Evidence, Please Part II
By Ken Magill
Last week’s piece calling for an example of any email marketer who implemented best practices and yet had harmed their efforts by mailing too frequently resulted in no evidence put forward.
And yes, wise asses, that may say more about my readership than the state of email marketing.
Nonetheless, the piece drew a comment that brought up an important point. Reader David wrote: “For stores that insist on obtaining email addresses upon purchase for their mailing lists, I don't believe this [mailing more frequently] to be a good strategy. They're building mailing lists from customers who feel obligated to give them their email addresses to make the purchase.”
David is absolutely right. Stores that insist on email addresses or make customers feel obligated to fork them over should not send email any more frequently than they do now.
They probably shouldn’t send any email, at least until they clean up their file.
The issue David alludes to is not one of email frequency. It is one of data quality at the point of email address acquisition.
“Point of sale [email address collection] is notoriously bad,” said Laura Atkins, principal of email deliverability consultancy Word to the Wise, in an interview with me in August. “I once had a client with some absolutely horrific deliverability problems and while discussing how to fix this, they said: ‘We expect our retail sales associates to have a 90 percent email-address-collection rate and if they don’t it may result in disciplinary action.’”
Expecting sales associates to achieve a 90 percent email-address-collection rate is highly unrealistic. As a result, it is likely this particular marketer’s list was polluted by its own employees fraudulently meeting their quotas and customers handing over bad addresses.
It wouldn’t matter how frequently or infrequently this retailer sent email. Its list was bad.
Same with the hypothetical retailer David describes. Its email-address-acquisition practices are where its potential problems reside, not campaign frequency.
As reported here two weeks ago, in the three days leading up to Black Friday on 2013, Walmart sent two emails a day for a total of 200 million and saw no outwardly discernable ill effects, according to eDataSource.
For years, my family and I have shopped at Walmart at least once a week. Over the years, we have shopped at many Walmarts. [Save it, haters] Walmart, to my knowledge, doesn’t collect email addresses at point of sale.
However, point-of-sale email address acquisition can apparently be done right.
In 2011, Atkins wrote how she believed PetSmart provided an example of point-of-sale email-address acquisition done properly by setting expectations:
“As I was checking out I showed my loyalty card to the cashier. He ran it through the machine and then started talking about the program,” she wrote.
“Cashier: Did you give us your email address when you signed up for the program?
“Me: I’m not sure, probably not. I get a lot of email already.
“Cashier: Well, if you do give us an email address associated with the card every purchase will trigger coupons sent to your email address. These aren’t random, they’re based on your purchase. So if you purchase cat stuff we won’t send you coupons for horse supplies.
“I have to admit, I was impressed. PetSmart has email address processes that I recommend to clients on a regular basis. No, they’re not a client so I can’t directly take credit. But whoever runs their email program knows recipients are an important part of email delivery. They’re investing time and training into making sure their floor staff communicate what the email address will be used for, what the emails will offer and how often they’ll arrive.
“It’s certainly possible PetSmart has the occasional email delivery problem despite this, but I expect they’re as close to 100% inbox delivery as anyone else out there.”
I can also vouch for PetSmart’s direct-marketing prowess, though they did recently send birthday greetings to our cat, Sheena, who was devoured by a predator last year.
Also, I have no idea where Atkins, for whom I have a great deal of respect, stands on the issue of email campaign frequency.
I am willing to concede that marketers who increase campaign frequency may increase revenue short-term but find out the long-term costs of attrition aren’t worth it. If anyone has an example of that, I’d like to hear it and be given the opportunity to report it.
My point is that aside from sound infrastructure, properly building and maintaining a quality email file is the No. 1 issue in permission based email marketing.
Common sense says everything else cascades from how the list is built and maintained. And there are a slew of debates to be had on that topic alone.
Bottom line: Get real permission. Make sure the incoming data is accurate. Offer real value in your campaigns. Do those three things and campaign frequency becomes a trivial if not non-issue.