Real Magnet

Great Email Ideas (until everybody starts using them)

I was sick of Cyber Monday a week before it started. That’s when the emails started to hit, pre-announcing Cyber Monday deals, and offering early access to Cyber Monday Savings. The volume and urgency picked up through Thanksgiving weekend, building to a deafening crescendo in my inbox on Monday itself. Even today the decrescendo continues, as many merchants have graciously extended their Cyber Monday deals another day or two for my benefit, and emailed me a few times about it.

It’s no wonder CyberMonday was a week-long event, actually. With all that email clutter and literally dozens of messages in my inbox screaming almost the same exact subject line, multiple sends were likely necessary for many merchants to command the attention they wanted. Some reports are measuring the use of “Cyber Monday” in subject lines this year up 10 percentage points over last year, and that doesn’t even include the “Cyber Monday” messages sent on days other than Cyber Monday.

The day itself has grown to enormous significance for online retailers, and is the busiest of the year for many of them. So it makes sense for each individual retailer to do everything it can to take advantage of the mindshare that Cyber Monday creates. The problem is what happens in inboxes as retailers collectively all employ the same exact tactic. Instead of differentiation, sameness and clutter ensue. And emails designed to drive action urgently are glossed over and archived instead, as the triage process becomes too onerous.

That is the fate of a lot of well-conceived ideas: they work great, until everybody else starts using them. Then they backfire and ultimately have to be abandoned, along with the marketing gains they originally created. Here are a few other great ideas in email, whose popularity now renders them ineffective:

1. The Daily Deal: Groupon was a great idea. LivingSocial ripped it off wholesale, but executed it well so they’re still doing fine. But now I’m getting Daily Deals from half a dozen retailers I’ve shopped at over the past year, and even publishers who have a daily audience they’re trying to further leverage. There is no more room on this bandwagon. Even if you have an audience’s attention every day, or you have something to sell every day and could aggregate an audience with it, the Daily Deal is no longer a differentiation tactic. It makes a brand look like they couldn’t think of anything else to do (the same reaction to giving away an iPad as a trade show promotion, so it’s time to stop that as well).

2. Subscription Creep: I’m a strong advocate of creating new newsletters to better target niches within your subscriber base. But I’m noticing a variation of the trend that runs afoul of email best practices, particularly when everybody starts doing it. Increasingly, marketers are creating new newsletters – niche or otherwise – and then adding their entire subscriber base to the distribution list. Now if you really like a brand that is sending you email, you might appreciate the newsletter and stay subscribed. But if 20 other brands have all started sending you new newsletters that you didn’t expressly opt into, you’ve about had it with the 21st, even if it comes from your BFF brand. A better idea is to use a trial send of 1-3 issues of the newsletter, with a header that informs your subscribers that they’re getting this as a trial and giving them a link to subscribe when the trial expires. If they don’t subscribe, respect their wishes and stop sending it to them. Otherwise they might unsubscribe from everything you send them, including the critical revenue-producing stuff.

3. Asking, “Are you sure you want to leave?” People unsubscribe. It’s inevitable, and given the common placement of the Unsubscribe link way at the bottom of an email, usually hidden in a muted typeface color and very small (itself a poor choice), it is rarely an accident when someone clicks on it. Yet many of the unsubscribe pages that follow challenge the subscriber’s action, asking them if they are sure they would like to unsubscribe, and insinuating that the click was somehow made in error. If the only place your subscribers were asked to double confirm their intention to leave were on the unsubscribe page, it would not be too egregious an offense. But now websites have taken to the practice, with Google leading the charge. Try to leave the site and you’re often served a popup that asks if you really mean to go. Compounded on top of the same challenge issued at unsubscribes, it is aggravating for your subscribers, even if Google is the chief offender. That’s really the heart of the issue with these tactics – that someone else pushes their acceptability past the limit, causing everyone who is using them to suffer. If it’s any consolation, it raises more ire against Google than it does against email marketers, since people try to leave Google’s site far more often than they unsubscribe from your lists.