Mistakes: Happenstance or Enemy Action?
Mistakes happen. On a daily basis, everyone makes mistakes. Sometimes mistakes cause frustration, as work has to be redone. Other times, mistakes can be painfully embarrassing, as they may expose shortcomings or a momentary lapse in judgment. The redeeming factor about mistakes is that we generally learn from them. We learn what to avoid and new things to consider; we learn about ourselves and we can do better next time.
What happens when we don’t learn from a mistake we’ve made?
Ian Fleming, in his novel "Goldfinger," wrote, “Once is happenstance. Twice is a coincidence. Three times is an enemy action.” By that logic, many email marketers are sabotaging their own programs.
The biggest blunders email marketers make often aren’t the most visible. We've all sent a campaign with the wrong item featured, an expired offer or broken link. And most of us have sent an “Oops” campaign to correct a goof. While the short-term effect seems huge (mostly on our egos), those mistakes are “happenstance,” and ultimately have minimal impact on your business. The biggest blunders are the persistent missteps that gnaw away at program performance while email marketers turn a blind eye.
Once In, Never Out
Many retailers mistakenly believe that a one-time expressed interest or single purchase is enough to indicate that a customer will forever want to receive email promotions from them. This view leads to an overwhelmingly large percentage of inactive subscribers, deliverability difficulties, and depressed performance metrics. Common factors leading to this scenario include:
- Narrow definition of activity: Labeled a “buyer,” that one-time customer will receive a high frequency of touches for an extended period of time; because of the purchase, they're not considered a nonresponder.
- Difficult unsubscribe: Auto-opt in at the point of purchase; burying the unsubscribe link; failure to offer a no-email option in account settings; taking the full 10 days allowed by CAN-SPAM to process an unsubscribe request.
- Family of brands confusion: Customer of one brand is opted in to all email programs across the family of brands; having separate unsubscribe processes for each brand (even though there was only one point of entry).
Treating All Subscribers the Same
Dynamic content and personalized data points have led many retailers to lean on creative elements to simulate a one-to-one contact strategy, rather than applying business rules and automation that truly deliver an optimized experience. This misguided approach can strain deployment teams and give a false sense of efficacy, while response rates remain flat and list attrition persists. Contributing factors often include:
- Limited bandwidth or technology: Lack of investment in time or analyst resources to define the customer lifecycle or build prediction models to inform the strategy; aged or low-quality database entries that may produce less-than-ideal output; system limitations that require workarounds.
- Tight deadlines: An extra end of quarter sales push or urgent response to competitive pressure becomes the norm rather than the exception; no methodical testing process.
Incoherent Strategies Across Channels
Larger retailers often have separate teams that manage each segment of the business. While this provides appropriate focus for the individual needs of the online and offline channels, the difference in leadership can result in distinctly different experiences for the customer, driving an erosion of brand equity and reduced performance. Typical elements associated with this scenario include:
- Ostrich mentality: Myopic strategies and budgets; goals centered on only one part of the business; failure to know or communicate with cross-channel colleagues; focus on one-time revenue attribution instead of customer lifetime value.
- Impact on customer experience: Single-channel pricing or promotions; tone of voice and inconsistent messaging; rolling changes instead of testing to optimize.
Do any of these blunders sound familiar? Are you supporting “enemy action” by accepting one or more of these situations as “the way things are” with your brand’s email program? Take the first step and acknowledge your mistake, then evaluate the situation and determine how you can take new steps toward doing things differently. The importance of mistakes is not in the embarrassment of the moment, but in the lesson learned and being able to apply a more informed approach next time.
Bonnie Malone leads the consulting, client training, and knowledge and editorial organization of Return Path, an email data solutions provider.
Bonnie is passionate about excellent customer experience. With a background in marketing, merchandise buying and retail management, she helps companies stay relevant amid the changing digital landscape. Bonnie leads the knowledge and consulting teams at Return Path, the global leader in email deliverability. She is an active Email Experience Council committee member, featured speaker for events, and writes monthly for the Return Path blog and Total Retail.