I recently bought a new house and found myself subscribed to West Elm, Crate and Barrel, and CB2′s email newsletters as a result. They offer some really good deals, showcase new and fun things for around the house, and they’re nice and pretty to look at. But these guys brutally violate the tenet of “not more than once a week, and even twice a month is pushing it” in the newsletter department, as their default behavior.

I get emailed sometimes as much as three times per week by Crate and Barrel. This is simply too much. The problem is, it’s all or nothing. While I may want to see when they announce new seasonal items or great upcoming sales, I can either turn it all off, or get barraged with an absurd amount of mail that drives me nuts.

The solution to this is to allow users to choose their newsletter frequency. Harry & David, another frequent emailer, wised up to this and offers four options:

  • “Keep my emails coming, I want to make sure I receive your best offers”
  • “Send me an email once a week”
  • “Send me an email once every two weeks, plus holiday reminders”
  • “Send me an email once each month, plus holiday reminders”

Brilliant. Since I’m not dying to be tempted by fresh and delicious pears four times a week, I chose the “once a month, plus holidays” option. I still see when new products are in season, and they warn me of upcoming sales, but I’m not driven to insanity, nor do I start to get frustrated with the brand because our email relationship is now on my terms.

Implementing variable frequency email newsletters, while sounding pretty simple, can be a bit complicated. An organization needs to determine if they want to tailor the less frequent emails differently so that users who are on the frequent list don’t receive the same email as users on the monthly list, or if they simply want to ratchet down the frequency. Typically, one would apply a simple hierarchy: the monthly email is the same for everyone, the bi-weekly is likewise, and people see the emails they’ve requested. If a weekly lines up with that month’s monthly, they’ll get that message, instead of a separate double.

I know that interactions and brand engagements like this rely on lots of “touches” to keep people thinking of you and to encourage repeat sales, but I really wonder about diminishing marginal returns. At the point that I’m receiving 10 emails from a company a month, how many more purchases can I reasonably be expected to make, versus sending me 5 emails a month? My personal feeling is that you seriously risk annoying your subscribers without making it back in increased purchases by polluting their inboxes and worse, conscribing yourself into “automatically delete” mode for the customer—since all they see is noise, they don’t even take the time to look inside anymore. When your emails are farther and fewer in between, and a good deal more substantial, your open rates increase and your conversion rates are likely to do the same… but even if they don’t, you won’t be risking damaging your brand, even on a subconscious level, with your best customers.

And your newsletter subscribers ARE some of your best customers—they’ve volunteered to allow you to spam them on a regular basis, for heaven’s sake. They trust that you’ll deliver value and deals and reasons to keep opening their messages. Don’t abuse that trust, and instead, let them set the boundaries so that you don’t unwittingly do more harm than good.

Posted in: Rants