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Open Thread: Are There Two "Sides" to Email Marketing?

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Recently, I was talking with my accountability partner about email marketing. She’d had a bit of a mishap with one of her email campaigns, and we were trying to figure out how she could possibly correct the situation. That led us┬áto a discussion on the “sides” of email marketing (or “schools of thought,” for lack of a better phrase). The easiest way to explain these possible “sides” is to talk about a couple of scenarios.

First Scenario: A List of Loyal Followers

In the first scenario, you build a following. You have a web site, a blog, maybe a few social networking profiles, and people within your target audience begin to follow your posts and updates. Eventually, they become so interested in what you have to say that they sign up to receive your email newsletter so that they can stay in the loop on everything going on with you and your business.

Once a month or so, you send out your email newsletter. It has a couple of helpful articles that are relevant to your target audience, as well as information about a featured product or service that might interest your readers.

Month after month, your readership grows. Your newsletter is a welcomed extension of your efforts as an endless resource for your following.

Second Scenario: Free Download With Sign-Up

In the second scenario, you have a new product that’s about to launch. Let’s call it your “Yoga for Beginners” e-book. You go through the first few weeks of getting the word out about your new e-book, directing people back to your web site where they can download it by signing up to receive your newsletter. Since you’re doing a big promotional push for the launch, you’re introducing yourself to new audiences, but it seems to be going well, since your mailing list is growing steadily.

A few weeks go by, and you send out an email newsletter called “Stretches That Really Work” that includes a great affiliate product that you think might interest your readers. It’s very relevant to your subscribers, and you’ve tried the product and absolutely love it. The day after you send the campaign, though, you get several unsubscribes, so many that your email marketing company sends you a warning that they’re now monitoring your account. What went wrong?

A Clear Divide?

Are there, in fact, two “sides” to email marketing, two separate schools of thought? If there are and you set up camp on the “loyal following” side of the fence, is it ever safe to cross over without alienating your followers? If you decide to go the “free download with sign-up” route, is there a way to avoid coming across as spam, or getting so many unsubscribes that you get flagged by your email marketing company?

Are there distinct sides to email marketing, or is it possible to find a balance and “ride the fence?” Please share your thoughts.

Photo by Flickr user tibchris, licensed under CC 2.0

Related GigaOM Pro content (sub. req.): Email: The Reports of My Death are Greatly Exaggerated

4 Responses to “Open Thread: Are There Two "Sides" to Email Marketing?”

  1. Well first you have to really put yourself in the position of your audience. The better you know them, the more successful your campaigns will be. Loyalty is definitely key and their are sides to email marketing. Some people will just get what they want and leave. So it is very important to make sure your followers have been their before the offer. Great article and good question!

  2. The goal should always be a list of loyal, or at least willing, followers.

    When offering a free download – and who doesn’t love those! – be sure to tell folks exactly what and how often you’ll be sending once they opt-in. Then when you do send something, make sure it’s highly relevant and immediately obvious why they’re receiving it. Otherwise they feel duped and abused.

    Don’t wait so long that they forget signing up or lose interest! That’ll surely get you unsubscribes and spam reports.

    If you send multiple types of email to your list, do some segmenting and give people options and opportunities to segment themselves by interest. That all or nothing approach pisses me off and I can’t unsubscribe quickly enough.

    Oddly enough, here’s something that sometimes keeps me on a mailing I was just about to unsubscribe from: Make it very easy and obvious how to unsubscribe, including a reminder of why I’m on the list and an apology in case I’ve received in error. I’m amazed at how many email marketers, still don’t even provide the minimum required by the CAN-SPAM Act. Go so far as to ask why they’re unsubscribing. You might get useful feedback for improvement, and they’ll feel better having that outlet. Less reason to hit that Send to Spam button in frustration.

    Bottom line: Go out of your way to be respectful of everyone’s limited time, attention, and already overflowing inboxes.

  3. Great article! I would plant myself firmly in the loyal subscribers camp. If people want to hear from you, they will sign up, engage and be far more inclined to do business with you. Offering something in exchange for an email address? This can work for big brands, which can cope with higher list fatigue, but I would never recommend it to small organisations. I would prefer a list of 100 loyal followers than 100 000 “passing-interest” subscribers – sure it might cost more to build the list initially, but the long term results justify it!

  4. Personally, the biggest problem I have with the free download and automatic sign up is when the website won’t let you get to the actual site till you do so.

    If I see a link on the site about downloading a free ebook and I’m automatically subscribed, choose to download the email, then become automatically subscribed, I’ll check out the newsletter even though I normally end up removing myself from the list after.

    If I’m forced into a download, THEN forced into a newsletter, I won’t flag it, but I’ll be annoyed and unsubscribe without checking it.

    While the first option is admittingly a much slower process, I think that for the long haul it’s a much better one. Following that format, it’s much more likely that the people on your email newsletter mailing list actually READ the newsletter, and that is what is important.