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Email Marketing Gone Bad

Usually Heidi reports successful email marketing case studies. But today she tells the story of a company that just doesn't get it. Speaking from the consumer perspective, Heidi tells you how she got on the mailing list of a company she's never heard of or requested info from. Despite numerous attempts, she can't get off the mailing list. And now they've started sending her a second newsletter!

Most weeks, I focus on successful email marketing case studies. (Not surprisingly, businesses don’t want to share their mistakes with you and me.) But today I’m going to show you a case study of a company that just doesn’t get it when it comes to email marketing. And I’ll be doing so from the consumer perspective, since I’ve been the unfortunate recipient of an email marketing approach gone bad.

I’d like to be able to tell you when it began, but that’s part of the problem I can’t figure out when this mess started, and no one at the company is willing to tell me. Here’s what I do know. About a month or so ago, I began receiving a customized newsletter, one that lists the top news stories of the day with links to web pages containing the full story.

Now, I’m a happy subscriber to two of these types of services, from InfoBeat and Backwire, so I appreciate their value. But in those cases, I clearly remember registering for the services, and I seem to recall getting a confirmation email thanking me for signing up. I have absolutely no idea, however, how I got on the mailing list of this company, whose name will go unmentioned and from which I never received an email asking me to confirm I had opted in.

So far, so bad. I’ve gotten email I didn’t ask for from a business with which I have no relationship. All I need to do is unsubscribe from the newsletter, and I’ll never see it again, right?

Hmmm… I click on the link at the bottom, the one that says, “To update your newsletter selections or unsubscribe, please go to: Change Newsletter Selection.” It takes me to a web page that asks me to enter my email address and password. After logging in, I should be able to go to an unsubscribe page.

Well, in my book, here’s another problem. A company should make it as easy as possible to unsubscribe from its newsletter. That doesn’t mean wandering through a web site; it means hitting a reply button or clicking one link in an email message that takes you to some sort of “Are you sure you wish to unsubscribe?” link on a web page. One more click, and you should be wiped from their memory.

But, OK, I’ll go through the drill because I want off this list. Even though I don’t remember signing up for the newsletter, I’m confident that I know the password, since I have only two passwords I use when registering for web sites. I try the first no dice. I try the second again I come up empty.

Now I’m really suspicious, but I’ll give them one more chance before I start complaining, loudly. There’s a lost password form that you fill out. Once completed, the company promises to send you an email message containing your password if the current email address you supply matches up with an address in their database. I filled out the form; raise your hand if you’re surprised I didn’t get my password emailed to me. I repeated this twice more over the past two weeks and got the same lack of response.

That did it. I went to their Contact Us form and sent a polite letter asking someone from the public relations department to contact me, as I was writing a column for ClickZ. (No phone number was listed on the site – another disappointment although not a surprise.) That was five days ago, and I still haven’t heard from anyone. To make matters worse, now I’ve started receiving a second newsletter from this service, this one focused on women’s health, diet, and fitness.

The temporary solution is the filter I’ve set up on my mailbox that sends these messages right to the trash; at least I’m not upping their open rates so they can provide false info to their advertisers. But I’m not satisfied with the work-around approach.

The next step is contacting their ISP, my ISP, MAPS, and anyone else I can think of who has the power to stop this company from their unsavory practices. Maybe then they’ll lose more than just one customer. I’ll keep you posted.

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