When Push Turns to Shove: E-Mail Relevancy and Frequency

A flurry of competitive activity in various industries is forcing companies to one-up each other on a (seemingly) daily basis. Several companies are revamping, or ramping up, their email marketing strategies. Though the customer is supposed to be the winner, this new deluge of email makes us all losers in the end. Customers are getting tired of all the messages, even though they asked for them.

The problem are the dueling concepts of relevancy and frequency. Simply stated, the old recency, frequency, monetary (RFM) model doesn’t have room for another “R” for relevancy. Does it matter how frequently you talk to clients (and prospects) if you don’t say anything interesting? Even if you do say something interesting, when is it enough, and when it is too much? The more you talk about uninteresting things, the more people you’ll alienate and the higher your unsubscribe rate. Even if you have something interesting to say, everyone needs a break now and then from your constant, though relevant, diatribe. (Note: this is important in your personal life, too!)

Today, two case studies from very different areas of business. United Airlines (UA) is a business-to-consumer (B2C) airline. Dotster is a business-to-business (B2B) company that sells domain names and related services. The companies couldn’t be more different, but both suffer the same problem: I’m sick of their email. They’re overexposed. If they were a Hollywood power couple, I’d boycott their joint movie venture.


Of all the airlines I rag on, I like UA the best. Most of my miles are on UA, and I have two UA affinity credit cards. I’m used to getting UA promotions every two or three weeks. E-mail introduces me to the promotion, then directs me to a Web page to “activate” it. This is how UA tracks an email promotion’s success rate.

Since competitor Delta significantly changed its fare structure, the other major airlines have been scrambling to make changes as well. Because UA must get out its changes and promotions quickly, it seems to be using the same process it uses for its weekly promotions.

Two things about this bother me. In the last 10-14 days, I’ve received maybe eight promotions from UA. Each requires a registration. The landing page doesn’t have my mileage-plus number populated on the form for me. If memory makes it seem as though there were more promotions than there actually were, that’s another point: it seems like too much.

The other problem is some of these “promotions” aren’t promotions, really. They’re announcements. But with a need to get things out quickly, the announcements are sent through the same channels used for promotions. For instance, UA announced in a promotional email a Pet Fare class for traveling with pets. The message should have been consolidated into a multipurpose “what’s new” announcement, not made into its own “promotion.”


I use Dotster to register and maintain my domain names. In the past year, the company has experimented with how it contacts and updates customers. It used to have separate email marketing campaigns triggered by events for each of your domains. For example, every time a domain was about to expire, you’d get a series of email messages. This was fine if you owned one domain. But if you had 80, you’d receive at least an email per week, likely more. At one point, when 15 of my domain names were up for renewal, I felt like Dotster was trying to drown me in email.

In an effort to improve the process, Dotster instituted a series of changes. It finally settled on a weekly update that consolidates all activities and issues across your account. Multiple domains that need renewal or other actions are presented in one email.

I’m still confused, because the company’s tried at least three different ideas in the last year, including an online message center (similar to eBay’s and Amazon.com’s). You receive a message saying, “You have a message waiting for you.” I never clicked to see my messages, and doubt anyone else did, either. Every time Dotster comes up with a new marketing scheme, it announces, “We have changed the way we communicate with you” in its next email. I am so tired of that. I have no idea how it communicates with me because it keeps changing.

If Dotster really wants to consolidate its email marketing, it has one more step: ask me how frequently I want email. Internet domains don’t need weekly, even monthly, upkeep. I’d tell Dotster not to email me about what I consider unimportant events.

For instance, there’s an auto-renewal feature that renews domains before they expire, ensuring I don’t forgot to renew them. I don’t need a reminder every week for two months prior to expiration. If the domains are set to auto-renew, let them take care of themselves. Even an event-triggered promotion can be lumped into a regular consolidated email. I don’t need to know exactly two months before a domain expires. Tell me about it in my next email update.

Frequency, Relevancy, Consolidation

These case studies highlight an overall industry problem: an abundance of professional email isn’t technically spam but is annoying. These companies aren’t trying to spam me. They just don’t know when to shut up. They are the dinner guest at a party who has an interesting story to tell but thinks he has five interesting stories to tell.

Consolidate your offers, promotions, and announcements (and understand the differences between them) into fewer email messages. Consolidate all account activity into one update. Don’t send a bunch of micro-campaigns that will step on each other’s toes. Allow users to choose the update email’s frequency, as fits your business.

Otherwise, users will become frustrated and unsubscribe from all your messages. And we wouldn’t want that now, would we?

Until next time…


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