Moan, Moan, Moan – All You Ever Do Is Complain! Part 2

Posted by Guy Hanson 

In the first part of my series about why subscribers complain we considered some of the common pitfalls encountered when bringing new members into your mailing list. In part 2 we look at the next potential hazard – when you send them their first email!

Once new subscribers are signed-up, the next set of complaint drivers are all about recognition. If recipients don’t make the connection between the brand that they have registered with, and the emails they subsequently receive, then the likelihood of complaint activity increases.

  1. I don’t know who you are: The situation described here assumes the sign-up process was valid. However, when the first email is sent it fails to generate recognition and leads to a spam complaint instead. This could indicate poor branding, inconsistent use of the “friendly from” field, or inappropriate timing:


  • Use a consistent “friendly from” that new recipients will recognise and trust.
  • Don’t send the emails from an “individual” name – this is largely viewed as a spammy practice.
  • Use a pre-header strapline to drive increased recognition.
  • Use language and design the email that is consistent with your brand.
  • Design with image disablement in mind so that emails are still recognisable when images don’t render.
  1. Am I really welcome?: Many email programs will send a welcome email to confirm the new sign-up. This positively reinforces the new relationship that has been established. Even better – make this happen over several emails to thank new members, tell them how they will benefit from the program, and answer commonly asked questions.


  • Implement a welcome email if one is not already sent.
  • Consider extending once-off welcome emails into a multi-stage onboarding program.
  • Make a strong request to be added to recipients’ address books.
  • Provide detailed instructions on how to retrieve emails from the spam/junk folder.
  1. I don’t know who you are anymore (when did you re-brand?): Sometimes email programs change identity. This could be as a result of merger & acquisition activity, or when a new sender domain is introduced. Email subscribers can’t be expected to anticipate these changes!


  • Provide advance notification that the change is going to be taking place.
  • Request the new sender domain to be added to recipients’ address books.
  • Phase in the new branding in to reduce the element of surprise.
  1. Your emails are like an untrustworthy boyfriend! This relates to problems with inbox placement. Subscribers only see their emails intermittently, or not at all. This causes irritation with the ad-hoc behaviour of the emails and may even create a belief that they have already been removed from the email program.


  • Review reputation metrics to identify factors that may be affecting inbox placement.
  • Monitor engagement metrics, and optimise your program if they are below average.
  • Evaluate content to determine whether it is contributing to spam filtering.
  1. Gone phishing! Subscribers are increasingly nervous about email fraud. This has two implications for your email program: 1) if your legitimate emails look spammy it will reduce trust levels; and 2) if fraudsters are spoofing your sender domain your customers will stop trusting your legitimate emails.


  • Monitor regularly for spoofing and phishing activity.
  • Ensure the language and appearance of your emails is consistent with your brand.
  • Educate your customers about what you will – and won’t send them.

Following these tips will ensure that new subscribers will recognize your emails when you start sending them, making them more likely to engage, and less likely to complain. In additional installments of this series we will discuss how reduced relevance and the unsubscribe process can lead to subscriber complaints.


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About Guy Hanson

Guy is a passionate advocate for intelligent use of customer data to drive responsive email programs. With a knowledge base spanning the best part of two decades, he is globally recognized as an email expert and thought leader. Most recently at Return Path, Guy led a global consulting team, and worked with a broad range of world-famous clients across 5 continents to improve their email delivery, subscriber engagement and revenue. Now blazing a new trail as an independent consultant, Guy is continuing to explore his passion for email and data – and sharing his knowledge – through appearances at flagship events, providing training, and regular fresh new thought leadership Outside of work, Guy has had long-term involvement with both the DMA and IAB email councils, been a regular contributor to the industry press, and is a 3-time finalist as data storyteller of the year!

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