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Your Subscribers Are Talking. Are You Listening?

  |  December 2, 2009   |  Comments

If you want to improve your program, you need to hear what subscribers are thinking and telling people.

If you want to run a thriving e-mail program, you need a continuous source of subscriber feedback, through compliments, complaints, and concerns.

Your subscribers have many more options today to express themselves. If you aren't hearing from them, it doesn't mean they aren't talking. It just means you aren't listening closely.

Even when the news isn't good, you need to hear what subscribers are thinking (or telling other people) if you want to improve your program and keep it strong.

You can learn a lot by watching how your subscribers interact with -- or ignore -- your e-mail messages (see suggestions in "Boost Deliverability by Listening Better"). A combination of new and old tactics also helps you make sure you're holding up your end of the conversation.

Deep-Six "Do Not Reply"

I hate seeing those words anywhere in an e-mail message, whether it's in the sender line in the inbox ("do-not-reply@example.com") or a line that says "Do not reply to this e-mail."

You're telling your subscribers that you won't pay attention to them unless they comment appropriately. That defeats your other efforts to build engagement with subscribers, which you need to build a strong e-mail program.

The Feedback Link

This is still your most direct, measurable communication link with your subscribers. If you aren't getting traffic on it, buff it up and make it more inviting.

  • Can subscribers find it? Maybe not, if you stick it way down at the bottom, under your boilerplate administrative copy or in a sea of social-networking icons. Make it stand out with icons or bold fonts to catch the eye of subscribers who have comments.

  • Extend an active invitation to connect. Does your link say "Contact us?" Be specific and encouraging: "Have concerns or compliments? We're listening" or "How can we help?" Or my perennial favorite: "You have questions? We have answers!"

Social Networks

These can form another communication channel, although they won't replace your feedback link. Your invitation to participate should answer the classic customer question: "What's in it for me?"

A link that says "Join Us" or "Become a Fan" might appeal to your most rabidly enthusiastic subscribers, but it doesn't provide the less loyal an incentive to sign up. Instead, you can shape expectations with invitations such as "Join the Conversation" or "See What Others are Saying." Test several calls to action to see which gets more traction.

Click to Call/Click to Chat

More e-mail messages have links to live help. These also don't replace your feedback link, but they're still a good source to learn what's on people's minds.

Check with your call-center staff to find out the top reasons why subscribers click those links. Then incorporate those issues and your responses in your regular marketing campaigns.


Your analytics reports tell you what people really do with your e-mail. These metrics can tell you which navigation element gets a disproportionately high number of clicks or actually collects no clicks. This unspoken feedback can help you create better navigation, such as a secondary "hot deals" navigation link, and safely move elements that get no clicks to a less prominent position.

Instead of using a single call-to-action, add a side rail (set of links on one side of your message), linking to the most popular deals not featured elsewhere in the message. This adds exposure for your secondary deals without taking away from your primary content.

Also, change your navigation from time to time to take advantage of seasonal changes. Don't throw out everything that works; just watch how click habits change throughout the year. Highlighting new seasonal merchandise or a selection of bargain-price gifts might drive more attention than your standard categories.


These build engagement three ways:

  1. You get feedback on the topics you choose.

  2. You can get click activity when subscribers aren't in buying mode.

  3. You can segment and target your most frequent responders with special deals or invitations to join advisory panels.

One caveat: use the information you get from your polls and make it public. I recently received an e-mail from a computer company that had polled its customers about one of its products and then published the results in its newsletter. The top result showed respondents didn't know what the product was, but the company didn't capitalize on that information to explain the product, benefits, etc.

Final Word: RSVP

None of your efforts to find creative ways to collect feedback will pay off if you don't use what you've learned. As the previous example showed, that company wasted a great opportunity to showcase a product that many of its customers didn't know about.

If you change something because of what you learned from subscribers or customers, let them know that you heard them and acted.

Until next time, keep on delivering!


Stefan Pollard

Stefan Pollard, who started his career in online marketing in 1999, was considered a selfless mentor and champion of best practices in e-mail marketing. He held the position of senior strategic consultant at Responsys where he was responsible for developing e-mail marketing and lifecycle messaging strategies to increase clients' ROI. Before that, Stefan led the e-mail consulting program for Lyris clients, frequently speaking at industry events on best practices. Prior to that, he managed the audit process and consulted with clients to improve their e-mail delivery challenges for Habeas. As an e-mail marketer, he spent several years building and executing acquisition and retention campaigns at E-Loan and Cybergold.com. He died May 14, 2010.

In Memoriam: Stefan Pollard
E-mail marketing community mourns the loss of a marketing pro dedicated to helping his peers and clients and working to improve an industry. Here are their tributes celebrating his life.

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