Retention E-Mail: Persistence or Arrogance?

In marketing, it’s good to be persistent. But at some point, it may really be time to throw in the towel. Being too persistent with your email marketing can turn readers off and, worse, increase your risk of spam complaints. Here’s a real-world example, straight from my inbox, received on August 30, 2005:

Hello Jeanne,

This is a reminder that on Mar 26 2004, you subscribed to [” ezine in order to receive either a [sic” trial of the [XYZABC” opportunity or three free bonuses.

To see what I am talking about please click on this link.

Yes, you read that right. Over a year and a half ago, I opted in for something on this Web site. Since then, I’ve been constantly receiving email messages like this. They now come every four days, like clockwork. All told, I received six email messages, from two different sources, to this unique address in the last half of August. If that holds steady, that’s 12 email messages per month, or 144 a year.

Is this persistence or arrogance?

I’d actually forgotten about these email messages. About a year ago, I set my spam filter to automatically deliver these to my Deleted Items folder. Then, I got a new computer and found they were still being delivered (I’ve since set my new filter to send them, once again, directly to Deleted Items).

The subject lines rotate from “Jeanne, whoops your forgot this!” to “Jeanne, I need to remind you about this,” to “Jeanne, a polite reminder.” Actually, I didn’t forget this, 144 email messages a year isn’t polite, and stop using my name in the subject line!

Why don’t I just unsubscribe? I don’t trust the company. Who knows how many lists my email address would end up on if I gave proof I was here. Besides, isn’t my silence (no opens, no clicks) after a year enough to tell them I’m just not interested?

Is this an extreme example? Yes.

Yet it illustrates a point that’s hard for email marketers to accept, but one that must be faced: sometimes, people on your list just aren’t that into you. And when that happens, the best thing to do is walk away.

It’s hard. Some email marketers I know have bonuses tied to the quantity of email they send, rather than to its performance. So every email address they stop mailing to is money out of their pockets.

Now there’s another issue. Every nonresponsive email address you continue to send to is a spam complaint waiting to happen. People are really fed up with getting email they don’t want. Spam has come to mean “any email I don’t want” or “any email that annoys me” rather than “any email I didn’t opt in to receive.”

It’s not necessarily fair, but it’s reality. A reality smart email marketers accept and learn to live with.

If this were telemarketing and this organization were leaving voice messages at my office, would it be this persistent? Would I get 144 calls per year, even if I didn’t respond to the messages? Of course not. They’d get the hint. As legitimate email marketers, we must also learn to take the hints our recipients send us.

No opens and no clicks over a designated period of time (2 to 12 months, depending on how often you send) is a hint. It means recipients aren’t interested. If you’re uncertain, send an email (or up to three, to be certain) asking them to respond if they want to remain on your list. If they don’t respond, remove them. At the very least, stop mailing them so frequently.

As a bonus for trimming the deadwood from your list, you’ll see an up tick in your email metrics. A higher open rate and an enhanced CTR (define) will be yours, since the universe you’re sending to (which forms the denominator of those metrics) will be smaller. If you’re paying a CPM (define) to your email service provider (ESP) for the send, those costs will decrease as well, thus sending more dollars directly to your bottom line. It’s a win-win, for your organization and for the recipients who aren’t reading your email anyway.

It’s a matter of respecting your readers, optimizing your email metrics, protecting yourself against spam complaints, and being a responsible netizen.

Want more email marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Reference is an archive of all our email columns, organized by topic.

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