Email Overload

I’m embarrassed to report that I have 1,053 unread messages in my inbox. (Oops, make that 1,054.) Most of it is self-induced spam – newsletters, alerts and promotions that I subscribed to but now largely ignore. What many companies don’t seem to understand about this whole permission-based marketing thing is that just because I’ve signed up to receive offers or coupons or whatever doesn’t mean I want or need to receive them with overwhelming frequency. Too much noise clutters the mind, and the inbox.

Case in point: In 2006, I purchased two sets of business cards from an e-tailer of custom print products. I’ve spent a total of $71.90 with the company, and haven’t bought anything since last November. I am not, by any measure, a “high-value” customer. But I get email promotions from them five days a week, with these types of subject lines:

  • You’ve been selected as one of our All-Star customers (sent today)
  • BIG Sale, HUGE Savings (yesterday)
  • Everything Must Go – FREE (Monday)
  • Everything for a Dollar – One Week Only! (Saturday)
  • Don’t Miss Our Biggest Sale Ever! (last Friday)
  • VIP Customers Only – 8 FREE Offers for You (last Wednesday)
  • and on and on.

All because I clicked on a button stating “yes, I am interested in receiving e-mails about new products, services and promotional offers.” (Thank God I didn’t opt into their affiliate emails.)

I tuned out (and stopped opening) these messages long ago, the virtual shouting (using ALL CAPS AND EXCLAMATION POINTS!) having dulled my interest down to a nub. Plus, the company lost serious credibility trying to tell me I’m something that I know I am not (a VIP customer).

This is not a small company – it’s publicly held and blew past the $200m revenue mark last year. I’ve interviewed some of the company’s marketing execs, who have talked up their emphasis on customer-focused metrics. Who knows – maybe their email clickthrough and conversion rates are off the charts. Or maybe not. 

This e-tailer is certainly not alone in its use of email to connect with customers. Email is one of the few interactive technologies (along with search) that marketers seem to have embraced in full. A Forrester report published a few months back says that 94 percent of marketers use email in their mix. Unfortunately, such deep penetration increases the likelihood that marketers use email for a lot of stupid things. Like this:

Subject: Email Test 2

Dear Robert ORegan:

This is a test of our Customer Contact Email system. We would appreciate it if you would respond by clicking on our web address below or replying to the Email address below. Either type of response will verify that our customer contact system is working. Your help is greatly appreciated.



4 thoughts on “Email Overload”

  1. I think it’s funny (and bothersome) to watch the gradual escalation of tone in marketing and PR emails. While most of the ones I get manage to fight the urge to use ALL CAPS, more and more of them are now marked “urgent”. Does somebody think this helps? IMO, shouting is generally the refuge of the incompetent marketer.

  2. I’ve seen it before. Declining open rates or high unsubscribes do it – so some clown suggests we mark it “urgent” or use caps. Lordy, I do not miss that aspect of the corporate webmaster’s life.

    Other knee jerk reactions:

    1. Let’s send a Christmas (not holiday) card to all our customers around the globe, including Asia and the Middle East. (I’ve done it as directly ordered by a clueless CEO).

    2. There was a typo in the original message we sent. Let’s send it again.

    3. Let’s send everyone all our PR, regardless of market segment via email. Because they might miss it in the trade press and the other hundred places we’ve hit with the marketing grapeshot…

    4. I know we just sent our holiday support email to everyone an hour ago, but I’d like to get this announcement of a new product upgrade out. After all, it’s going to be ready to ship in a few months!

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