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Friday, March 13, 2009

A Rant Against Email Newsletters and Making It Easier to Manage Subscriptions

Intecom Plant Nursery Email Newsletter
Example originally uploaded by mckeanbarry.

This is a rant. I'll keep it short and to the point, but be warned. It's a rant and it's against email newsletters and how they allow you to manage your subscription.

[Note: this NO reflection on the image here. I really like how visual a statement it makes, and I'm willing to bet that it makes subscription management easy.]

You see, I'm having to modify many of my email subscriptions to reflect a new email address [yes, my life is changing; blogpost about that soon]. I'm actually astounded at how many - especially since I use RSS feeds - but they all matter and I need to reassign them.

Guess what I've discovered?

It's really easy to unsubscribe. But, it's really, really difficult to change your email address.

Don't believe me? Go try it out.

Do you know that lots of email newsletter platforms don't even take you to the organization's home page, let alone your account management page?

What's with that?

Do you know that for some, I've had to set up a totally new subscription for myself and then unsubscribe the old one? What's with that? Wouldn't it be more valuable and more efficient all around to have me modify my existing account? I'm willing to do it. I'm trained. So, why not make it easy for me to do that?

In some case, the language confuses. There may be a link to get to my account management, but for the life of me, I can't figure that out based on the options I'm offered.

I've had to open a separate search window to search for that site, log in [another headache] and then find my account management page. Couldn't it be a wee bit easier? After all, don't you want to endear yourselves to me? Can't you make it painless maybe even delightful to interact with you?....

For that matter, wouldn't you rather that I continue the relationship rather than dump you because you're such pain to interact with?

On the plus side, I've discovered interesting tidbits: I have two DIGG accounts, and no means of combining the two.

I'm done. As wonderful as email newsletters are, please, please, please consider how easy and intuitive your newsletters are for your readers to manage their account. Great job on unsubscribing, but how 'bout making it easier to have a longterm relationship?

Added 3/14/09:
I've just realized that Feedburner, through whom I distribute email updates for this blog, doesn't allow for easy subscription management. To change your email address, you need to resubscribe for the new and unsubscribe from the old address. I wonder how to get Feedburner to modify its system?

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Anonymous said...

You know, I've never looked at it that way. Most of my bug-bears with email subs. lists have been the pain to unsubscribe. Not the initial action itself - the ones where they then send you a new email asking "Are you sure?".

YES. I'M. SURE! ;-)

CB Whittemore said...

Danny, I'm with you on that irritation, too. But, at least the initial action is visible.

Anonymous said...

CB - just read this rant. We've talked about it before: AWeber unsubscribe link always brings your reader to a default where they can change their name and email address very easy.
Compared to the 'more expensive' infusion - as far as I as subscriber to some infusion members can see - this program only even allows to unsubscribe from everything, not even from separate lists, as AWeber does.

But then again, as you know, I love AWeber ;-)

Karin H. (Keep It Simple Sweetheart, specially in business)

CB Whittemore said...

Karin, AWeber sounds more and more interesting. I'm glad you will be doing a writeup on it. Thanks for adding perspective to this discussion.

Anonymous said...

Morning CB

It'll be a bit more than a write-up. Plan to launch it as Ebook/Etraining - when I find time to finish everything. Other marketing projects got in the way this month.

Karin H.

CB Whittemore said...

Funny how that happens... Good luck with getting it completed. I know it will be fantastic.

Anonymous said...

C.B. unfortunately this falls square on the shoulders of the email service providers. If they don't offer user friendly options, we the publishers have virtually no way to custom making these forms to work w/ their systems.

That said, here's another positive vote for Aweber. I've used them for years. iContact is great as well, but Aweber is ultra-serious about keeping SPAM out. Both make managing your subscription list easy.

Gillia said...

On the other hand... you unsubscribe and resubscribe - the process does not take that long and in theory you are not subscribed to that many newsletters. If you are then having to do the unsubcribe\resubscribe could be the time to assess whether a newsletter is really worth having.

Anonymous said...

That's a great point! I think it all depends on who your email marketing service provider is and how they function.

I don't know about other services, but I know MailerMailer includes a "To unsubscribe/change profile" link where users can update subscription preferences like email address, email format (HTML/text), vacation mode setup (if you'd like to stop delivery for a certain amount of time), and other fields the publisher may have asked subscribers to fill in during signup.

Anonymous said...

CB - glad to have been introduced to your blog. Your post was distributed through a MarketingProfs errr... newsletter. Nice work. I hope it turns into some nice traffic for you!
As most of the previous comments mentioned, subscriber management flexibility is purely a function of the email provider, and we need more folks like you to put the pressure on those that actually use those services. Unfortunately, it's probably not a battle that can be won alone, but if more newsletter ~writers~ recognize that good subscriber preference support is needed, more email service providers will focus more attention on it. Fortunately, when EmberMail.com was launched (yes, that the email service I happen to provide to my clients), it was easy to offer these features. Please forgive the bit of selfless promotion, but I'll give your readers some good content... the following lists what I believe good subscriber management entails. (Yes, my email service offers all the tools listed below) Feel free to use/modify in a future post:
1. As you mentioned, the basics are a must - updates to name and email address makes life easier for everyone!
2. Assuming that your ESP allows custom fields to be defined for your subscribers, you should have the option to select what fields are visible for updating by subscribers. This is handy for keeping some internal information about subscribers (like special offers, coupon codes, client notes, geographical info, and whatnot) private while allowing them to update their own information without your help, or going through an unsubscribe - resubscribe process.
3. Your ESP may allow a single subscriber to be on multiple lists (monthly newsletter, tips and tricks, special deals, news updates, etc). Allowing a subscriber's updates to be applied to one, multiple or all lists makes for a more pleasant experience for the subscriber and could potentially keep a keep them on board for at least one of your letters.
4. Is your subscriber preference page branded? ESPs can be kind of inflexible when it comes to customizing the process for updates, signing up, unsubscribing, etc. Getting your logo or brand on the page and a friendly message saying you're sorry to see them go or thanking them for updating their information continues the personalized conversation with the subscriber through the entire process rather than a cold, canned black and white form.
You can see a preferences page example here:
Update Preferences

CB Whittemore said...

Nick, you're right, although the first step is becoming aware. Interesting to hear your take on Aweber and iContact. Thanks for sharing your perspective.

CB Whittemore said...

Gill, you make a good point. I ended up keeping the majority of mine. The challenge with the unsubscribe/resubscribe approach is that it's sometimes very difficult to find the original website link... Thanks for contributing to this discussion.

CB Whittemore said...

Maggie, I love the notion of a vacation mode setup for subscriptions! That's the first of heard of that. Thanks for adding to the discussion.

CB Whittemore said...

Eric, I LOVE my MarketingProfs newsletters and am honored to have been featured in one! I appreciate your taking the time to educate me - and my readers - about the options available for good subscriber management. It's amazing to realize what's available behind the scenes to improve the overall reader experience. Thank you for sharing your expertise.

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Reminder: Please, no self-promotional or SPAM comments. Don't bother if you're simply trying to build inauthentic link juice. Finally, don't be anonymous: it's too hard to have a conversation. Thanks, CB

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