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Are You Spamming Your Customers? (and How to Stop)

Written by Julie Dietz on April 21, 2016 at 8:30 AM

How do you know if you're spamming your customers? How can you stop spamming?

Spam. Delicious, or just plain weird? While the debate rages on in the culinary category, it never even got started in the marketing world. No one has ever liked marketing spam.

As marketers, you want to get messages about value and innovative solutions to your customers, but you don't want to be seen as spam. I'm not just talking about unsolicited emails or shady messages about discount pharmaceuticals. I'm also referring to sending emails to people who are expecting to hear from you, like your customers. This type of email marketing that customers voluntarily opt into, known as graymail, can also be viewed as spam.

Graymail is a prime area to focus on, because while marketers have gotten better about not spamming their prospect list, that discipline seems to fall away when they communicate with existing customers.

Communicating effectively with customers via email can be difficult when so much marketing is done via e-mail. According to Giagom Research, 60% of companies plan to increase their investment in digital marketing methods such as email. To receive such an investment, digital and email marketing must be working, but how well? Since approximately 84% of email messages are seen as spam, there's certainly room for improvement.

So how do you keep using email as an affordable, effective customer communication channel without spamming them? It starts with finding out if your messages are just noise to your customers and then using best practices to craft emails your customers want to receive.

How to Know If You're Spamming Your Customers

There are several ways to determine if customers see your messages as spam. The best part is that you can do them right now.

Spam Test #1) The Sniff Test

The sniff test is easy and doesn't require loads of data. Simply look at your marketing emails and ask yourself this question:

Is this email helpful, educational, and relevant to each recipient?

You need to ask this question for every single email message you send out, and pay particular attention to “each recipient.†This final phrase means that you should tailor your email messages to individual people or personas. This is important because different personas, or customers who purchased wildly different products from you, will find different material helpful. If your email is not helpful, does not provide value with information on best practices, solutions to problems, or other educational material, or is not relevant to the reader, then it can be seen by your customers as spam.

This sniff test is general enough to be adapted to other marketing communications as well. Use it for anything you send out to your customers.

Spam Test #2) Complaints

One complaint doesn't automatically label you as spam, but if you have multiple customers approaching you to complain that your email communication is annoying and unusual, then you are probably doing something wrong.

It's important to pay attention to these complaints because they show that customers are paying attention to you and your emails. They even took the time to write you back about the problem instead of just unsubscribing.

These customers clearly value your organization, and by changing your emails you have a chance to provide them with better value in the future.

Spam Test #3) Metrics

Collect and analyze data on how many emails were delivered, opened, and clicked on to find out if your email practices need to be improved.

Email marketing data can indicate a spam problem when your numbers are significantly below industry standards. For instance, if your industry has a 20% email open rate, but your open rate is only 5%, then that's a good indication your emails aren't relevant or interesting to your customers. Similarly, if you see a significant decline in your open rate from 20% to 5% in a three-month period, something could have changed to make your emails less engaging.

Look for high unsubscribe rates in your email metrics as well. If your unsubscribe rates are higher than industry average, or skyrocket over a few months, it's a sign that you have a problem.

How to Stop Spamming Your Customers

If you've inadvertently crossed into spam territory, then it's time to make some changes to stop spamming.

Be Hyper-Relevant

Use what you know about each customer contact's role, past purchases, and priorities to provide insight, helpful messages, and offers.

You have a wealth of information about your current customers starting from when they first made a purchase. Use purchase records and ongoing activity data from your website or customer community platform to customize your emails.

For instance, if Socious knows that a customer is a large company that struggles to manage its multitude of user groups around the world, then we would sent them tips for segmenting and managing users rather than an eBook on blogging best practices. This provides additional value, and makes the email hyper-relevant.

Along these same lines, be sure not to offer your customers the same things twice, unless you know that they did not see the first email. Those tips on increasing engagement aren't as interesting the second time around.

Build on past offers with something newer or more detailed, such as a full e-book on engagement, instead of repeating offers and information. To make this easier, segment your email list so everyone receives targeted emails that are relevant to their problems and the products they purchased.

Be Honest

When devising your customer-facing email marketing plan, remember that these are customers who already chose your brand. It's now your job to build a positive relationship with them by being honest and helpful.

If you sign customers up for emails as soon as they make a purchase, tell them. Let them know what emails they will get and how often they'll get them. Foresight can go a long way to improving how receptive customers are.

If this is an area where you've had problems in the past, consider a double opt-in procedure. This means that customers get signed up for emails when they make a purchase, but they also have to confirm that they want to receive emails. Confirmation usually happens in the first email you send them. A double opt-in system is great if you have dedicated customers and strong emails, but it can also shorten your email marketing list, so use it with discretion.

Record, Review, and Adapt

Gather data about the changes you make and how people respond to them. Look at delivery rates, open rates, click-through rates, and unsubscribe rates. Are they improving? Are more customers opening your emails and clicking through to your offers?

Review the data and pinpoint what's having an impact, whether it's positive or negative. Then, adapt your email content again to provide your customers with more of what they want.

  • If people love best practices, keep providing new, relevant content along those same lines.
  • If they discard your email about a promotion, revamp your promotions to see if something else gets more attention.

Takeaway: Creating Email Messages Your Customers Will Value

Emails are an incredibly powerful marketing tool that gets results. They're cheap, and have the potential to reach huge volumes of customers. You just need to make sure emails are crafted and targeted correctly. Create hyper-relevant, helpful e-mail messages and consistently take advantage of the sniff test and customer feedback to find out if you're crossing into spam territory. If you are, change accordingly.

The better you get at using this process on an ongoing basis, the more effective you'll be at educating customers on your organization's unique solutions.

Download your free guide to buying and implementing a customer portal.

Topics: Communications, Marketing, Customer Experience, Marketing Automation, Online Community

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