted noise, I found myself navigating through all types of unsubscribe processes. Some landing pages produced anemic looking pages of nothing more than a header with a poorly rendered company logo and a line of 14 pixel high text saying “YOU HAVE BEEN SUCCESSFULLY UNSUBSCRIBED.” Um…thanks. I’ve purchased product from you and have been blasted by your promotional emails for years and that’s it?

I’m not that needy, really. But those stark goodbye’s were contrasted by some other unsubscribe messages that were downright fantastic. “We’re so sorry! Did we do something wrong?” welcomed me to one opt-out page. It also allowed me to provide feedback on why I no longer wanted to receive their communications. These unsubscribe pages ran the gamut between these two extremes, with many offering to have me alter the frequency of the communications and in some cases segment myself to receive more targeted information.

While I think that some of these options are fantastic for organizations to retain audience members and make the opt-out process less drab, it makes me wonder why the opportunity for users to adjust  their preferences occurs only when the relationship is about to end. It is like when a couple breaks up and the individual getting dumped implores, “I’ll change, I promise! I’ll be better!” Why aren’t marketers making a more overt effort of showing their audience that they are looking for their input to serve them better? Are we , as consumers, too time starved to want to do this? Or have marketers just not innovated a way to capture this other than clickstream and open data?

Relationships are Hard
My takeaway is that there is an opportunity here collaborate with your email audience to better customize your correspondence to be more relevant. Judging from the purge I just performed there’s a good chance everyone is struggling with inbox inundation. Messages are either being ignored, deleted or resented. What are you doing to ensure that you aren’t just delivering generic and irrelevant content? Is there any way to continually refine and nurture your audience members? I can think of one way: ask them.