E-Newsletters and the Power of Change by Jeanne Jennings

Problem: You offer a number of free email newsletters to your customers, but only a small percentage opt in to receive them.

What do you do? Here are a few possible actions, along with their pros and cons, to consider.

Go Opt-Out

This can be tempting to consider, as it appears to be a quick-fix to the problem. The justification usually goes something like this: "If customers haven't seen our email newsletters, how can they really know if they want to receive them? We'll add them to the lists automatically. If they aren't happy receiving them, they can always unsubscribe."

In the short term, your lists will grow very rapidly; but what will it do to your metrics in the long term? Opt-out email addresses don't perform as well as opt-in. The opt-out portion of your list will have lower open, click-through, and, if you're looking for an action, conversion rates than the opt-in portion. This approach may also open you up to spam complaints and jeopardize your relationship with your email service provider (ESP).

If you do decide to go opt-out, put tracking in place so you can view results of opt-in and opt-out subscribers separately. Chances are the opt-out portion will drag down overall metrics. You may be sending more (and if you're paying a CPM fee to your ESP, that will cost you more), but your overall open, click-through, and conversion rates will take a hit.

A final thought on opt-out, based on philosopher Immanuel Kant's categorical imperative, which states: "Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it would become a universal law." In other words, if you're entitled to send email to your customers, without their opt-in, is everyone entitled to do so? I don't know about you, but although I like all the products I buy at the grocery store (and elsewhere), I really don't want to receive email, even if I can opt out, from every company whose products I purchase.

Look at Your Sign-Up Page

When you request someone's email address, there's an underlying quid pro quo; it's a value-based transaction. You must be sure the value you offer is sufficient to entice visitors to provide their email addresses. If it's not, they won't.

Does your sign-up page do a good job of spelling out the benefits of signing up for your newsletters? Do you tell visitors, in benefit-oriented language, what's in it for them? There's a big difference between an email newsletter that "features industry articles" and one that promises to "keep you ahead of industry trends and help you do your job better." Which would you sign up for?

Even if your email newsletters are free, you must still market them. The descriptions above could refer to the same email newsletter, but positioning the content as something that will benefit the reader speaks more directly to the value proposition.

Examine Your Topics

Maybe the topics you're offering, no matter how you describe them, don't appeal to your audience. For instance, there's a good chance you're reading this column because you value ClickZ's columns about email marketing and opted in to receive them. What if ClickZ launched new email newsletters on movies, music, or recipes? Would you be as excited to see those in your inbox, especially if you haven't opted in to receive them?

Probably not. ClickZ readers who are interested in those topics likely already get that information from other sources. ClickZ isn't regarded as an authority in those areas. Be sure the topics you cover interest your readers and are areas in which you offer some type of expertise or unique perspective.

Assess Your Success With Opt-In Subscribers

How well are you meeting business goals with opt-in subscribers? Where do your metrics fall: at or above industry benchmarks, or below them? Are you seeing the desired results from your efforts?

If customers who opted in to receive email from you don't engage via opens, clicks, and conversions, and if the results don't meeting your business goal, be it retention, up- or cross-sell, or something else, you may have a larger problem to address. It may be time to reevaluate and refocus your email program. This could mean different topics or another approach entirely.

Don't Fear Change

Things change. The macro environment, business goals, and readers' needs aren't stagnant. Your email program shouldn't be stagnant, either. Take the time to investigate what's going on; sometimes the quick fix isn't really a solution at all.

Until next time,