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3 Ways to Build and Maintain Trust in Your Email Marketing

What's your definition of spam email? You better take a good, long look at how you define it or be prepared to lose customers.

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Email spam has a specific legal definition, but the best marketers know that simply passing the legal test isn’t close to enough. In the eyes of consumers, the definition of spam is arguably broader and less forgiving.

 To consumers, spam might represent:

·     Any email they don’t expect.

·     Any email they don’t want.

·     Any email that prompts them to hit the “This is spam” button.

·     Any email they might have signed up for, but later decide they don’t want.

·     An easy way to opt-out.

So how can marketers make sure what they’re sending isn’t consumer-defined spam? Make email campaigns engaging. I recently released an ebook on this very topic, but for the sake of this post, let’s stick to three ways to grow your email list, earn the trust of your readers, and create content that’s engaging.

Build Your List With Trust

Any time you assume or use implicit opt-in, or use a list of email addresses you secured elsewhere, you’re taking a risk that your valuable messages will be considered junk mail -- even if youtechnically have legal permission to send them. For example:

·     You got a name from a tradeshow list or other activity you sponsored. When a consumer registers for something your sponsored, lets you scan his nametag at an event, or drops a business card in a fishbowl, it does not necessarily mean he’s asking for future email marketing. If the recipient is not expecting your email, you may not be building trusted engagement.

·     Someone handed you her business card. An executive handed you her business card after being introduced by a colleague at an event. Does this mean she wants to receive your marketing emails? Probably not.

·     You already have a list of contacts. You give your admin your entire contact list to enter into your email database or CRM system. A month later, everyone on that list receives an unsolicited email from your company. This is a way to break trust -; fast.

Instead, use proven methods to build your list of subscribers who have explicitly asked to receive email marketing from you.  Follow these tips for success:

·     Explain “What’s In It For Me (WIIFM)?” Subscribers want to know why they should subscribe; so tell them right up front. Remember, marketing is about meeting their needs, not yours.

·     Explain exactly what types of content you’ll be sending: Let your subscribers know they might receive updates, deals, coupons, offers, advice, news, events, or general information.

·     Set expectations for frequency and timing. (We’ll talk more about this later.)

Give subscribers choices, if you can. Offer them the ability to sign up for emails on certain subjects versus others, or for a weekly digest versus a daily message.

Set Expectations

Every single email in on your list should be thought of as a covenant between two parties. The recipient will receive emails she wants, delivered when she wants them, and the data gathered from the email program will be used to send better, more relevant emails. This covenant starts at the very beginning of building your list with the opt-in. When someone signs up to hear from you, send them a “Welcome”  email, being clear about what they can expect. If they’re signing up to learn the latest about trends in your industry, don’t send them a sales pitch every day -- don’t send them one ever. If they’re giving you their email and asking to be kept informed about sales and products, then it’s a little different.

Overall, our conversations with someone over email shouldn’t be that different from if we were talking with them --or engaging them in a discussion -- in person. Even if someone were to ask you to tell them about products and sales, you wouldn’t only ask them if they’re going to buy right now.

Variety May Be the Spice of Life, But It Can Ruin Emails

Along the same lines of letting consumers know what they can expect, the next step is to be consistent in emailing them. This means consistent in timing, frequency, and content. For example, if someone signs up for your emails at 6:30 PM, it’s reasonable to assume that’s a time they’re checking email and browsing the Internet. Your emails to them should be sent out at this time.

Frequency is something that varies from industry to industry. Many retailers send out daily emails, if you’re marketing something different, a weekly or monthly email will suffice. But pay attention to who opens emails and when. The online retailer Fab automatically decreases emails from daily to weekly if the customer isn’t opening them on a regular basis. That’s a good use of data to keep people from finding your communications spammy.

Many marketers make mistakes around content and think, “Sure this person signed up for a best-practices newsletter, but our sales team needs all the help they can get, we’ll send out a promotion.”  There isn’t an easier way to lose the trust of your reader. You consumers do not care about your schedule, they care about what’s relevant to them. 

What’s most interesting or confusing about email marketing to you? Ask in the comments or tweet me @JonMiller and I’ll address your questions in coming columns.

Last updated: Aug 15, 2013

JON MILLER leads strategy and execution for Marketo. Before co-founding Marketo, Miller was vice president of product marketing at Epiphany and held positions at Exchange Partners and Gemini Consulting. Miller holds a bachelor’s degree in physics from Harvard College and has an M.B.A. from the Stanford Graduate School of Business.
@jonmiller




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