06 December 2014 ~ 0 Comments

Breaking Trust and Losing Permission

email-too-much_smallThe number of holiday sales emails this year is ridiculous! In past years I received one or two extra emails per list. Three was “aggressive”.

But this year I’m getting three per day from some retailers and they simply don’t seem to care that their practice is annoying their list members and current customers. After all — we can just hit the unsubscribe button, right?

The week prior to Thanksgiving I received emails for Black Friday specials saying that “Black Friday Starts Now” and giving me “Early Access to Black Friday Pricing”, etc.  All week long I got at least one or two emails (per retailers whose list I’m subscribed) talking about the early access they were giving me to holiday specials.

On the eve and day of Thanksgiving the messages multiplied like relatives visiting for the holidays. Now the retailers wanted me to know about their Thanskgiving Day sale AND don’t forget about Black Friday sales.  All of these messages spoke to the limited time savings and “one-day only special pricing”.

…Until the next day.
The day-after all of these one-day-only sales came the email blasts touting the fact the sales had been extended. Just for the weekend (we swear!) and then they sent me three more emails each just to make sure they highlighted an individual item from their massive selection of savings. A full week later I am STILL getting amplified and compounded holiday savings offers from the same vendors over and over and over and over again.  I guess they figure if even one person is still on the list, they should keep mailing. I mean, it’s not SPAM, right? The people on the list asked for it by opting in.

I took to my personal Facebook page and tried to “shame” them in social media. I told the same story above and said I’d be keeping a list of naughty email marketers and tagging them in the post. Out of the dozen names I mentioned only TWO responded (I assume the others were really busy prepping their email messages for the day.)

The first retailer told me I was mistaken in thinking they were sending more emails than normal.  I told them to compare the past week of emails to the number of emails they send the OTHER 51-weeks of the year and get back to me. They did. With a response that said, well yeah, they may have sent a couple of extra emails, but they don’t send nearly as many emails as the other guys.

They seem to miss the point where even if they “only” tripled the number of emails they sent, the cumulative effect of their 3X emails multiplied by those of the other lists I’m on who are sending (by this retailer’s count) “more than us” is staggering.

While the first respondent tried to justify their actions, the second retailer to respond took an entirely different approach. They apologized for the fact I felt I was receiving too many messages and directed me to the unsubscribe link.

Wow. This is how disposable a cash-on-the-counter customer and list-member has become to retailers.

Author’s note:
I just deleted an even longer-winded rant in this section right here.
I’m thinking you get the point.
You’ve probably experienced some of this yourself in the past couple of weeks.

Here’s the crux of my argument:
People absolutely joined your list because they wanted to hear about discount prices. No arguments from me on this point. Studies show this is the number one reason people sign-up for email lists and Like/Follow companies on social media.

But it’s not the ONLY reason.  

I joined many of the lists because I liked hearing about new products, or I like the sense of humor in the the copywriting, or I simply liked what the company was doing and wanted to keep up on special announcements. I have no problem deleting or not reading the occasional email about sales. I understand it was part of the deal. But when you constantly nag me to buy your stuff, I don’t want to hang around you anymore.

Have you ever had a friend who joined a cult?

…I mean, joined a Multi Level/Network Marketing company?

The original comparison was always to Amway, but now there is no shortage of fitness shakes and diet cookies and skin creams and nutritional supplements, etc.  All of a sudden this person you used to enjoy hearing from or seeing their cute cat photos and internet memes posts on their Facebook wall is now posting overt product pitches and trying to get you into their “downlone” for whatever they are selling.

What did you end up doing?
You hid their profile and programmed your Facebook settings to not display their posts, or you unfollowed (or unfriended!) them completely.  And that was a FRIEND (sometimes FAMILY!)  How long do you think a retail email list subscriber will last in the face of overwhelming and relentless pitches from a corporate logo?  Not nearly as long.

I don’t have research figures to back up this theory, but my guess is there are more Unsubscribes from business email lists at this time of year than any other.  The marketers forget how much time and money (and trust!) it took to get someone to sign-up in the first place, but hey — you don’t like what we’re doing? Buh-bye.

The solution was so simple

All they had to do at the start of the season was to create a branch list consisting of all the existing members who “didn’t want to miss out on a single sales special”.  Here’s how it might have looked:

Subject: We respect your inbox (but we don’t want you to miss a thing!)

Dear List Subscriber,
It’s the holiday shopping season and that means lots of promotions and sales alerts filling your email inbox.  

We love having you as a member of our email family and truly value the trust you demonstrated in our company by sharing your email address and granting us permission to contact you with ideas and information we think you might find valuable about our brand.

We normally email you once per week with this kind of information, but to make sure you’re staying up to date on the biggest savings and exciting sales this season, we plan to send emails twice-per-day (one in the morning and one in the evening) until December 1 with details related specifically to sale pricing. On December 2 we will return to our regularly scheduled weekly emails. 

BUT if sales alerts are not your thing, we respect (and especially love!) our friends who enjoy paying full-retail prices and want to give you the opportunity to opt-out of these more frequent holiday emails.  Just click the button below to maintain your regular weekly emails, or stay on the primary email list and if ever gets to be too much for your inbox, you can click a similar link we’ll be including at the bottom of every sales alert.

Thank you for being our customer (you’re definitely on Santa’s NICE list this year!)

Technically, you should have the “Sales Seekers” opt-in to the separate list group, but the opt-out variation is still better than just burying them all equally under a barrage of bargains (plus non-responders or those who want to wait-and-see are assumed to be interested, but can jump off the list by the promise of the bail-out button which should be included in every message.)

This solution allows you to set the expectation of increased emails to the list, earns the respect of the list members who didn’t want to have their inboxes flooded with sales flyers, AND now you have a list of people who’d LOVE to hear about your sales more than any other members on your list.  Perhaps more businesses should consider this idea (and the positive benefits it delivers) than the “love our list or leave our list” approach currently in practice by the majority of marketers.

And if this article wasn’t already long enough…

Here is a pop culture example of abusing permission-based relationships courtesy of one of my favorite movies, Swingers.  Watch the scene below (fair warning about an F-bomb at 02:21 for those with sensitive ears) and think in terms of permission-based marketing practices.

Nikki (the girl referenced in the scene below) gave Mike permission to contact her and follow-up in the future. Similarly, an email list member gives your company permission to OCCASIONALLY contact them regarding special offers and important announcements. Unfortunately, a lot of these companies (not yours, of course!) are “pulling a Mikey” and repeatedly sending and sending and sending (and still sending!) messages they feel are important regardless of whether or not the customer (Nikki) thinks that same information holds the same value to them personally.

Like Nikki, your list members will quickly revoke their permission.