The steps you need to take to build a quality email marketing campaign are well documented all over the web. Today, I'd like to focus on how to tell when you've crossed the line and become SPAMMY and what to do to recover from it. The truth is that even well intentioned email marketers can cross the line. You need to know how to recognize it when it happens and you need to know that it's not fatal...if you take the right actions to get back on course.
How do you know you've become a SPAMMER
In my experience there are only two things that I need to examine to determine if a business is being SPAMMY.
1. Email Content: You're only sending sales or promotional emails. You can get away with this IF you promised at the outset that you'd only be sending emails like this...and it's a fit for your business. It works if you're a retailer or restaurant and everyone on your list signed up to get the weekly deals. If that's not you, good luck, this approach will blow up in your face eventually.
2. Email Results: You get more unsubscribes and SPAM complaints then clicks. Seems obvious, but it's worth saying. Watch your unsubscribes. I usually don't worry too much about them unless the numbers are high (if more than 1% of your list jumps ship on a single email start paying attention). It's the SPAM complaints that are the real red flag. Why? Your subscriber usually has to take an extra step to report a SPAM complaint when they unsubscribe. If they're doing more work to complain, you've gone the extra mile to aggravate them.
Again, if it's just one or two complaints from your list of 1000, I wouldn't be too worried. But if it spikes, it's an indication you've broken a promise with your list.
Be really concerned when the number of unsubscribes and SPAM complaints is higher than the number of clicks you're getting. This is an especially bad sign that your relationship with your list is experiencing a disconnect. Like all relationships you need to fix it with humility, service, honesty and gratitude.
How to get your email list to love you again
1. Stop thinking of "it" as an email list! Start thinking of "them." The individual people who are subscribed to your list. If you're a small business owner you probably know these people. They've been in your business or you know them from the community. Think about Bob your off and on customer. Think about Elizabeth from your Chamber of Commerce. Understand that your email marketing (and really all of your marketing) is about these people. Not your "list."
2. Be humble. I don't mean be meek...there's a difference. But approach your email list from an perspective of humility. These people have opened their inbox to you...for most that's a pretty intimate place (I often joke during speeches that it's the only way anyone other than my wife can get in my pants...where I carry my iPhone).
When you approach your email marketing from a perspective of humility it will come through in your writing. It's difficult to humbly hard sell someone. Don't get me wrong, hard sells do work in email. But they are a short term strategy. Over time they will wear out your list. If you're in business for the long haul then you need a strong, but subtle approach.
3. Take an attitude of service. Once you start thinking of your list as the individuals on it, it becomes much easier to understand how you can serve your list. I am a firm believer in the philosophy of givers gain. Be of service to the people on your list. Make your email marketing worth their time by giving them something that only you can uniquely offer...your expertise and perspective.
4. Be honest. If you step in pooh as you walk into a cocktail party, you might as well point it out...everyone can smell the stink anyway. Come clean with your list. Apologize for stepping out of bounds and show the way forward. Pointing out your own flaws shows strength. And in the end the people on your list are there to be lead. Show them that you have a plan to lead them forward and tell them why the journey is important.
Your true fans will rally around you. And you'll build anticipation for the good stuff to come.
5. Show gratitude to the people who pointed out your error. Figure out a way to personally contact (by telephone if you can) the people who complained. Apologize, then thank them for alerting you to a weakness in your email marketing approach. Explain what you're doing to correct it and tell them they are welcome back if and when they are ready. For many email marketers this isn't possible. Often you've only got their email address and you can't send them anything because of the complaint. In that case, say it publicly. You may not reach everyone who complained, but you'll show your future subscribers that you're transparent and you listen.
6. Make and keep two promises.
- Tell your subscribers what type of content you'll be sending, including offers.
- Make them a promise on the frequency of your emails going forward.
And keep both promises!
You may get more unsubscribes when you make these promises. That's OK. You're setting new rules and some people won't want to continue. Get them off your list now.
Once you commit you need to stay consistent.
Fully 9 out of 10 of my clients fear high email frequency when we are designing their email marketing plan. But frequency is not what generates SPAM complaints. Broken promises and inconsistency generate SPAM complaints.
As an example, I get a great daily newsletter called Early to Rise. It's not one of these joke a day or word of the day emails that are just a few sentences long. It's usually a 2000-4000 word article each day. But I read it for three reasons:
- I signed up knowing it would come every day.
- The content they send is exactly as they promised.
- The content is highly relevant to me.
The publishers honor the promises they made to me (and that I willingly accepted).
The real truth is that high frequency, relevant emails sent with permission will generate fewer complaints then low frequency (like quarterly) blasts. The simple reason is familiarity. If you're only touching the people on your list once a quarter they'll forget that they wanted to hear from you in the first place.
If you've created a SPAM problem, don't worry too much. If you catch it early, you can correct the problem and emerge with a stronger relationship with the people on your list.
Photo courtesy Kevin Dooley.