Marketing

E-blast delusion: If you keep email marketing personal, customers may actually respond

Ian Whitworth /

Want an exciting time-saver ‘hack’ for booking restaurants?

It’s a disruptive approach that bypasses conventional technology.

Book on the phone. It takes less time than filling out forms, and it will save you literally hours of sifting through restaurant spam and unsubscribing.

I just executed a brutal unsubscribe massacre on about 50 restaurants after my inbox became a solid wall of ‘Book Early For Fathers Day!’ spam. These are all restaurants I’ve been to, that I mostly like, and would be OK with getting the occasional message from if they had something exciting for me (preferably an offer that included free drinks).

But what sort of perverted belief is it that someone who has made one online booking wants an eternity of weekly self-focused e-blather?

The e-blast delusion

There’s only so much email-worthy material you can generate, even if you’re a huge and thrilling brand. I particularly enjoy hearing marketing people talk of sending an ‘e-blast’ — all that explosive, rocket-thrust imagery for a flat-footed little message that generally passes unnoticed on its way to an unmarked-spam-folder grave.

This week I got an email from a restaurant I’ve been to once, with the subject line: “We want to know more about you”.

I’m sure you do. And do you think you could write that urge in any more of a creepy stalker kind of way?

If we’ve learnt anything in the last few years, it’s that businesses can’t be trusted with your personal information. I’d buy from a brand that said ‘we want to know less about you’ just to reward its good manners.

This overestimation of how much people want you involved in their lives is a deeply annoying part of business. Businesses need to earn it, not send demand-y emails.

High-end hotels do the personal details thing well by noting down what you like and repeating it next time you visit. But that is information gathered in person by nice people trained in service skills, not bulk-harvested in Mailchimp.

The new spam

Not that hotels are innocent of systematic email harassment. Customer satisfaction surveys are the new spam, and anyone who travels a lot knows the feeling.

There is no tired toddler so needy as the hotel you stayed in last week that wants you to do its customer satisfaction survey.

“Your last chance to fill out our survey”, read the third email I got from a global hotel chain after a one-night stay. Last chance or what? I’ll be blacklisted from their hotels?

So many businesses do this to an insane level. It would be fine if there was any intention to act on it, but usually, there isn’t. It’s just data harvesting to fuel some monthly middle management presentation. There is no sense they actually care about responding to any of it. Often, you get a clear sense it’s actually a punishment mechanism.

The car brand I currently drive is obsessed by these ratings. The sales guy and the service staff — who were all great — ended our transactions with a strange little ritual.

Their voice hushed, their eyes scanned the room to make sure they weren’t being overheard, then they begged me to give them the top survey rating, or they would be in big trouble with head office. The fear in their eyes undermined all the confidence built by their $500 million Formula One team.

What kind of insane research design builds emotional blackmail into every interaction with the brand?

Keep it personal and they will respond

If you want to know what your customers think, get someone senior to call them up and ask. Someone who actually has the power to act on the information they get.

If the customer won’t answer a phone call, send a personal email saying something along the lines of:

‘Hi, I’m the owner of the business. I know you’re busy, but I’d like to find out how we did on that last thing we did for you. I know you don’t want to fill out some survey form, could we arrange a short phone call sometime? It would really help us to keep improving.’

Not some horrible auto-generated thing.

Most customers will respond to a request for a favour if asked nicely, and as the good old Ben Franklin Effect observes, they will like you better for it.

People read listicles so here’s one

Anyway, if you’re writing customer emails, here are your top 10 things to bear in mind. (Note the ‘I’ and ‘me’ here are the customer.)

  1. What do I get out of it?
  2. How will your product make my life easier?
  3. How will it solve my everyday problems?
  4. How will it save me time?
  5. How will it impress my friends?
  6. Will it get me promoted at work?
  7. If I use you consistently I want free stuff.
  8. I want more respect than your other customers, and if they’re ‘platinum’ I want to be ‘diamond-titanium alloy’.
  9. It’s all about me.
  10. Me me me.

Oh, and leave out all the stuff about ‘we’re pleased to announce’ because nobody cares.

Hope you enjoyed this business infotainment, click here for a short survey on how satisfied you were with your experience.

This article was first published on Motivation for Sceptics.

NOW READ: Not hot? No worries: 10 tips to help average-looking people get ahead in business

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Ian Whitworth

Ian Whitworth is a reformed branding and advertising creative director turned entrepreneur, who co-founded corporate audiovisual company Scene Change.

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