EDITORIAL: This Isn't Viral; This Is Lame

Forget anti-spam group Mail Abuse Prevention System LLC. What we need is a button attached to our computers that allows us to deliver short, painful jolts of electricity into the rear ends of marketers who send e-mail like the following:

“Dear Loyal Subscribers:

“Thanksgiving has always been a time to take stock and appreciate the things and people you have in your life. And we here at [LameMarketing.com] are profoundly thankful to have you as a loyal member of the list.

“So we're sending you an entertaining little e-card to wish you a Happy Thanksgiving. Not only do we think you'll enjoy it, we think your friends and family will enjoy it, too. Because once you view your card, you're free to send your own set of personalized cards to anyone you wish. There is no cost — it's just our way of saying `Thanks' and wishing you a very Happy Thanksgiving holiday.”

Dear Loyal Subscriber? What am I, a dog?

And, sorry to be a spoilsport, but Thanksgiving for some isn't always “a time to take stock and appreciate the things and people you have in your life.” Often, the only thing we're thankful for is that we only see that drunken uncle or crazy aunt once a year.

So I'll thank you [LameMarketing.com] to stop sending me cards. You don't know me, so stop pretending to care about me and my family.

Hell, the least you could have done was send a holiday offer of some sort. That at least would have been sincere.

This is a classic case of reasonably well-intended marketing gone bad.

Someone at the company has discovered the term “viral marketing” and decided to try it on his own. Yes, e-greeting cards are viral, but they should originate from a source we consider sincere; otherwise, they have no value — the key word there being value.

While e-mail may be cheap to deliver, e-mail marketing is not cheap.

E-mail addresses with decent marketing information attached to them can cost 50 cents each to gather, according to Stephanie Healy, co-founder/CEO of e-mail lead generation firm WinFreeStuff.com, soon to be WFSDirect Inc. “And if you're looking at lifetime value, those addresses are worth even more,” she said. “A name to us is worth $3 to $6 per year.”

That's three to six bucks for each unsubscribe. Now there's an expensive greeting card.

People access e-mail from two places: work and home. At work, they're on company time using company property. At home, they're using a machine on which they've spent a good chunk of change. Either way, e-mail is more personal than most other forms of communication that marketers have at their disposal.

As a result, it's more important in e-mail marketing than in any other medium that each message has value to the recipient, “starting with the header,” according to Reggie Brady, vice president of strategy and partnerships at e-mail service provider FloNetwork, Toronto. “Happy Thanksgiving? That has no value.”

And a surefire way for a marketer to tell if e-mail has value is by monitoring the unsubscribe rate. “An average unsubscribe rate is about 0.5 percent. Over 5 percent and you're in big trouble,” Brady said. “More than 5 percent means your frequency is too high or your content is bad.” Most marketers have settled on twice per month as an acceptable e-mail marketing frequency, she said.

It's also important to monitor whether people are opening their e-mail and clicking through, according to Kate Leahy, director of marketing at e-mail service provider Bigfoot Interactive, New York.

“Not only is it important to listen to what your customers are saying, you must listen to what they don't say,” she said. “If they're not reading your e-mail, it has lost value.”

A message to business representatives who have my e-mail address, but who have never at least spoken to me on the phone: Save the e-greeting cards for clients with whom you truly have a relationship.

For the rest of us, if you're not making an offer of some sort, your value lies in being silent.

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