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A cautionary tale about email marketing

Posted by Sarah Mitchell on 21st April , 2020 in The Write Fit
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Every year on my father’s birthday, I’d send him a box of pears from Harry & David, a luxury mail-order gift company in America known for luscious fruit.

A month after Dad passed away, I received an email from them reminding me it was time to send him a birthday gift. I unsubscribed from the list, knowing I wouldn’t be sending pears to Michigan ever again.

Two weeks later, I received another reminder and unsubscribed again. I called the company and let them know why I never wanted to get another reminder. The customer service woman was friendly but said I might get one or two more because their marketing emails were scheduled in advance. I told her I’d better not if they wanted to keep me as a customer.

As warned, I got two more emails, and I unsubscribed each time. One came the day before my dad’s birthday with a message urging me not to forget about the people I loved on their special day. That was a deal-breaker for me and I resolved never to buy anything from them again.

Fast-forward one year. Imagine my fury when I received an email reminding me to buy pears for my dad’s upcoming birthday. I had unsubscribed from the email list four times and made an overseas phone call to appeal to their common decency. Still, all those requests were ignored.

I tell you this story because I feel trapped in a vortex of unexpected and unwanted email marketing. I know you’ve experienced the same since the outbreak of the coronavirus crisis. I’m hearing from businesses I haven’t heard from in over a decade. Every company who’s ever had my email is assuring me about their COVID-19 plans. And it’s getting worse.

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve started to get all sorts of ‘special offers’. In many cases, the email violates privacy and/or consumer laws because I had unsubscribed ages ago. It’s an unforgiveable marketing practice if you ask me.

Lyle Lovett, my favourite singer/songwriter, contemplates forgiveness in a wonderful song called ‘Good Intentions’. There’s a lesson for marketers in his conclusion.

It’s just a fact of life 
That no one cares to mention 
She wasn’t good 
But she had good intentions.

The challenge for all of us as communicators and marketers is to assess the result of what we do, not what we intend to do. Is everything in the best interest of your customers? Or, are you serving your own interests? Good intentions can cost you long-term business, especially when you forget about the people receiving your email.

Sarah Mitchell
21 April 2020


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