February 12, 2009

Less is More

Less is More

I have a challenge for the email marketing community in 2009. Let’s make this the Year of “Less is More.”

Marketers are turning to email more and more in this down economy. There’s no question about that. My great fear is that just means they’re sending more and more and more emails out without being smart about their programs. That will have positive short term effects and drive revenues, but long term it will have a negative long term impact on inboxes everywhere. And these same marketers will find their short term positive results turning into poor deliverability faster than you can say “complaint rate spike.”

I heard a wonderful case study this week from Chip House at ExactTarget at the EEC Conference. One of his clients, a non-profit, took the bold and yet painful step of permissioning an opt-out list. Yikes. That word sends shivers down the spine of marketers everywhere. What are you saying? You want me to reduce the size of my prime asset? The results of a campaign done before and after the permission pass are very telling and should be a lesson to all of us. The list shrank from 34,000 to 4,500. Bounce rate decreased from 9% to under 1%. Spam complaints went from 27 to 0 (ZERO). Open rate spiked from 25% to 53%. Click-through from 7% to 22%. And clicks? 509 before the permissioning, 510 after. This client generated the same results, with better metrics along the way, by sending out 87% LESS EMAIL. Why? Because they only sent it to people who cared to receive it.

This is a great time for email. But marketers will kill the channel by just dumping more and more and more volume into it. Let’s all make Less Is More our mantra for the year together. Is everyone in? Repeat after me…Less Is More! Less Is More!

7 responses to “Less is More”

  1. jdfalk says:

    And, the thing that's probably going to be most frustrating for email marketers is that even if they're following best practices themselves, all those other email marketers — the ones who think don't respect their subscribers — are out there ruining email for everyone. People don't get inbox overload one sender at a time; once they hit that point of overload, all email garners complaints.

    The answer, I think, is that the smart & respectful people in the email marketing industry absolutely must start taking their peers & competitors to task. Point out when they're being dumb. Report them when they violate CAN-SPAM or other laws. And most of all, don't ever think that just because one marketer is doing something their recipients hate, then suddenly everyone else can get away with it too.

  2. Matt glad to see you get into the fray here. You are absolutely right – poor deliverability is directly related to low consumer value. Low consumer value is defined as content which does not resonate with the recipient or does not meet their general expectations of a proper dialogue.

    While 'Less Is More' may be a memorable way of putting it, it might oversimplify what the real problem is: lack of audience understanding and proper content directed to the micro-audiences found within every larger list.

    Permission passes are one way of doing this, although this is a somewhat draconian measure and frankly if I were the head of the charity I would not want to lock myself out of messaging this audience going forward. I am not surprised that a large number of subscribers from that not for profit list dropped off. They were probably tired of receiving appeals for donations.

    Donations are episodic events. I donate to many causes, but I don't expect to hear from them every week or even every month asking for more money. I do expect to hear more often about what they are doing with the donated funds.

    But I can see why they would send so much email. With the great ROI in email it is easy to reconcile the notion of sending more good mail after bad, because after all there is a supposed ROI of $40+ for every dollar spent.

    Can you imagine what the ROI would be with better targeting, even at higher volumes? That takes work. And with marketing staffs under constant pressure, this targeting takes a back seat to getting campaigns out the door.

    I'd like to argue that you can send as much mail as you'd like to your list – but the minute that your audience perceives that you are not adding value, you risk immediate fall off. Stop sending the same thing to everybody, at the same time, on the same day and you have begun the journey to the land of Consumer Value. Don't ask me to donate again next month. Ask me on my anniversary. And tell me how you're using the money in the meantime! I love to hear about that.

  3. Absolutely.  No peeing in the pool!

  4. It may simplify – but I don’t think it oversimplifies.  Less is More doesn’t have to mean fewer addresses on the list.  It can also mean fewer emails based on triggered messaging or lifecycle marketing.  It just means not sending everything to everyone.

  5. Dave Hendricks says:

    That's change I can believe in!

  6. Yep! It's the tragedy of the commons: I've used a parallel to fishing to make a similar point. We get overfishing because nobody has an incentive to be the only one to act sustainably.

    (That's why I like certification. )

    It would help make the point if we had more case studies about people who were able to do as well as before or better by sending less. Just like the story quoted.

    Or…case studies or stories about people who didn't do what's considered right and suffered as a result.

    Because people see bad practices everywhere and assume their competitors are getting away with it.

    So you can say to people, look there really is a big downside to what you're doing or proposing: see these examples.

  7. Amen Matt! You got off light here with Dave 🙂 I had to argue this point against him at the EEC event. Less is MORE, its just hard for marketers to grasp the idea of pruning their list. Great seeing both of you in Phoenix.