Email Preferences: Let Your Customers Decide

A recent study by FloNetwork indicated that 31 percent of online consumers would like to receive permission-based email once per week. Another 12 percent would like to receive such emails on a daily basis, while 18 percent would like them a couple of times per week.

Determining Frequency

One reaction to this news has been that many online marketers are asking how frequently their outbound email programs should drop, as if the marketer should ultimately determine how many times a consumer should receive permission-based email. We all need to remember that the customer’s preferences are the determining factor here and that an industry-average email frequency is meaningless in the absence of the context of the offering and the audience.

Even with all the “spamola” flooding the Internet these days, I still look forward to email from my favorite e-commerce sites. One of my personal favorites, Blue Nile, is running what I consider to be one of the best online direct-marketing and CRM campaigns that I’ve ever seen.

Getting Permission

Blue Nile is an e-commerce site that sells jewelry, and it always seems to send me an email when I need it, like when a major gift-giving holiday is coming up. Blue Nile initially snagged my attention when it sent me direct mail — a brochure describing how to do things that many take for granted guys should know how to do. For instance, the direct-mail piece gave detailed instructions on how to carve a turkey, how to bribe a maitre d’ for a good table in a restaurant, and (almost as an afterthought) how to buy a diamond ring.

I eventually bought some jewelry from Blue Nile, giving the company my email address and my permission to be marketed to in the future. Like many guys, I need all the jewelry advice I can get. But in reality, this company could improve its outbound email marketing by letting me set some email preferences.

Right now, Blue Nile sends me gift suggestions around gift-giving holidays like Mother’s Day and Christmas. But I could use some customization here. I’m thinking something along the lines of a calendar application that would let me specify when I would like to receive gift suggestions. It would be really cool to be able to tell Blue Nile when my mother and sister celebrate their birthdays and have it respond with some ideas a couple of weeks beforehand. That way, selections can be shipped with time to spare.

Setting Up a Preference Page

The point is, as a marketer I don’t need an industry average to validate the number of times that I can send email to my customers. Those customers should be telling me how often they want to receive content and offers. Rather than try to guess at customer acceptance by looking at surveys, we should be asking customers for preferences directly.

Acceptance for a serialized daily story might be completely different from acceptance for a notification of weekly specials from an e-commerce site. Customer acceptance is determined by how interested customers are in the marketer’s value proposition, so we need to ask questions in order to gauge that interest.

A problem that goes hand-in-hand with the frequency problem is the notion of acceptance of plain text, HTML, and rich media email.

Marketers can effectively kill two birds with one stone by setting up a preferences page that allows permission email subscribers to set both frequency and format preferences on the same form. After all, not everyone who can receive rich media email necessarily wants to — they may prefer plain text. And it’s wise to avoid inundating consumers with email (or failing to send them enough).

So why not let your customers tell you what they want?

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