3 Ways to Use the Golden Rule for Email Marketing

For the New Year, let’s promise to honor email and privacy communications preferences.

Apart from Spammers, Scammers, and Crackers, most marketers want to make sure their email reputation is intact. Recently Return Path offered excellent best practices for treating your subscribers well.

Rather than just comply with the law, why not get it right from the beginning? If you believe in permission marketing, then you also believe that its essence is the Golden Rule. Here is how a Golden Rule Marketer would handle communication preferences.

1. Ask how you would want to be treated?

Everyone uses email. Even email marketers who have legitimate and helpful information to share. Ask your team about email practices they love and ones they hate. Build a process which creates love and avoids hate.

Make working with you easy. Unsubscribe links should be easy to find on your site and emails.

2. What sort of options for unsubscribing or managing your preferences would you like?

I like to see clear options in a human readable format (Yes or No vs the Checkbox). Avoid the urge to use legalese and take the time to convert regulations and privacy promises into an easy to use web page.

3. How will you ensure you fulfill your promises and comply with the law?

Create a clear internal process which mirrors your externally facing statements. Make sure someone is responsible for monitoring errors as well as the “unsubscribe@yoursite.com” email box. Check these at least once a day and solve problems quickly with a real response to the person who raised a complaint. It’s amazing how being responsive defuses an irate person and avoids negative publicity.

Some of you may ask “What about the size of my email list? I’ll lose people!” Not at all. If you offer a full range of subscription options, you will keep the people who are interested in engaging with you and you will engage with them in the way they want to. Your business is about helping people. When you help customers and subscribers choose how to interact with you, then you ensure that you are only spending time and money on those most likely to help you bring in revenue.

Here are a couple of my experiences in 2011:

Unsubscribe Failures of 2011

These are firms who did not obey the Golden Rule:

Scripps NetworksTravel Channel and Food Network:

I made the mistake of entering a few of their contests earlier in the year despite knowing I would never win. I decided to unsubscribe instead of pressing “Report as Spam” because I know that I would want others to Unsubscribe from my emails instead of ruining my email reputation.

That was a waste of time! If you look at the screen shot, you’ll see they actually require more information from me to unsubscribe. There is no way to avoid giving them more personal information. That’s a big Golden Rule Fail.

Food Network Screen Shot of Unsubscribe Link

Is BMW a Spammer?

As a marketer, I pay close attention to CANSPAM and Reputation compliance so I can reach people who want to be reached as well as comply with the law. In this November 30, 2011 post, David Meerman Scott discusses how BMW failed to properly manage their email communication systems. The fact that David had to post this means BMW did a poor job managing their systems.

BMW did respond quickly and apparently fixed the issue. The entire situation demonstrates that even firms who care about their image can still get it wrong.

Why not get it right the first time when you setup your email system?

Firms Who Remembered the Golden Rule (and CAN-SPAM)

Who does this well?

I think a few firms are doing this well by going beyond the regulations and making it easy to change preferences and easy to find the way to do so. Doing Subscription Management well means offering a Subscription Center with options for

  • Frequency of emails
  • Type of Email (newsletter, invitations, promotions, etc…)
  • Channel of communication: phone, mail, email, text, etc…
  • Total Unsubscribe
  • Human readable choices like “Send me your newsletter = Yes or No”

Economist Intelligence Unit (ok, I built this page originally!) Notice the clear options and examples of what you receive. Also we made sure to comply with the Group Privacy and Communications policy.

Marketo Subscription Management. Sure, I use Marketo and they have great documentation on how to do a better job managing email communications. Their subscription management tool is definitely a solid example of how to do it right.

Avitage also does this well. Their description could be clearer though.

All three firms could do an even better job by adding a “Subscription Management” link on their website footer as well as from their Privacy pages. I was surprised marketing automation firm HubSpot did not have those links either.

Do you think these rules work? Share your subscription stories!

Happy Spam Free 2012. :)


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