A Lesson from The Onion

Posted by Bonnie Malone on

In a recent article featured on The Onion, Presidential candidate Barack Obama expressed his personal frustrations in receiving an onslaught of emails from the polictical association MoveOn.org. He subscribed to the organization’s email program 4 years ago, but continues to receive email after months of deleting it without reading a single message. He finds the content uninteresting and not valuable, and the frequency (3x a week) highly irritating. Of course it’s immediately obvious why this is so funny – MoveOn.org has gained a reputation as a very aggressive email marketer.

But, aside from being so funny, The Onion spoof offers a good object lesson for marketers. Because it’s all too easy to think, what’s the big deal if people delete your email daily without reading it? But this piece hits a nerve because it articulates the deeper reaction that subscriber’s have to too frequent, irrelevant messages. Due to this experience the fictionalized Barack Obama doesn’t just have distaste for the MoveOn.org emails — that distaste has grown to include the organization itself. That is so much bigger than just one less click or open for the marketer.

You see, it’s common for the marketer to focus on his corner of the world – – living and breathing everything email, with little regard for anything else. What is made painfully apparent through Obama’s imaginary experience is that those marketers fail to see how email is an integral part of their company’s overall marketing efforts, and more importantly how it impacts brand perception. Email is a very personal communication method. When marketers lose sight of the subscriber experience and fudge practices like segmentation and list cleansing, it not only results in negative response behavior, but drives a more deep rooted negative brand perception. Is it worth losing subscribers – and ultimately customers, readers, or members to your brand – because of sloppy or undefined email contact methodology? No.

So I encourage you to perform a health check on your program, asking yourself these questions:

  • Do you ask permission and set a clear expectation at the point of subscribe?
  • How does your program content mesh with other business channels and objectives?
  • At what point do you consider a subscriber inactive?
  • What is your re-activation strategy for inactive subscribers?
  • When do you stop mailing subscribers altogether?
  • How smooth is the unsubscribe process?
  • How quickly after unsubscribe do you remove the subscriber from your file?

Your answers could reveal that you, too, have lost sight of the power of email to impact your brand perception, and highlight the biggest areas of opportunity for you to make an impact.


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About Bonnie Malone

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 TotalRetail.

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