When Is Email Marketing A Mistake?
Avoid alienating, annoying, or driving customers away with your emails
Avoid alienating, annoying, or driving customers away with your emails
We all know email marketing is a great way to stay in touch with customers… but it isn’t always relevant to your business.
In the first 21 days of January, I received 10 emails trying to sell me parking at Manchester Airport in the U.K.
I have no departing flights booked and no reason to park there. If anything, these emails were annoying. A deterrent against using their service in the future.
It got me thinking, how many brand’s emails are unnecessary and end up damaging their business?
Today we’re going to explore when email marketing is a mistake for you and your business and what alternatives could be used.
1. The Correct Frequency of Emails
How do you find the correct frequency for your marketing emails? I will tell you, but first, let’s look at the wrong way to do it.
Below is the screenshot from Manchester Airport Parking.
On January 10, they start a campaign by saying, “This weekend only! Up to 20% off parking”
On January 12, they remind me it’s ending at midnight.
On January 15, 17, and 20— it’s somehow back on.
Not only did their campaign contradict its own message by clearly going past “this weekend only,” but the frequency was far too high.
If your event is one weekend only, I can forgive one email for each day of the weekend. What I can’t forgive is an average of one email every two days for something as irrelevant as airport parking.
Think about your business. Do you send emails only when they’re relevant to customers?
My tried and true rule for email frequency is twice per week*.
*That is assuming you sell directly to consumers (B2C) and have lots of amazing products. Businesses that thrive with this frequency are clothing, shoes, hobby-related merchandise, consumable items, etc.
Unless you send out daily jokes or daily news/stories, you have no need to bother potential customers too often.
Here’s how you find the correct frequency for your list
Send an email once per week for a month and average the number of unsubscribers as a percentage of your overall list.
Send an email twice per week for a month and average the number of unsubscribers as a percentage of your overall list.
Send an email three times per week for a month and average the unsubs again.
Keep doing this until your unsubscribers increase disproportionately against the ratio of emails sent.
Once you have a disproportionate amount of unsubscribers, that frequency was too much. Pull back one step and send ‘X’ many emails, if needed.
Here’s an example.
One email gets an unsub rate of 1%.
Two emails get an unsub rate of 2% — that’s OK, it’s double the amount of sending, so you’d expect double the unsubs.
Three emails get an unsub rate of 6%. That was clearly too much. Abort!
Work backward until you get a sustainable unsub rate based on the growth of your list.
If you’re losing 2% and gaining 1% in new subscribers, you’re at a net loss of 1%. That’s not good.
Make sure you’re experiencing growth and not sabotaging your valuable list for the sake of another email.
2. Having Nothing to Say
Look at your inbox right now. They all want money, but how many of them are getting it today? None? One?
Now, just imagine the marketing emails you send are statistically in the “not buying today” pile for most of your customers.
The reason is, most email marketing has nothing to say. It’s selfish. A one-way street. It expects the value, but it doesn’t work to deserve it.
If you sell seasonal goods like Christmas stockings, you don’t need to be emailing me twice a week in July. You have nothing to say, so don’t say it.
If your business isn’t seasonal, make sure you’ve got something more to offer your customers than “buy this” every single week. That message gets tired because their inbox is full of that from everyone else.
Consumers only have a finite amount of disposable income. How are you going to ensure that it gets spent on your product?
My favourite emails are the anti-sell.
No obvious, in-your-face sales pitch. Just a story about a recent trip, sent by a real-sounding representative of the company called Vanessa, for example.
She tells the story of how a fair-trade coffee farmer now supports his family and how my last purchase helped his little son Tito get a new fishing rod for the weekends.
Through my support as a customer, the farmer (Pedro) now has a new processing machine to dry the beans even faster to ensure maximum freshness.
I get to the bottom of the email and it ends with…
“Oh and if you’d like to thank Pedro Ruiz for his incredible dedication to coffee, you can buy a bag here.”
Gets me every time.
Tip: Before you send your next marketing email, think about how you can have something to say as well as something to sell.
3. B2B Companies Interacting With Consumers
You won’t believe me, but there are B2B (business to business) companies out there that have consumer email lists.
Despite their direct customers being other businesses, they believe that reaching out to the end-user/consumer creates demand for their product.
They believe that demand will swim upstream through the businesses they sell to, like a sexy-money-salmon gracing their bank account with delicious cash.
However, that doesn’t always happen. With multiple stockists and no direct retail presence, these businesses have no need for an email marketing list.
Instead, they email out contests for new electric bikes or tickets to Disneyland to remind you to buy their yoghurt in the local supermarket this week.
It’s such an ineffective, immeasurable marketing technique for B2B.
What are the alternatives?
Of course, I can’t fix every business’s marketing without knowing the variables, but this is an interesting exercise taking the example ‘airport parking’ above.
Let’s imagine I have 20,000 email addresses and need to sell £5,000 in parking to meet my targets per week.
I could send 10 separate emails to all 20,000 customers, praying that 20% off is enough to convince them to park their car at the airport for no reason.
Or I could do this instead:
Partner with travel agents to offer their customers 20% off parking, on the spot, when booking a holiday.
Flyer each individual car that’s currently parked at the airport with a 20% off code for the next time they travel. Expiring in 12 months.
Give vouchers/gift cards to surrounding hotel concierges to recommend ‘parking at the airport’ to their guests and not taking the shuttle bus transfer.
Radio advertising on local radio stations surrounding the airport. They’re cheaper than you think.
Facebook advertising with people who are engaged/just married. They’ll likely be going on honeymoon and may need that parking service.
Contact all the people who have parked there before with a custom offer:£150 per year for an annual parking pass. Subject to availability. So they can park for free without booking up to five times per year. Most people will never use it that often, but if they travel at all, it’s nice to have. Especially if you’re a business looking to lower your taxes with assets and legitimate expenses.
There are loads of ways to drive sales that don’t rely on just emailing the same people over and over again.
All it takes is a little bit of creativity and you may stumble upon something more effective than email marketing for your business.
Stepping Away From Email
Marketing is cyclical, like fashion.
A new channel or tactic becomes available and everyone rushes to use it because it’s so effective and direct. That channel becomes saturated and it becomes hard to cut through the noise.
I feel like email marketing is currently at its most saturated point. Those daring enough to do what others aren’t (or won't) will end up cutting through the noise.
Direct mail is making a comeback. Radio ads are making a comeback. If you can rediscover old methods of marketing, you’ll be one of the few doing it — and it’ll probably work out cheaper and more effective than ever before.
Email isn’t the only way to reach people. So let’s stop using it as if it was.