Danger Zone

Today I received an email from OtterBox with an offer.  This by itself isn’t surprising given the fact that I have an OtterBox case for my Samsung Galaxy which I bought direct from the OtterBox website.  What was surprising was the subject line and contents of the email:


The subject line for this email is “Get A new case for your new iPhone”.  I find this extremely interesting since I don’t have an iPhone, have never owned an iPhone and certainly don’t have a new iPhone.

This is a perfect example of why segmentation is so important in email marketing.  Currently, Apple’s iPhone has about a 43% market share.  That means 57% of smartphone users are not using an iPhone.  As such, it means that 57% of the people who received this email likely found it completely useless.

Simply put, you cannot make assumptions that everyone on your list just went out and bought a new iPhone (which is what the subject line clearly states).

When customers give companies permission to send them email marketing, they do so with the understanding that the company will send them emails that are relevant to the customer’s individual needs.  In the case of this OtterBox email, the error is particularly glaring, as they likely have information on the vast majority of their customers with regards to mobile device preference.  The company knows that I have an Android phone, but rather than sending me an email about a new case for my Galaxy, they send me an email suggesting I buy something that doesn’t make any sense.

There is a real danger here from a marketing perspective.  When we as marketers assume we can abuse our email list by sending offers to lists where the offer isn’t relevant, it turns into higher unsubscribes, lower customer engagement and decreased loyalty.  As a result of this email, I have no choice but to assume that OtterBox either doesn’t know anything about me (despite the fact they have a purchase history) or they simply don’t respect me enough as a customer to send me materials that are relevant to my needs.

Don’t get me wrong.  I like OtterBox and feel that they make an excellent product (I wouldn’t be using it if I didn’t).  I’m just astonished that a brand as well known and popular as OtterBox would make such a basic error with their email marketing.

You Could Make A Killing


When it comes to email marketing, it is quite easy to make a killing, especially in the short term.  It is the reason why, despite all the efforts to kill spam, we end up with hundreds of spammy messages in our email boxes daily.  As with most things though, just because you can make a quick buck from email marketing, doesn’t mean you should.

Email marketing is the great leveler of the playing field.  it is one of the easiest ways to reach your customers on a large scale and anyone can do it regardless of company size.  The problem is that it is just so tempting to do things that are unethical with email because the reward is often very significant.

We invite our customers to sign up for our email lists and then we proceed to make them rue the day they ever gave up their email.  We hide behind the “opt in” shield to justify our use of clickbait subject lines and questionable messaging.  We hide behind our impossible to comprehend privacy policy to justify renting our list even though we know that no one wants their information rented out. In the short term, you really can make a killing.  I’ve seen it happen.  If you choose that route though, in the long run the only thing you’ll be killing is your email list.

The purpose of email marketing is not to trick or scam the people that have trusted you with their email address.  Rather, the goal should be to deliver emails that feature topics of interest based on what your subscribers have told you.

Be Transparent

There shouldn’t ever be a reason why you would trick your customers into signing up for your list.  No good comes of it.  It angers your customers, it wastes your time and money (there are significant costs associated with email marketing) and most importantly, it kills the relationship you are trying to build with your customers.

Wondering how to be more transparent?  Try these simple tips:

  • Make your opt-in checkbox clear on checkout.
  • Tell your customers what they can expect to get from your emails (not the standard BS lines about “great deals delivered to your inbox”).
  • Have everyone who signs up for your email confirm through a double opt-in process.

Think of it this way – if you don’t feel like you can be honest about what you’re doing with someone’s email address, don’t collect it.  If you aren’t honest with your customers about what you’re going to send them, they’re just going to unsubscribe anyway (or worse, they’ll hit the “this is spam” button which gets reported to your email service provider).

Make It Easy To Opt Out

Nothing lasts forever.  Regardless of how awesome your emails are, people will eventually get sick of them.  With that in mind, make it clear and easy for customers to remove themselves from your list.  Not only is it the right thing to do, but it also has the potential to save this person as a customer.

I’ve heard the argument for making opt-outs difficult many times.  The general concern is that if you make it easy for people to opt out, they will.  Here’s the flaw of that argument:

If someone doesn’t want to get your emails and you don’t make it easy to opt out, you’ll end up losing a customer.

Seriously, why do you want to keep messaging people that don’t want to receive your messages?  Are you afraid that your list will shrink?  Well, the reality is that anyone who wants off of your list that you forcibly keep on is never going to change their mind and say “I know I hated these emails in the past, but I’m sure the next one will be worth my time!”.

Stop being insecure and let people choose to opt out.  While you’re doing that, ask yourself this one very important question:

“Do my emails live up to the expectations of my customers?”

If the answer is no (and for the vast majority of email marketers out there, the answer is no), how can you make your emails better?  It’s actually easier than you think.  Give your customers the freedom of choice.  Ask them what their individual preferences are and honor those preferences.

  • How often would you like to be emailed?
  • What topics do you want to learn more about?

It’s way easier than you think.  Take this example from one of my favorite stores, ThinkGeek:


ThinkGeek pretty much only sends me emails I want to receive because I’ve told them exactly what I like and what I want.  If something new from Game of Thrones comes out, I want to know.  If they release a new My Little Pony t-shirt, I really don’t care and I certainly don’t want to be emailed about it.

You can be both ethical and successful with email marketing.  You just need to have a little faith in your customers, ask them about their interests and most importantly, listen.

Image Credit: David Goehring