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Tessa Tinney

You’ve Got (More and More) Mail?

First posted on Media Bistro

Today I have 14,872 unread emails in my junk account—all from brands fighting for my attention.

Most of us have at least one junk account. It’s like the drawer in the kitchen that’s fed everything you might look at, but never do. You ignore it until one day you trash the whole thing because it all seems miserably irrelevant.

Yes, we can just trash the junk email, or ignore it as it piles up, but the fact we perceive it as junk is the problem marketers are ignoring.

Consumers are email fatigued and they’re responding with the unsubscribe button An Exact Target study called “The Social Break Up” showed that 91% of consumers unsubscribe to emails they’ve opted into. Forty-six percent unsubscribe because they feel bombarded by messages and 45% unsubscribe because the messages are irrelevant.

Many big brands are stuck in the email trap: high frequency, repetitive and irrelevant messages. These brands are squandering the opportunity to develop relationships and establish loyalty with customers who’ve given them an invitation to do so in the form of an opt-in. Brands blast lists every day to keep up with one another, ignoring that the need to do so is a symptom of customer apathy or lack of clear differentiation in the marketplace.

There are high-stakes risks in abusing email lists:

  1. Decreased engagement: The more frequently a company emails, the less likely consumers are to click through.
  2. Erosion of brand perception: Annoyance doesn’t build brand loyalty. Quite the opposite.
  3. Shrinking email lists: Marketing teams spend a lot of effort building lists, then blast the hell out of them and watch the attrition

These are my top three love-to-hate brands because of their bad email habits:

  1. Banana Republic: How is it that every day for the last three years has been the last day to save 40% off at Banana Republic? It’s like ground hog day for the business casual crowd. I refuse to pay full price for anything at Banana because I’m certain that if I do, five minutes later it’ll go on sale and I’ll feel like a moron. The constant discount messaging means nothing is special— not the promos and not the merchandise. Maybe the approach is working for sales, but the brand has crawled into a discount hole that will be difficult to escape.
  2. Precious Moments: Don’t ask me why I’m on this list. It’s an embarrassment, but I’ve yet to unsubscribe because I’m fascinated that the company sends emails every single day. No one in the known universe needs to hear from Precious Moments daily. As collectibles (for some people), the products should feel special and valuable rather than ubiquitous and cheap.
  3. Restoration Hardware: Given everything in the store is a variant of taupe, this retailer has no news to share on a daily basis. If it occasionally threw in a purple chair for visual interest and news appeal, I might open the emails once in a while. But not every day. The constant messaging makes the brand look monotonous rather than high end. (Plus, remember the uproar from the 13 catalogs at 3,300 pages and 17 pounds RH sent all at once a few years ago? This retailer hasn’t learned that more isn’t more.)

These are just a few of the dozens of brands I could call out for email abuse. When I asked colleagues for their love-to-hate lists, Bed Bath & Beyond, Old Navy, Gap, and J Crew frequently came up.

The long-term risks of high frequency, generic messaging outweigh short-term rewards. Here are four ways to rethink email and win over customers:

  1. Channels. Break the email addiction and vary your communication channels in surprising ways that engage customers with your brand and products.
  2. Frequency: Some brands can get away with daily emails because the content changes from day to day and is part of the brand promise. (Groupon and The New York Times, for example.) Yet, even these brands should give customers an easy way to set preferences for frequency and types of content.
  3. Branding: Email content overwhelmingly focuses on sales, but how can it be used to further the brand message? Balance sales with human interest content, but get creative and make sure it’s authentic to the brand promise.
  4. Personalization. Make messaging personal—not with a “Dear John” or “from the CEO,” but by smartly segmenting your lists and messages so the right people receive the right messages at the right time. You can send out an email a day this way—but not to the entire list

Brands that get off the everyday-is-email-day bandwagon and get strategic and creative will stand apart and see returns.

In the meantime, my junk inbox now shows 14,999 unread emails. I’m going to use the unsubscribe button to break up with lots of pesky brands that could once consider me loyal.

Good riddance!