Great Content: The Other Way to Address Complaint Rates

Posted by Mary Sohn on

Email reputation can be a complicated and nuanced topic. It takes strategy and good habits to get mailbox providers to put you in the inbox. However, the technical nature of email can quickly get us caught up in the technicalities of reputation: Reduce complaint rates by sending more volume, lower sending frequency to less-engaged groups, etc. Sometimes, it’s worth taking a step back to ask: Do our subscribers enjoy our emails? 

If your emails are uninteresting, repetitive, or irrelevant (pitfalls of sending en masse), you may be feeding emails to users who are becoming irritable and more likely to mark your emails as spam. The problem is, it takes dedicated resources and commitment to generate great content. No dials to turn or switches to flip. Just a team comprised of writers, designers, and strategists to pull together an editorial calendar that makes sense for your brand. The case study that comes to mind is Netflix and their increasing endeavors to invest in engaging, exclusive content. The lessons are the same when it comes to your email program. The NY Times recently wrote:

“Think about the simplistic equation: More good content equals more viewing, more viewing means more subscribers, more subscribers means money to spend on more programming, which means more subscribers,” said Rich Greenfield, an analyst with BTIG Research. “It is a virtuous cycle.”

And The Wire aptly summarized this by saying “[Netflix] would rather draw addicts, who have just one just-for-Netflix show that prevents them from canceling.” Sounds like they’re talking about an email program, doesn’t it? Is there anything about your email program that’s different from your competitors? Is there anything about your email program that’s addictive? So much of the internet is templated, redundant, shared, and re-hashed content. Sadly, many email programs are following suite. Here are some steps I’ve put together to help your team do a health-check on your email creative:

1) Review your current email engagement statistics

  • When do the bulk of your subscribers complain? In the first week of subscribing?
  • What is the average life-span of your subscriber?
  • How often do they engage? Convert?
  • Is there anything in your sales cycle that seems to trigger complaints?
  • Which email streams seem to trigger complaints?
  • Which email streams have the best engagement rates?

2) Review your team for resource potential or deficiencies

  • Are your graphic designers also writing the copy? Should they be?
  • Do you have an editorial calendar? Does it align with your overall communications strategy?
  • Does your marketing team work closely with your email team? Are they aligned in their goals? Can they share any resources such as photography, content, promotions, etc.?

3) Review your own emails for opportunities

  • Poll your internal team for an anonymous survey: Does the content look modern? Do you have content ideas?
  • If your website underwent a design refresh, can you borrow any of those assets to refresh your email templates?
  • Can you work in any additional call-to-actions into your email templates without disrupting the message hierarchy?
  • Do you serve any particular niches with interesting discussion opportunities?
  • Do you collect information about your subscribers? Can you leverage this information?

4) What are your competitors doing?

  • Are you subscribed to your competitors’ email programs?
  • How does the creative compare? (Note: If you subscribe to Return Path’s tools, check if you have access to our Inbox Insight tool to do some very interesting competitor research: Compare read rates, email design, sending frequency, etc.)

5) Establish KPIs to track success

  • Base your KPIs on your findings in Step 1 and on the resources you’ll be able to dedicate towards improving your email program.
  • Make sure they’re specific and easy to track.

For additional reading, here are some recent articles published by my colleagues on optimizing content and reducing complaint rates:

You can also check out our recent research on email send frequency, which reveals that complaints may not come from where you’d expect.

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About Mary Sohn

Mary brings years of advertising experience to email and views deliverability data from a marketer's perspective. In her spare time, you'll find Mary eating through Canada's best diners, drive-ins, and dives (without the justification of a reality TV show). Follow Mary on Twitter @juenology for a haphazard glimpse into her life as a hungry-for-food email specialist.

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